Commentary

Bike Trails Aren’t Enough

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Guest Opinion
Matt Petty
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?

Do greenways have a place in Fayetteville's future? Tell us on www.facebook.com/freekly.

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.

7 Comments

nube February 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Matt, thanks for writing this article. I’m brand new to cycling, and I’ve been a little discouraged by how challenging it can be to fight traffic everywhere I go. The “backbone” of our bike trail actually doesn’t connect to any place I visit regularly.

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mpetty February 3, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Rider, I’m comfortable riding on just about any road in Fayetteville, but most people aren’t. The fact is most people won’t ride unless they feel safe on a route, and being in heavy traffic doesn’t feel safe for most people. There’s nothing wrong with making riding safer and more relaxing for casual riders.

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Joseph Reagan February 5, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Hey Matt, Thanks for taking this on. I am an avid town cyclist and recently bought a road bike which I am branching into for day rides. I know I am unusual in going head to head with cars in traffic and I think that a greenway is a natural next step to go from one’s house to the trail system. The greenway is basically a tool to help vehicle drivers become more aware of riders and looking out for them and sharing the road with them. There was criticism of the Mayors office when bicycle symbols were put on side streets but every little thing helps to create bicycle consciousness in car drivers. I have too many tales of the ignorance and stupidity that car drivers exhibit at the cost of cyclists’ lives. Anything to advance bicycle awareness is welcome. Thanks for all you do on the Council.

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gadberry February 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm

thanks for opening the discussion of bike lanes within Fayetteville. There have been “masterplan related” improvements within Fayetteville’s side streets for bike lane stripes and signage, but I guess your point is that those improvements aren’t enough, or maybe that they aren’t comforting enough to encourage casual riders to participate? I’ll admit I may have misunderstood your article but that’s how i interpreted it.

Our bike lanes and trail system is an asset to our city infrastructure, in my opinion, but I hope people aren’t discouraged when they don’t see “the masses” ditching their cars in favor of a bicycle for their daily transportation choice.

I would love to know more about the demographics of our trail and bikeway system users within our city. I doubt there are enough potential “daily” users of bikeways and bike lanes to justify the public expenses that some bicyclists may wish to see, but please prove me wrong. There are plenty of after 5pm and weekend users though, so maybe that demographic group could ‘tip the scales’ and help justify our future expenditures. I don’t know but would love to see facts collected/presented.

Personally, I’m proud of the progress and leadership Fayetteville has demonstrated with their trail system and I hope its popularity and use continues to grow.

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