I read this story recently in the Gazette:
As a biker, you can imagine that I’m pleased the city is committed to more bike trails. Trails are more useful if they connect, and bikers are safer when they’re using the trails rather than riding in the streets.
As you can also imagine, the article has drawn a lot of comments, many to be expected of the “oh sure, don’t fix our streets” or “bikers, not taxpayers, should pay for trails.” The typical tripe that any article about biking or trails will inevitably draw.
But, I have to admit, to some extent I’m torn on this news. Why?
While I like trails, streets in Cedar Rapids need more attention. I cycle through the Kenwood neighborhood on my daily commute, and the streets are like the Chinese food in the small Alabama town in “My Cousin Vinny.” They are terrible. It's cool to put money into trails. But, the streets badly need attention.
And, while I ride the trails when I can, I use streets to get there. Having more trails won’t remove bikers from the streets—indeed, if trails are more readily available, more people may be motivated to bicycle, and the way from home to the trail, for most, will be via street.
Those crowded streets aren’t always a bad thing—having more people motivated to bicycle has all kinds of ancillary benefits, so even if it means more bikes on the street, the trend can also mean a healthier and happier and less flabby body politic.
I also don’t buy the “bikers should pay for trails” arguments, because that road leads to “park users should pay for parks” scenario. In some cases—such as swimming pools—it makes sense for users to chip in for public facilities, but in other cases—parks in general—having them free to everyone and paid for by taxes is the point—and hiking/biking trails are just a subcategory of “park.” Not everyone chooses to use them, but their existence and openness to all is important.
Well, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the more extensive trail system if or when it arrives. I’ll be glad to see the trails expanded. Although I’ll bike on sidewalks or streets to get there.