Monday, November 14, 2011

Recreation or Transportation?

A while back, I came across another gem in the circular logic of suppressing transportation cycling by denying transportation funds to bicycle projects, based on the argument that it might be used for "recreation". From Sustainable Savannah.

This is something that really makes no sense to me in the development of cycling facilities. If you look at many of the bicycle or shared trails that have been built recently, it's obvious that it is quite difficult to use them for transportation. For instance, the Silver Comet trail runs parallel to US Highway 278 for a ways. 278 is lined with shopping centers and apartment complexes. The trail could serve to connect nearby residents to stores and restaurants, or to connect commuters from their condo or subdivision to "park and ride" lots. But there are hardly any connections that actually go to the shopping centers or residential complexes. The few roads that intersect the path have no bike lanes or shoulders, and no sidewalks for kids or for trail users on foot; they feature high speed traffic and deceleration lanes. There are no facilities along busy Highway 278 itself, if your destination doesn't happen to be right at the corner. So what happens? People put their bicycle onto a rack on their car, drive to the trail, ride back and forth, and leave. A few families who live near the trail ride around on it for an hour. The transportation potential, and potential economic impact, is mostly squandered. It's like building a huge expressway, but with exits that connect to dirt service roads that can only be traveled with a four-wheel drive truck, even though there are towns and stores less than a mile away. Would you be surprised if such an expressway saw little functional usage?
Silver Comet Trail, shown in red, near junction of US278 and GA92

Another example that shows the "trails aren't transportation" mindset of their planners is along Freedom Path in northeast Atlanta. Some parts of the path are pretty appealing - you can zip from the upper edge of the Sweet Auburn district over to the lower limits of Virginia Highland on a bicycle expressway that dodges under and around intersecting streets. But east of Moreland Ave, the arrangement falls apart. Here, North Avenue acts as the expressway, a direct and relatively shady route connecting to a major route to Emory University. But if you stay on the path, you'll travel at least twice the distance on a hot, shadeless hillside. You can't see the topography in the following image, but you'll also add several hundred feet in elevation change for yourself. It would be fine as an alternative sidepath to the direct main route, a scenic detour, or an option for people who are trying to work up a sweat rather than get to work. But as the only bicycle facility in this corridor, it's a failure. This path was not intended for going anywhere fast.
Freedom Path near junction of North Ave. and Oakdale Rd.


  1. I know what you mean - it would be nice if city planners/councilors or whoever would actually put some thought into their infrastructure and maybe even ask cyclists about it. I have a folding bike, so when there's not sufficient bike lanes, I can take my bike with me, either on the bus or in the car pretty easily, but I would definitely prefer to be able to ride. But as you point out, there are a lot of places that just are safe or are pretty inaccessible by bike.

  2. When I used to live in Lake Claire, I tried bike commuting to Emory and didn't find any PATH trails useful, except for exercise. I also tried to bike to the Dekalb main library in Decatur. I saw the PATH trail, but I couldn't really figure out where to get on it and it didn't end at a real destination other than across the street from Agnes Scott College. You have negotiate this weird intersection to get to downtown Decatur from the path and College Ave.;I only tried it once.

  3. I don't think the issue is a lack of thought from transportation and city planners. They are professionals, usually w/ masters degrees but often little more than scribes who have to following the bidding of elected officials and community "key stakeholders" who have their own agendas. The vast majority of the car-driving public views bicycles as strictly recreational and gives no consideration to urban plannings concepts like walkable communities and complete streets. Where I live, the manager of an apartment complex made a huge stink in the press because a bus shelter (a really attractive one too) was placed along the boulevard that runs along her front entry of her complex. She seemed perfectly clueless as to the fact that a significant number of her renters are college students who take the bus to and from campus and to job - campus parking is pretty expensive and limited. I am not a planner but I know a lot of them. Most are frustrated and feel like they are beating their heads against a wall most of the time.

  4. Lots of good points. @She Rides a Bike - it is kind of a generational thing around here. I'm friends with lots of progressive planners who want to build good cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and the land use to support it, but there is an enormous amount of resistance from agency directors, politicians, and NIMBYs.
    @Courtnee - yes! I have actually used the PATH trail sometimes to go to Decatur, but I always switch to the road at some point, because of the weird dead-ends and intersections that don't connect.