If you appreciate the bike trails in Fayetteville, but you find yourself driving more often than not, you aren’t alone. Unless you live close to a trail and reaching your destination is convenient, it probably makes more sense for you to drive. Riding a bicycle is supposed to be a relaxing, joyous activity, but that ends once you have to leave the trail and ride in traffic.
For casual riders, there are three criteria which a prospective ride must meet before most people will even consider using a bicycle to reach a destination: safety from traffic, general comfort, and a clear route. Trails are fantastic at addressing each of these, but what if a trail won’t take you all the way to your destination? It’s a good question, and it’s not one Fayetteville’s Alternative Transportation Plan answers.
Think to yourself: what route would you ride to get from the Fayetteville High School to Gulley Park on East Township?
If a clear route that connects the trails, avoids the hills, and uses side streets to keep you out of traffic doesn’t immediately come to mind, the prospect of riding can be a little intimidating. That’s a problem.
Bentonville, our neighbor to the north, already has a working system of bicycle routes that makes it easy to travel to and from key locations.
They have the Blue Route, the Pink Route, and Red Route, and half a dozen other named routes with signs that any person on a bicycle can follow.
The directions to get from a South Bentonville neighborhood to Crystal Bridges go something like this: “Get on the Teal Route, then follow the signs to the Orange Route and then to the Crystal Bridges Trail.” Seems simple enough, right?
Now, I don’t think Bentonville is doing a particularly good job of making these routes safe or comfortable; there aren’t even bike lanes. Yet at least the routes are clear, something cyclists appreciate even if casual riders still feel unsafe in the traffic. When this idea is done well, the routes are called “bicycle boulevards” or “neighborhood greenways,” and they supplement a trail system by incorporating signs, bike lanes, protected street crossings, landscaping, and other features that make the routes comfortable, safe, and clear.
Until getting to and from a trail is safe enough, comfortable enough, and clear enough for a family with elementary- and toddler-age children, most people will still elect to drive. Building greenways costs less per mile than building trails, and construction takes less time; so why aren’t greenways a part of Fayetteville’s plan?
It’s a chicken-and-the-egg question, with part of the answer being that we needed to build a “backbone” to our trail system before building greenways made sense. Now that we have that backbone, it’s time to start building greenways and connecting our neighborhoods to the trails. Trail development shouldn’t stop, but our strategy to encourage bicycle adoption should be amended to remove the burden of route planning from individuals and families. Until then, casual riders will stay in their cars.