Monday, August 31, 2009

Bikes Belong ... Just Maybe Not Here

According to an article in The Tennesseean, Nashville police have been out on the local greenways lately, on the alert for speeding cyclists. Apparently, they set up at key locations with radar guns, and issue warnings to any biker going over the 15 mph speed limit.

They can't seem to ticket anyone for breaking the Three-Foot Law here in Tennessee, but they are willing to bust the chops of some cyclist trying to train on the greenways.

I'm actually kind of torn on this issue. I've biked on some of the greenways here, and most of them are not really conducive to cycling above 15 mph anyway. They kind of meander in and about the trees, and are more like paths in a park. In Brentwood, they don't really go anywhere other than the YMCA, or the library, or another park.

The main reason they want to keep the speeds down is because of the pedestrians, which makes sense. Most of the greenways in Nashville are better suited to pedestrian use anyhow, and it is a risky situation when you get a runner with his iPod being overtaken by a rider on a narrow path. I know too many people who have gotten hurt from that interchange.

But there are other trails that are very suited to cyclists. In Florida, we used to regularly ride the seven-mile loop in Flatwoods Park. This was a road that was actually built to help support the pumping stations at the acquifer there, but was open to the public. We would get there early in the morning and ride around this loop a few times, because it was easy training. However, we knew that after about 9 am the park would begin to fill up with people pushing strollers with babies, and little kids learning to ride their bikes. If you wanted to train there, you went early and then got out.

We also had a multi-use trail that ran down Bruce B. Downs Blvd, which I often rode to work. It was very open, and quite straight, and I usually did about 15 mph on it. There were times that I had to slow down for runners or skaters or people just out taking a leisurely walk. That was the price that you paid.

There is a trail here that reminds me of that one. It runs alongside Split Log Road, starting at Wilson Pike and going ... well, nowhere, really. It peters out at the top of the hill, just before Split Log Road turns right (and gets really crazy). But, for this length of it, the path is very straight and open. If I wanted, it would make a good cyclng path.

But I only use it climbing up from Wilson Pike, and stay off it coming down. Why? Because I can't go fast going up, but riding down Split Log Road to Wilson Pike I can easily go over 20 mph. It's also on the east side of the road, so that I would have to cross over when going south, and I don't want to hassle with it.

Now, I've had people yell at me when I am biking down this road to "get on the path." This is kind of funny because I am usually just under the speed limit on this road, and rarely am I any kind of impediment to traffic. Cars just seem to think that Bikes Belong ... but only on the path (or a sidewalk).

But I don't belong on the path, because on my bicycle I am a vehicle. If I was riding on the path, I would be, technically, a pedestrian. And if I was riding fast and yelling at the walkers "on your left" as I bombed down the trail, I would be behaving with them in kind of the same way that cars all too often do to me.

I would be a bully.

It would be great if there were lots of paths for bikes -- paved trails that actually go places and offer a travelling alternative. Many people prefer these, since they keep you separated from automobiles and, therefore, safer. A lot of folks would happily settle for good bike lanes on every road, or a good shoulder without rumble strips or broken glass or pieces of retread tires. All of these are the kinds of things that a government that actually supports cyclists should provide.

But I will settle for just a little patience and decency from the drivers with which I share the road. I'm just trying to travel somewhere, just like they are.

Runners, walkers, strollers, and lollygaggers on the greenways are just trying to get some exercise and enjoy nature. We cyclists can do that with them, too, but we need to be sensitive to their needs and circumstances as well.

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