Pedaling Toward Progress

Editor’s Note : This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

I find myself somewhat conflicted when it comes to the term, “bike-friendly.” I feel like Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. where he has a “Good Jack” on one shoulder, telling him the good thing to do, and on the other shoulder a “Bad Jack,” telling him what a pirate would do.

Conceptually, bike-friendly is a wonderful asset in a community that can create accessible alternate transportation routes, promote good health and exercise, be a community amenity encouraging socialization, and even help tourism and trade in a locality.

Come Together

On its Web site, the League of American Bicyclists points out, “With more people bicycling, communities experience reduced traffic demands, improved air quality and greater physical fitness. In addition, bicycle-friendly towns are often seen as places with a high quality of life. This can translate into increased property values, business growth and increased tourism.”

I absolutely agree with that. I think it will be a glorious world when Bucolic Bicycles (BB) and Motorized Mechanical Monstrosities (MMM) can coexist in the same physical space. It will be wonderful when I can ride my old 3-speed Silver Streak along the roadway and eyeball the countryside, while motorists speed safely past me without blowing me off the road.

Picking Up Speed

Yet, I can’t help but wonder at the reality of the matter. Most communities were not designed nor constructed to accommodate BBs and MMMs on the same piece of asphalt. I know some are, but from what I’ve seen, most aren’t.

I don’t proclaim to be an expert on this subject, but I think that, historically, after roads went from unpaved dirt and gravel to asphalt, they were meant to be traveled at fairly high speed. They were designed to move people quickly from one point to another. They were part of the Industrial Revolution’s plan to speed up production. They are one of the prices we pay for progress.

Sacrificing Quality For Quick

Shoulders on roads--whether in the country or city--are predominately narrow. Shoulders were meant to keep people from running into a ditch (in the country) or running up on a curb (in the city). They generally aren’t sized to be a separate roadway for a different type of vehicle, a bicycle, competing for the same basic space.

That’s what I see happening, and it makes me nervous. In the rush to make cities “bike-friendly,” people are not applying the rule of common sense … both on the BB side and on the MMM side of the road.

Share The Road Sensibly

I ride my trusty 21-speed mountain bike on the 100 miles of recreational trails (not on the roads) that traverse the city where I live. The scenery truly is bucolic as I ride along the paths where motorized vehicles are prohibited, and the worst I can encounter is one of the many electric golf carts that people use as an alternative transportation mode here.

I would never ride on the roads here. I value my life too much, and wouldn’t want to deprive the world of my presence by becoming a target for a steel bumper, which would be an unfair fight.

The recreational paths have the same asphalt as the roads, maybe even a bit finer. It’s true they meander more than straight-line roads, I can’t go too fast without compromising safety, and there may be a few more bumps, but riding is still great exercise.

Yet I see cyclists on their thin-tire racing bikes on motorized roadways with little or no discernible shoulders, sometimes riding two and three abreast, moving along at a good clip for a bicycle, but turtle-slow for a car. It’s impossible to get around them and, even if they move into a single-file line, passing them often requires going over the center line or hugging it while trying not to nudge the bikers off the road.

There are bike enthusiasts who say they have just as much right to be on the road as cars. In theoretical or constitutional terms that may be correct, although I’m not sure it’s ever been challenged. But in common-sense terms, it’s like saying one has the right to fish in the middle of a competition waterskiing lake. It may be true, but the chance of getting capsized is higher than catching fish.

What really concerns me is that, if a car does hit a bicyclist, who will be held accountable? If the driver was carefully passing a biker on a road with little or no shoulder and the biker swerved into the car, would the driver be liable? He was driving on a roadway designed for motorized vehicles and hit a rider on a roadway not designed for bikes.

I don’t have an answer here, other than to implore bike riders to use common sense and basic principles of safety, and stay off roads with no shoulders and lots of high-speed traffic. Or perhaps pull off the road when you see a long line of traffic behind you on a road designed for 45 miles per hour when you’re riding at 15 to 20 mph.

I hope folks weigh in on this topic. I’d like a reality check to see if this is something I’m just being an old fuddy-duddy about or if, indeed, there is room for discussion. What would a pirate say?

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail dls@peachtree-city.org