Biking on a Trail

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means for a city to be "bicycle friendly". Obviously, it means that a city is a good place to ride a bike. But that just leads to another question: what makes a city a good place to ride a bike?

Bicycle facilities are a good start. I'm fortunate to live in a place that has a lot of them. Bike lanes, multi-use trails, etc. I use most of this infrastructure every day, but I disproportionately use the on-street stuff more than I use the trails. In my four months living in Arlington, I just haven't had a great experience with the trails.

(from dailyjoe on Flickr)

Multi-use trails aren't just for bicyclists. They're also for walkers, joggers, runners, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, or just about anyone that's not on a motorized vehicle. They're great for recreation and for exercise. They're a little less great for getting places or training for the Olympics. I use my bike for transportation, so it's important that the trails go places that I need to go. Often, they don't - or they take me out of my way. For getting around, I find the on-street bike lanes a lot more convenient.

Riding on a trail is a completely different dynamic than riding on a street. When you're on the street, you're sharing the road with cars. It's the motorists who can cause a lot of damage if they aren't careful. On the trail, that dynamic reverses. Bikes are the dominant vehicle. Cyclists have the responsibility to watch out for slower moving traffic. To me, it's nerve-wracking. In a lot of ways, I feel similar biking on a trail as I do when I'm driving on a busy street.

I understand the allure of multi-use trails. There's something comforting about knowing that there aren't any cars to get in your way. And trails are superior to poorly designed streets, and streets designed only for high-speed traffic. Unfortunately, a lot of cities and suburbs have far too many of these streets, which make trails look disproportionately attractive to those who like riding bikes. I'm lucky to be in a city with great urban bicycling facilities, so I know that there can be a good middle ground.


    On October 18, 2010 Sam said...

    I totally agree that all purpose trails are great but they do not always get you to where you need to go. I much prefer not biking amongst the cars but it seems to be a necessity to get to where I need to go.