Sunday, June 21, 2015

In Which the Detour Leads To A Lecture

Ben and I , sideways. Blogger does not play with vertical.

He was technically correct, which was a bit frustrating because it shows how, in the words of that old song, “you can’t please everyone.”

A few months ago, a student of mine ranted on a blog that I had assigned him to write about how bad it was that bicyclists clog up street traffic. In his opinion, bicycle riders needed to heed what he said was the advice he received in childhood form his parents: Stay on the sidewalk.

That notion is wrong on many practical and legal grounds. Bicycles are vehicles. They move at speeds that are impossible and dangerous for pedestrians. A brisk walk or even a very brisk jog does not approach speeds of 20 mph on the flat, but even an old man on a bike may zoom along at that pace. And sidewalks are called “walks,” not “rides.”

So bicycles and bikers, particular big guys on fast bikes, are an unacceptable hazard in a walkway designed and reserved for pedestrians.

And yet, practicality and safety tend, in certain conditions, to push bikers in that direction.

Saturday, my son Ben and I were riding our new bikes. It had rained that morning, and threatened to rain that evening, but we were hoping to get a few relatively dry miles in.

We headed to the Cedar River Trail via the northern, 74th Street NE, route. Once there, we turned north. The sky above was clear, but grey and threatening to the west, and we conjectured a bit about the direction of the clouds. Ben thought we were OK riding north. I thought we were headed into rain.

It started to sprinkle. We decided I was right, and, at about 3 miles into the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which starts at the end of the Cedar River Trail at Boyson Road in Hiawatha, we turned south.

The Cedar River Trail has a detour due to a project at 42nd Street NE. The detour directs bikers to use Center Point Road, a busy 4-lane-road with a 35 mph speed limit for cars. Or, as I like to call it, “the kind of street where a cautious biker will, in minor defiance of the law, but for the sake of safety, use the sidewalk.”

At 42nd Street, the detour turns east. That, again, is a “use the sidewalk” kind of street. We arrived at Council Street, and things got a bit confusing. One detour sign directed us to turn left, another to turn back, still another to cross south, another to cross north and a fourth to head east.

I decided that the detour headed south on Council Street NE.

Council eventually becomes Broadway, and as we passed Wright Brothers School, it occurred to use that we had not seen a detour sign for a while. When we got to Oakland Road, we again started sidewalk riding, due to traffic.

We passed the HyVee store there and turned back west, hoping to find the trail. But the sidewalk on busy 32nd Street peters out before you get to the trail area, and anyway, I think 32nd passes well over the trail via a high bridge without a way to get to the trail.

So we turned back to Oakland and resumed going south, where, as the sidewalk by Family Video ended, we met the sidewalk corrector.

A young man in a wheel chair was there, parked in the lot, apparently visiting with a comely lass who was crouched nearby. He mumbled something at us, and I didn’t quite catch it, so I stopped and asked him what he had said.

He informed me that bikers were not allowed on sidewalks.

Well, given the state of Cedar Rapids sidewalks and his life-enforced use of said treacherous paths, I can see how big men on bikes would be particularly galling to him, so I just politely explained we had been trying to use a trail detour and got lost. He nodded his head west and gruffly instructed, “Go that way.”

No thank you, sidewalk corrector. That was, in context, a fruitless direction we had already tried. So we went back to the 32nd and Oakland intersection and instead headed east (on a street with enough traffic that, had there been a sidewalk, I might have used it).

Anyway, we went east to Prairie Drive NE and then went south to Mount Mercy. From there, we pedaled over to J Avenue, planning to use it to rejoin the bike trail.

Ben speculated that the detour actually was intended to take us to the Council-42nd intersection east on the north side of the road, and then west a way to some other street on the south side of the road, and I think he might be right. If he is, then the detour signs call for bikers to ride in the opposite direction as car traffic, which means the Powers that Be deliberately designed the detour to require sidewalk bike riding, so there.

When we got to J Avenue, the sky was getting very threatening, Ben had turned on his bike lights and I had turned on my helmet lights—I have no bike lights yet on the unnamed new fancy bike I was riding—so at J Avenue, we decided to turn home. Rather than chance finding the trail detour, we took a shorter route, basically returning to MMU and then using my commuting route home—which involves mostly street riding on quite residential streets, to irritate my blogging student, but also a bit of sidewalk riding on busy C Avenue, just so that the sidewalk corrector can also get irritated.

Well, you can’t make everyone happy. In fact, there are plenty of people who just don’t like bikers at all, no matter where we ride. I know that many of them have reasons—there are rude bikers who hog walkways or fail to obey traffic laws when street riding.

But, bicycles and bike riders are actually unclogging streets by using smaller vehicles than cars, and are also reducing the cost and size of our healthcare system, as long as cars don’t hit them. So when I can, I ride in the street as I ought to. The student blogger was just wrong. And when it’s too busy, I resort to the sidewalk—sorry, sidewalk corrector, but I do believe in safety first. Were I to encounter you on such a sidewalk, however, I would also recognized that I was “borrowing” the walkway from you, and I would endeavor to get by you in the least disruptive way I could, short of risking my life in a busy multi-lane street.

You can’t please everyone. So you’ve got to please yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment