Wednesday, June 8, 2016

In Which I Mostly Agree with a Bike Critic

Two view of the new Boyson Trail bridge shot June 7. The detour signs are still up, but I can't see why. The biker below, by the way, is a random stranger.

I was thinking of doing a ride to Cedar Lake this morning. Rather than go to the gym (it’s stuffy there, my wife had said), I decided that this cool morning deserved a more extended bike ride. So I started off doing 3 climbs of the Brentwood Drive hill, and then started to go south on C Avenue.

But, I realized I did not have my cell phone with me—I had started to pack for the gym this morning before my plans changed. And so I stopped at home again to grab the phone. As you know from recent posts, I’m a fan of having a phone on a bike ride.

And I was oriented the other way. Well, why not do climb number 4 and then head out to Marion?

So, I did. I thought maybe Boyson would be rough to cross this morning (it wasn’t, since it was about 7 a.m. and traffic hadn’t really picked up yet) and I was going to take the Geode bike boulevard out to Tower Terrace and the Lowe Park Trail.

The Lowe Park Trail walkers don’t seem used to bikes. Unlike the Cedar River Trail, for example, where bicycle traffic predominates and pedestrians tend to walk on the right, at Lowe Park they meander all over as if there were not bikes in the universe.

East end of Lowe Park trail--where natural prairie planting meets mowed grass. More of the stuff on the left and less of the boring stuff on the right, please. Yes, I know a park does need mowed lawns for outdoor recreation, and I don't mean eliminate all mowing, but there seemed an excess of mowed grassy areas where I rode this morning.
So, naturally I shouted at people that “this is a bike trail” and almost ran them down. Because that’s what we biker do.

No, no, no. I slowed, sounded a verbal warning, and tried to pass them safely. On a shared-use trail, the primarily safety responsibility is with the faster, heavier vehicle, and CR Biker, slow though he is, qualifies on both counts.

I was a little perturbed by a column in this morning’s Gazette, another anti-biker diatribe. But, read it and weep. She’s largely correct. Mr. Fat Tire on the Bridge of Lions was totally off base—there isn't (nor, in my mind, should there be) an exclusive bike trail in Cedar Rapids.

I would quibble on a few points. Mr. Fat Tire was using sidewalks on the Bridge of Lions, which bikers routinely do despite the share marks on the street there—for two reasons. One is habit—the trail has been around for many years and has used those walkways for years, the share marks are new this year, and most bikers aren’t used to the idea of riding in the street there. The other is more practical—there is no curb cut on the south end of the bridge for bikes to access and continue on the Cedar River Trail, which reinforces the bad habit of riding walkways on the bridge.

Still—yelling at walkers and proceeding at speed by them? Not cool, Mr. Fat Tire. CR Biker waggles his finger of shame at you.

Second quibble—the guest columnist says bikers should always walk their bikes if they have to use a sidewalk. Walking a bike is nowhere near as easy as walking without one, and it’s against a biker’s nature to walk if walking isn’t absolutely required by extreme conditions or the size of a crowd (think the town scrum on RAGBRAI). Telling bikers to walk a vehicle they by habit and inclination want to ride is to spit into the wind, a bit. However, if the street is bike friendly, I agree that bikers belong there—and when the street is not, a biker on the sidewalk very much has to be aware they are “borrowing” a place that is intended for walkers, and they should politely defer to walkers.

An additional point not made in her article—bikers always need to sound a polite verbal warning when passing a walker, because most bikes are so quiet you’re on top of a walker before they can hear you and react. No, “THIS IS A BIKE TRAIL” is not a polite verbal warning—I prefer an audible, loudly spoken but not shouted, “bike on your left.”

And most walkers seem to agree. I get a fair number of thanks in response.

Anyway, my blood boiled when I read the column. Not because a walker was complaining about bicycles—but because her complaint seems pretty valid. As a biker, I don’t appreciate my biking brothers or sisters giving us all a bad name. So once again, Mr. Fat Tire, CR Biker’s waggle of shame to you.

Back to this morning. I continued past the middle school and used the sidewalks (!) to ride to Echo Hill. In the middle school parking lot, a hot air balloon was being assembled—I wonder if they go it flying. Seemed a little breezy, to me. Anyway, I had to go slow to avoid running into a riding mower (no shouting nor pointless, unheard verbal warning, I just waited it out as a good biker should)—and that depressed me just a bit. The middle school grounds are surrounded by a vast sea of mowed grass, and that seems like an expensive waste, to me. Plant some milkweed and cone flowers, for goodness sake, and let flowers grow rather than mow.

Anyway, the ride was quite pleasant. I was later heading home and had done about 14 miles by the time I was near the Boyson Trail. What the heck, I thought. I had crossed the new Boyson Trail bridge Tuesday, so I knew despite the detour signs that it’s already open, and I liked the idea of getting in 20 miles.

Well, the second trail ride did the trick. I hit 20 miles. And didn’t yell at any walkers—because, frankly, I think that they should be welcome to use the trail, too.

Catalpa in bloom next to Boyson Trail at Thomas Park. At this time of year, I don't understand why every yard in Cedar Rapids doesn't have a Catalpa Tree--glad to say mine does, although it is young and has not yet bloomed. It is close to 6 feet tall, however, and I've seen Catalpa of its size start to flower, so maybe next spring ...

Two views from bridge at the south end of Boyson Trail. Two ducks on Indian Creek, and watching the sunrise from the bridge. A great day to bike, or walk, a trail!

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