Thursday, July 5, 2007

My Fixed Gear Route / Capital Area Greenway

As I mentioned in an earlier post, as part of my PBP training I’ve been heading out for a short (25-30 mile) ride 3 times a week. The goal is simple: keep a little blood in the legs.

Those short rides add up: this week I’ll have at least 80 miles before the local crew assembles for the 175-mile Blackbeard’s Permanent on Saturday night. (Here’s a write-up about putting together that permanent.)

A 1970 Raleigh International set up as a fixed gear has been my bike of choice.

My route of choice: Raleigh’s interconnecting greenway system.

I don’t mind riding fixed on the road, but this time of year, North Carolina gets extremely hot and humid.

The greenways at least provide some shade. And the mostly flat routes make for an easy spin, with a few sections suitable for half-mile sprints.

Many of Raleigh’s greenways use land that is otherwise unsuitable for building or development.

They typically cross swamps or wetlands (see the photo above) or follow a river or creek.

Several of the greenways I ride track Crabtree Creek, which resembles a full-blown river. The creek has the bad habit of jumping out of its bed, mad as hell after a big rain, and flooding its neighbors, including several car dealerships and Crabtree VALLEY Mall (translation: built in the bottom of a bowl).

The creek ain’t much to look at: Another one of those urban waterways knocked off its feet by trash, sediment and tree debris.

The route can also be tough on the olfactory senses. Raleigh runs its sewer system along Crabtree. Venting gas makes the course especially ripe in the summer. Kinda like standing outside the portajohn at the three-day barbecue festival.

I don't mean to focus on the negative. Because there are some incredibly beautiful stretches, including one short rise up to a bluff above the creek. And where else do you get to take a boardwalk across the wetlands?

As an experienced road cyclist, I have mixed feelings about greenways. For one, they’re expensive to build as a separate facility. One often-voiced concern is that they relegate bicycle transportation to a “separate but unequal” status.

Also, there is often a dangerous interface between the greenways and the roads that they intersect. The route I take diverts riders onto an adjacent sidewalk rather into the road, where they belong as vehicles.

In some cases, they duck under major thoroughfares by squeezing under an existing bridge, like the shot above. In the lingo, those are called “Grade-Separated Crossings.”

The most famous of those in Raleigh is a handsome span across the beltline which connects Meredith College and the N.C. Art Museum. But that’s a daylight-only crossing -- Meredith locks off access at night.

The Triangle has some enlightened planners, like Jake Petrosky, who are keenly aware of the advantages, drawbacks and limitations of the local greenways.

A 2006 engineering guidelines report from the bicycle and pedestrian stakeholders group noted that greenways were intended for novice or recreational riders. That’s typically who I see on the route: mothers, fathers and their young children.

The 2006 report also notes: “Multi-use pathways should not be considered as a substitute to on-roadway accommodation of cyclists.”

A nice sentiment, but one that some of the Triangle communities only pay lip service to. When it comes to accommodating bike transportation on Triangle roads, we're often sent to the metaphorical back seat of the bus.

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