Thursday, August 12

Separately Second Rate

Linear Park Multi-Use Path. A Great Concept and a Useful Shortcut for Some Trips. Execution Could be Better
I like the idea of bike infrastructure. Few would argue with the notion that bike racks are a good idea that helps cyclists, without much down side. Similarly, well designed bike lanes and paths can help cyclists, and most people would also support such things, particularly if they don’t cause congestion problems with motorized traffic. The TROUBLE is that “well designed” is a rare exception, at least around North Texas. From what I’ve seen other places, North Texas is typical in this regard.

As an example, I’ll discuss one path near my home. I often ride on this path, despite its problems. As you will see, the TROUBLE is that it COULD have been much better at no added expense, but the design and engineering were not taken seriously, as they are on road construction.

B****** Trails – The Good
The city installed this “Multi-Use Path” (MUP) underneath power lines, and it runs roughly east-west. It is fairly popular when the weather is nice, with quite a few people on bikes and people out walking or jogging. Because the power lines reduce street connections, it is actually more convenient for some bike connections than using the road. Without the city’s initiative, the land would otherwise be largely unused, as many other power line corridors are. In that sense, this trail bears some special attention. I know there are similar power line areas along my commute that were ignored by the Fort Worth bike plan.

However, despite this, the MUP is far from perfect. Due to poor engineering and maintenance, it presents a number of traps for the unwary who are its main target users – casual recreational users. What is doubly unfortunate is that this trail is no worse than most I have seen, and is better than many. It seems to me that to build such facilities without due care and consideration for the safety of the public is poor use of tax money, when much better could have been constructed for less money.

Needlessly Poor Road Sightlines on the Path
B****** Trails Problem 1 – Dangerous Corners
These trails wander back and forth in an “artsy fartsy” pattern that is a signature of facilities designed by Parks and Recreation types rather than proper engineers. While I have nothing in particular against wavy paths, when they wave right next to a fence at intersections, needlessly creating blind corners, I think the waves have gone too far. Don’t designers realize that blind corners are not good? Having seen a lot of inexperienced “weekend” people on bikes, most of them do not realize their danger and the only reason why few are hit is because traffic on the residential street is very light. This condition exists at several other streets as well. A BETTER design solution would have been to maximize visibility where the trail intersects the street. Added cost for the mitigation – zero. As it is, the only thing a rider can do is to be careful, and to pray for the users who don’t realize their risk.

Blind Corner with NO Advisory Sign
B****** Trails Problem 2 – Missing Signs
This signpost indicates that the designers vaguely knew not was all well in paradise. At one time, I suspect it held a stop sign. I really don’t know, because there has never been a sign on this pole in the three years I have been paying attention. Essentially, we’ve got a blind corner without any intersection control or advisory. There are no warning signs on either. A BETTER solution would have been advisory signs at the uncontrolled intersection. As it is, it’s an uncontrolled intersection with NO advisory.

Wooden Bridges Get REALLY Slippery When Wet. I Know, I've Fallen on Them, Though Not This Particular One
B****** Trails Problem 3 – Dangerous Bridges
Wooden bridge decks compound the list of problems with this trail. Wooden decks may appear rustic, and they work pretty well when they are new and conditions are dry, but after a few years, and when it gets wet. Well, let’s just say that the casual user isn’t likely to fall in the wet because most of them stay home on such days. A BETTER solution would have been to choose something nonslip.

I've Fallen at this Spot Once. I Almost Fell a Second Time
B****** Trails Problem 4 – Slippery When Wet
The wooden bridge decks are not the only fall danger in the wet. As a matter of fact, they are not the WORST fall danger in the wet. The ramps where the path crosses the streets are, in some cases, painted with a paint that gives a good imitation of ice when it gets wet. I got dumped by one of these on my old commute. Nowadays, if it is wet, I take another route because, after nearly falling a second time, I concluded that even extreme caution may not be enough to keep the rubber side down. A BETTER solution would have been to leave the ramp unpainted.

So, Do They Arrest Cyclists Using this Path for Disobeying This Sign?

B****** Trails Problem 5 – Second Rate
Two final features illustrate the second rate nature of the trail. The first is the lack of attention in the signs saying “no vehicles or horses allowed.” So, am I allowed on this trail with my bike or not? Much better would have been “no horses or MOTOR vehicles.” Most cities in the area do not make this careless mistake. It may be a little thing, but it illustrates the mindset that this facility is not serious, and so they didn’t bother to get it right. The second feature is the treatment of residential streets that the trail intersects. Looking at the remaining signage, the design was to ALWAYS put a stop sign on the trail, even though the trail gets far more users than some of these streets. Second rate. Perhaps that is why most of the stop signs have disappeared from the trail. The fact that the city hasn’t bothered to ever replace one, as far as I can tell, further illustrates the “second rate.” It's not necessary to keep up a play trail. And THAT has always been the problem with “separate but equal.” A BETTER solution would have been to treat the design seriously.

So, why DO I ride something I consider a needlessly second rate facility? Well, I think there’s a psychological stress reduction in riding most pathways (even ones that are second rate) compared to a road. I think it is somewhat akin to the feeling one gets driving the North Cascades Highway in Washington State compared to I-90. Objectively, I-90 is safer, and it is certainly quicker, but the drive is much less pleasant. It’s also noticeably cooler to ride the trail than on the hot road pavement, which is a real bonus this time of year. Still, if cities REALLY want to get butts on bikes, they'll get some people involved who know what they're doing and pay some attention so those new butts don't get hurt.


Chuck Davis said...

I wood have to ponder the "second rate" appellation butt sure as hell they are fraught avec compromise/s!

John Romeo Alpha said...

Steve, I would add problems #6 and #7 which are also illustrated by your photos: #6 MUPs should be paved with a surface that is pleasant and functional to walk and ride on, and not with expansion-jointed sidewalks, which are neither. #7 Well-designed and engineered paths just look better than this one, which is strikingly ugly. A tree or two, a bench here and there, a shade structure once in a while, a drinking fountain, all these would help much more than the artsy-fartsy chicanes that accomplish nothing.

KWebb said...

1,3 and 4 are the reasons I wish landscape architects were not allowed within 20 feet of a road or anything intended for use by bicycles.

The 'no vehicles' signs remind me of the city code where I live. It does prohibit the use of bicycles on bicycle paths. A vehicle is defined as anything that can carry a person down the highway. It's so broad that they made an exception for wheelchairs, but they don't make one for bicycles.

Post a Comment

No Need for Non-Robot proof here!