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This blog serves as the Ohio Bikeways forum for encouraging discussion and education regarding bicycle and trail-related topics. It will cover a number of on and off road bicycle subjects including: traffic laws, advocacy, bicycle infrastructure and more.

If you are passionate about bikes and/or trails and have something of interest to say, contact us regarding a possible guest blog post.

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Trump's In -- Part 3 - 1/12/17

By Pete Medek

[To start at the beginning of this topic, go to Part 1].

Politicians are expert at dispensing rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of being persuasive. It's also an important tool for dispersing propaganda. Regrettably, being a persuasive speaker has nothing necessarily to do with being a person of meaningful action.

Since Americans have been inundated with propaganda for so long, the obvious question is: Have you been propagandized? Let's find out.

Have You Been Propagandized?

If you agree with any of the following statements, consider yourself propagandized.

  • Freedom of speech is ok, as long as it is politically correct
  • If we could just get the right candidate(s) elected, everything would be fine
  • I feel I have to side with my preferred political party, no matter what
  • I like news sources that make me feel good and reinforce my beliefs
  • There is nothing wrong with the U.S. Government or its electoral system
  • I would never vote for a 3rd party candidate

If you've read all 3 parts to this blog topic, you know that I started this subject as a reaction to all the political gloom and doom that's been infused into online bike advocacy posts since the presidential election. Or to put it more bluntly, the propaganda.

I hope that some of those writers who may come across this blog will take a look in the mirror. It's important to note that when you participate in the propaganda game, that you lose credibility with readers that can still distinguish propaganda from fact. And of course, those that side with the opposing party. In the end, you're only preaching to your choir. It's good to remember that advocacy strives to do more than that.

If you regard yourself as a credible writer, you should relish publishing your own unique perspective, rather than being a political mouthpiece that passes along party line dogma.

And that raises an interesting question. Once one has taken a drink of the Kool-Aid, can one ever go back?

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Trump's In -- Part 2 - 12/15/16

By Pete Medek

[To start at the beginning of this topic, go to Part 1].

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Once upon a time in the U.S., there was this thing called the 'News.' News reporters were dedicated to reporting facts only. I'm not referring to Opinion Pieces or Editorials... just News. Just the facts.

And journalist integrity - being able to report the news in an unbiased fashion - is (or was) a crucial part of any free society. It's the basic right of a citizenry to be properly informed not only about governmental issues, but issues that affect their communities as well as the world they live in.

The "P" Word

Welcome to the era of Fake News. Today virtually all sources interject labels, opinions, bias, fake facts, etc. into everything that's reported. That's the norm now. Therefore 'News' no longer has factual integrity. It no longer exists in pure form. It's skewed. And it's skewed deliberately. For those unfamiliar, there's a name for deliberately contaminated news. It's called propaganda.

Propaganda is used to influence the masses, and when doled out to perfection, ultimately control people's minds. (One reason dictators are particularly fond of it.) We've seen a lot of propaganda fall out after the election. Millions of people were told Clinton would win easily. This was perpetrated by pollsters and so-called 'News' reporters. All voters were inundated with vile vitriol toward their opposition party. So much so, that many of those millions are convinced that the president-elect and his administration are truly evil, and not merely a party representing differing views.

When the situation is dumbed down to us (good) versus them (evil), propaganda has done its job. It's convinced you that discussion, independent thought, open mindedness and free speech are nonessential. It's a powerful tool used to create hate, class warfare or whatever condition is necessary to ensure that citizens are sufficiently distracted, so the size and power of government can continue to grow unabated.

We live in the so-called 'information age.' This allows for a tremendous proliferation of propaganda from a myriad of sources that in the end, simply magnifies the overall effect.

This likely explains why many of the millennial generation, as well as the snowflakes still in college, were devastated by the election results. They were born and raised on propaganda. They are fully indoctrinated. It's hard not to be, if that's all you know.

But for those of us who have weathered more than a handful of election cycles, we are not necessarily as prone to drinking the Kool-Aid. We remember a time when finding (real) news sources wasn't difficult. So our perspective is understandably different. Broader.

That's not to suggest that older Americans are immune to being influenced. Far from it. Thanks to the insidious nature of propaganda, the more exposure it gets, the more victims it claims of all ages. And the less attention paid to the beneficiary and perpetrator (& its willing agents) of the propaganda machine. In this case, the U.S. Government and its corrupt 2-party system.

Have you been propagandized? Take our test to find out. Go to Part 3.

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Trump's In -- What Now?! - 11/23/16

By Pete Medek

Yes, this is the Ohio Bikeways blog. So why the political topic? I read and post bike news everyday. Since the election, I've been reading a lot of political gloom and doom from bike advocates who are obviously distressed and visibly shaken. So I thought this was a good opportunity to point out something that most everyone seems to be missing.

The Big Picture

There is usually a bigger picture than the one you or I are currently focusing on, on any given day. That generally holds true whether your focus is on personal matters or how your country is run.

So whether you are fretting or celebrating the recent election results, let's set that aside and look at the bigger picture for the moment. Here are some important questions I ask you to consider. I've taken the liberty to submit my answers. I encourage you to formulate yours as well. --

Why is the popular vote not the deciding factor in a U.S. presidential election?

In the U.S., the land of government "by the people & for the people," we allow bureaucrats to set up systems designed to control outcomes.

Why are presidential races often a matter of voting for the lesser of two evils?

In a country as large as the U.S., there are many individuals who would make fine candidates. But unless they are embraced by one of the two major parties (& their respective power brokers), in a very real sense, they do not exist. They receive little or no air time or debate time. Without sufficient exposure, they have no chance. None.

Why are there only 2 major political parties?

Because they prefer it that way. It gives them at least a 50% chance of obtaining virtually any public office across the country. Did you know that there was a proposal to require 3rd-party candidates in Ohio to pay $50,000 to be allowed on the Ohio ballot? Thankfully it failed earlier this year. But it illustrates how the 2 major parties look to lock out competition.

Why do politicians make a lot of promises, then regularly break them when they take office?

This is the timeless tactic to get your vote. Once in office, they are beholden to those who paid large sums of money (donors) to help them get there. The politician will take care of the donors and their own self-interests while in office, then they may give a few scraps to the voters to pacify them in the hope that it will be enough to gain re-election.

This well-worn tactic has delivered consistent results through the years: Voters get little or nothing in return, regardless of which party is in power at the time.

[Their are a few legit politicians that see themselves as public servants and conduct themselves accordingly. Unfortunately, those members are a distinct minority that have no real power over the status quo.]

How has this corrupt system been established?

At the moment, Washington politicians have firm control over the U.S. people. They formulate the laws, structure governmental policies and actions and appoint judges that permit them to do business as they choose.

If this were all done for the people, instead of under the guise of being for the people, it would not be such a bad system. Instead, federal politicians decided long ago that they prefer to operate by their own rules. 2 quick examples: They enjoy their own health care & retirement benefits (superior to yours, dear voter), while pilfering social security funds intended for working people's retirement.

They spend, waste and steal taxpayer money as they see fit, but are never held accountable for wrongdoing in our modern time. If a scandal surfaces, they offer up a sacrificial lamb to be fired. But no one is typically prosecuted, as the recent presidential election clearly demonstrated.

The Key Question

Why has this corrupt system been allowed to stand?

Now that's the real question. But no disgruntled bike advocates are asking it. Why not?

Hey, advocates -- couldn't your projects use some of the billions of dollars that your government is routinely throwing away every year? Don't you realize when you direct your anger, disgust, frustration at the opposing political party, that you are merely fighting over scraps?

In Part 2 on this topic, we'll delve deeper into how federal politicians manage to maintain their preferential status and governmental control, while perpetuating the fraud that is "government for the people, by the people."

Go to Part 2.

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Bikes vs. Cars... Doo Dah, Doo Dah! - 7/27/16

By Pete Medek

For those who thought the Bikes vs. Cars wars were over, (like in NYC), I have bad news. The latest battle lines were drawn at the Doo Dah parade in Columbus, Ohio and quickly spread to all-out combat online.

Parade organizers presented a perverted form of free speech this year. It's their event, so they can do what they want, right? If it were in private, I'd say ok. But in the public domain? Nah, not cool.

This blog will hopefully begin a discussion on the larger topic of 'What is free speech?' And, 'Can you apply it selectively?'

If you're not familiar with this year's Doo Dah controversy, it's centers around a parade 'float' that depicted a cyclist getting run over by an SUV. A sign on the side of the vehicle read, 'I'll share the road when you follow the rules.'

You can learn more about the incident and event from articles like this one. Also, learn more about the context of this message by going to the parade's website.

Ok, now that everyone is up to speed, let's take a look. The organizers describe the parade thusly, 'The Doo Dah Parade is about Freedom of Speech, through humor.'

Intent

Many felt the key was the SUV driver's intent. Was he trying to be funny? Or was he trying to direct hate toward a group (cyclists) he can't stand?

I'm not convinced his words would have any significance. The cycling community is all too familiar with what drivers commonly say during crash investigations. And some of those investigations are hit-n-runs with the most damning evidence, such as a dead body and handlebars sticking out of a car windshield:

Police: "Why did you run over that person?"

Driver: "What person? I didn't see anybody... I hit a deer."

Police: "Ok, why didn't you stop when you hit that deer riding the bike?"

Driver: "I was pretty sure I killed it, so what's the point? Oh.. wait... can I take that back?"

So no, the SUV driver's comments wouldn't necessarily be helpful.

Now let's suppose, for the sake of discussion, that the float driver was / is a hater, like his homemade license plates suggested. Plenty of them out there, right? He sees the parade "rules" allow him to display his hate message, so he enters. He decides to let his true intent be known by flipping off people who boo him and railing against bicyclists along the route. Freedom of expression, right? Great street theater and good fun, yeah?

The only problem is, in this example, humor is not his objective or intent. He's simply exploiting the situation to deliver his message. In this case, Doo Dah, you have been duped. Sure, this scenario is merely a supposition on my part. But one that is clearly possible. And that, dear Doo Dahers, is not cool.

If intent had any real meaning here, this example would be offensive to the organizers. After all, their claim is "free speech through irreverent humor." Not hate speech under the guise of humor. Do they even know the difference?

I don't think the organizers care about intent. You see, that's why they don't screen parade entrants. Offensive displays, hate speech, it's all good -- just put a funny hat on it, right? Or as loyal Doo Dahers like to say, "Anything goes!"

Let Freedom Ring!

Ok. Let's go with that. Let absolute free speech reign all along the parade route! Next year, if you're watching and are offended by anything you see in the parade, feel free to cuss 'em out as loud as you can. What's that? Your kids are at this parade? Take a seat, my thin-skinned friend. You obviously don't know shit about free speech.

As I was saying, decorate those floats you don't like, just like you would for those parked cars along the parade route, yeah?

Take aim at the entrants with water cannons and super soakers. If that volunteer guy or gal wags a finger at you, give them a blast, too. Try to knock 'em down. Then give 'em another. Hey, freedom of expression is free speech, right? If you wag your finger at me, you suck. You're goin' down, sister! It's all good fun!

No worries, folks. Doo Dah encourages onlookers to act like fools. So hey, you're not breaking any rules, not that fools would care. Fools do all kinds of stupid stuff -- so you're golden!

Come to think of it, don't just target offensive floats and finger-wagging volunteers, spread your foolish love or hate at everybody! Now that's REAL free speech. Not the censored, selective version the parade is peddling.

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Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse - 7/2/16

By Pete Medek

As I watched a video that showed an Ohio Highway Patrol Officer harassing a bicyclist, I had a realization. But before I get to that, let's address what was happening in the video below.

The bicyclist was lawfully taking the lane, as permitted by Ohio law. The officer was giving commands to the rider that would have put him at greater risk, had he followed those commands. So he didn't. This is the drama that plays out.

I have watched a number of similar confrontations that didn't end so well. You may have watched some yourself. Where the law officer doesn't want to hear what the cyclist has to say, or can't fathom the possibility that any cyclist might actually know the law, or that he, the officer, could be in the wrong.

Here's an example where a Michigan officer not only doesn't understand the law, but decides that a hand signal given by a rider was offensive.

He tickets the cyclist who decides to fight the ticket and wins. Read more about that case here.

Ignorance of the Law

When I was growing up, we were taught basic life tenets in public school. One of those tenets was: "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Fast forward to today and we find that ignorance of the law by law officers is not that uncommon. What's their excuse?

How much education officers receive obviously plays a crucial role. But if you don't know the laws well, how can you do a proper job of enforcing them? Answer: you can't.

In the case of the Highway Patrol, the organization that specializes in patrolling our roadways (among other things, of course), you'd think all laws pertaining to persons using these corridors (bikes, peds, mopeds, etc.) would be well understood. The videos above demonstrates that this is not the case.

Hence there are police education programs that are intended to do what standard law enforcement education often does not, better inform law officers as to the law and legal rights of cyclists on public roadways.

Disobeying an Officer's Command

Perhaps due to this lack of education exhibited by some law officers, many advocacy groups are now encouraging cyclists to know the law, follow it, and stand up for their rights when confronted by law officers. I concur. But anyone doing so should fully understand the risks they are taking if / when they disobey an officer. There are countless videos online showing brutal consequences for some who take such a stand.

'When the Cop Says Stop' by Bob Mionske covers the subject thoroughly. Bob points out that "...If an officer believes that you are not complying with his orders, that can have potentially deadly results, even though the officer is wrong..."

Bad Cops?

I'm not going to get in a discussion about police brutality here. But it's worth noting that when a physical confrontation erupts, a rush of adrenaline will follow, often leading to dreadful results. There typically follows finger pointing at the officer, while few ever question the training that proceeded the event. And that training goes hand-in-hand with knowing the law. Again, if you don't know the law, you can't properly enforce it. And if you don't have adequate training, knowing the law does not guarantee a proper outcome.

The Realization

Now for the realization I mentioned at the outset. When I first saw the highway patrol video, I realized the progress that has been made in civil rights.

In the old days, any confrontation between cyclist and cop was a simple matter of the policeman's word against the cyclist. With the widespread use of video, the civilian or cyclist is no longer instantly classified as the second class citizen.

And the legal use of such video has become common knowledge, though there are countless online videos depicting law enforcement officers trying to convince people to turn off their cameras or audio. Apparently for some officers, equal footing is not comfortable ground.

So, stand up for your rights when you ride, if you choose. Be knowledgeable and mount a camera or two on your bike. For you may be the next rider that helps to educate law enforcement officers that oversee our roadways. This is an important process. But understand that it is not without risk.

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The Magic Bike, Part 2 - 4/24/16

By Pete Medek

To begin with Part 1, go here.

Before we continue, here's a video that does a good job of explaining e-bike basics, and the advantages they provide commuters.

Blurred Lines

As mentioned in the video, there are different types of e-bikes. Some have a throttle and require no pedaling, like an electric scooter. Others have 'pedal-assist' that only kicks in when you're pedaling, requiring you to operate the cranks in order for the power to stay on. And the amount of power or range can vary from model to model.

So you may have a "bike" with a throttle that goes quite fast. Or, you may have to pedal on a bike that provides a little boost and moves you along more slowly. These varieties are great for consumers, as they can choose the configuration they like best. But it can be maddening for trail managers in terms of regulation and safety.

Is an E-Bike a Bike or a Moped?

Many law-makers and law enforcement officers are also confounded as to where e-bikes fit in. Are they motorized vehicles that belong on the road with cars -- or still bikes?

Here's a piece on NYC's struggle with this issue, as well as a mention of new laws states are drafting to address this matter.

What About Trails & E-Bikes?

If you start with the premis of an e-assist that only works when one pedals, and limit that assist to low speeds and wattages (power), I believe that integrating these bikes with other users along multi-use trails would be fairly painless and safe. But as you know, there are different types of e-bikes that can produce very different levels of power and speed.

And that's the problem trail managers face. If they allow all e-bikes, they will be allowing the high-speed throttle designs as well.

As to where they'll be allowed to operate -- on road, trail or both -- California's new law may indeed be the template for other states to follow, by classifying the machines.

Once classes are established, it's easier to get everyone on the same page regarding where and how each class should be used. Here's how California does it.

E-Bike Converts

As e-bike technology becomes more pervasive, many purists are moving over to the dark side. Mountain bikers are among the most hard-line advocates of good ole pedal-power. But their ranks are softening as more of them are being seduced by the advantages of the technology. (See how this product reviewer became an e-bike convert.)

I think the technology will continue to grow and the advantages will become so apparent over time, that most everyone will embrace the e-bike.

More Trail Traffic?

Could the use of low-speed e-bikes result in a new wave of congestion along trails? Possibly. That would also lead to trails becoming even more popular than they are now, and further their importance as vital mobility corridors, which in turn should lead to more funding as usage increases. So, in the end, a properly managed corridor should be able to adjust to changing needs by widening congested segments, for example.

California already allows class I e-bikes to access trails. And some of those bikes are not required to be pedal-operated. In other words, they allow motorized personal transport vehicles, albeit at lower speeds. So in a sense, the days of the true "non-motorized" trail are likely numbered.

Because ultimately, it's not how your bike is propelled that matters most -- it's whether your device is compatible with others that share the trail.

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The Magic Bike, Part 1 - 2/26/16

By Pete Medek

Bike advocates are always looking for the next big thing that will get more people out of their cars and riding bikes.

Not long ago, complete streets was thought to be the answer. And while including bikes in the transportation mix is critical, and does bring more bikes to the street, it was not the ultimate solution.

Protected Bike Lanes

Studies revealed that most people preferred a degree of protection with their place on the road, thank you very much. Hence, the protected bike lane (or cycle track) is currently thought to be the holy grail. And for good reason. Without good infrastructure for cyclists to use, you cannot have mass participation.

Even before these concepts began appearing on Ohio roads, trail building was happening here. It began, humbly enough, with a few "recreation" trails along former rail corridors. In recent years these bikeways have been expanded and connected to form some rather large multiuse trail networks.

Trail Networks - Another Game Changer

As these trails continued to expand, so did their purpose. Now, many provide real transportation options. So much so, that connecting trails across a city or county is considered fundamental by trail builders. This connectivity pertains directly to a community's walkability, quality of life, and options for moving around a given area, large or small.

This happy coincidence of bike infrastructure development on both road and trail is the foundation for getting people moving around without cars. Without it, concepts like eco-friendly alternative transportation corridors are just that: concepts.

Admittedly, bike infrastructure in Ohio has a long way to go. Will we have it made when it gets there?

The Final Puzzle Piece

No doubt that having the proper infrastructure is the foundation for any large scale movement to better health and a move away from car dependency. But in my opinion, infrastructure alone is not the ultimate solution.

There is another factor at play that does what the best infrastructure can never do.

Provided you haven't forgotten that obesity is a problem in this country, you know that many people are sedentary and/or have health issues and may not be able to ride a bike. Or, may only manage a short distance on one. If there was a solution that would get many of these people out of their cars, well, then you'd have something. A BIG something.

The Magic Bike

I'll call it the magic bike, but in fact it can be any small, powered personal transportation conveyance. Let's talk about the e-bike, since that form is being rapidly developed and is familiar to most everyone.

See the video below for one example that looks nothing like a bike.

Whether trail users like it or not, the e-bike (or some form of it) is the next big thing in personal transportation. Just as powered wheelchairs expanded mobility options for many, the e-bike has already begun to show up on trails in the U.S. And with it, a fair amount of controversy, given that multiuse trails have traditionally been known as "non-motorized" zones.

The e-bike offers many advantages that traditional bikes can't, hence the "magic."

  • Encourages those to ride who normally find pedaling too physically demanding
  • You are not limited to how far you can pedal on any given ride or commute (provided your battery has enough range)
  • No more showing up sweaty at work (when you don't want to) from your bike commute
  • Provides a failsafe if you've pedaled too far or bonk on a ride
  • Can open up route options or commutes for those who dread hills or distance
  • Allows riders with differing abilities to ride together
  • Electric assist cargo bikes can relieve the burden of trying to haul large items or your kids on a heavy bike
  • No more whining about losing a bike race :) (I couldn't resist adding that one.)

An e-bike is a bike that's useful to more people. So if the idea is to get more people out of their cars, you need a bike that will work for more of those folks. It's that simple.

In Part 2, we'll look at how different e-bikes work, and consider where they fit in. Then we'll look to the future of personal alternative transportation, and what that means for trail corridors.

Go to Part 2.

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Fast Riding on Multiuse Trails Part 3 - 1/15/16

By Pete Medek

(To start with Part 1, go here.)

Fast riding on congested multiuse trails takes some planning and creativity. Am I kidding? No, not at all.

I'll venture a guess that most cyclists that commit dangerous high speed passes on trails are locals. They are familiar with the trail(s) they ride and use it/them regularly to commute or for fitness. And as locals or regular users, they are familiar with nearby roads and trail conditions as well.

And that's important, because they probably know things like alternate routes and peak trail congestion times. And they can put that knowledge to good use.

Grinding to a Halt

On some of Ohio's most popular trails, peak usage time can be quite impressive with swarms of people along the trail, rather than small pockets of congestion here or there. This is a red flag for the fast rider. She knows that making good time is a fantasy under these conditions. You simply can't pass when there is a mass of humanity streaming along in both directions on a narrow strip of bikeway.

The Strategy

So for starters, she avoids peak usage times whenever possible. By taking note of where congestion typically occurs, she can plan alternate routes on nearby roads to avoid those sections. And if trail congestion continues to worsen, or the rider simply cannot ride during off-peak times, she may find that transitioning to the road is the best answer to all her fast-riding needs.

No Good Road Routes

What happens when the only roads in the area are highways or seemingly impossible roads to try to ride? For the trails-only rider, the options are clear. Ride the trail during off-peak hours, or find a less-crowded trail to frequent.

The commuter may have more options. Some roads that at first glance look impossibly congested, can be quite bearable during off-rush hour times. A pre or post rush hour ride may work. But then again, a pre rush hour morning ride may work on many trails as well, as that's quite early in the day.

For those that use trails at different times of the day to run errands, etc., develop your creative route planning to a fine art. If you aspire to always ride fast, it will serve you well.

No Road Route Options, Period

Let's imagine there are no alternate road routes at all, just highway and your trail. (Or the fast rider who refuses to take to the road.) Again, the options are pretty clear. Ride safely during off-peak times, or find a less popular trail.

When Multiuse Stops Working

When a bikeway provides both recreation and transportation (not just in theory), chances are it will be very popular and may be jam-packed much of the time. There is only so much human traffic that these narrow 10 - 14' wide trails can accommodate.

So, if your local trail is suffering from extreme congestion that results in an increasing number of accidents and cyclist/walker conflicts (& an overabundance of "bad apple" cyclists who have no patience for riding at a snail's pace), take heed. Your trail may be a prime candidate for expansion.

Think about it. What have we done with U.S. roadways for decades? Expand, expand, then expand some more. So why not widen some congested trails? Maybe add a separate lane for walkers (or bikers, depending on your perspective). It's very doable, and far less expensive than roadway expansion, to be sure.

But until that happens, take my advice and always ride safely, whatever the trail conditions. And pass safely. Consistently. As a cyclist, you are (potentially) the menace on multiuse trails.

Remember that stupid driver that almost took your arm off with his mirror? Don't be that guy on the bike trail. Your fellow trail users will sincerely appreciate it.

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Fast Riding on Multiuse Trails Part 2 - 1/10/16

By Pete Medek

(To start with Part 1, go here.)

Let's face it, fast-riding on bike paths is often as common as its motorized counterpart, fast-driving (speeding) on roads. And that's not likely to change anytime soon. So rather than talk about the fantasy of imposing and enforcing bike trail speed limits, let's look at how one can ride fast, yet safely on multiuse trails.

Bicycle Freeways

Many Ohio bikeways traverse rural, relatively unpopulated countrysides as they move between villages, small towns and even larger cities. This often translates to miles of open multiuse trail during a ride. For the cyclist that wants to ride fast, or just burn some extra calories, this is ideal. It's like riding a wide-open bike freeway.

And frankly, I have no doubt that this is what lures fast riders to the trail. It's a tremendous feeling to ride an open ribbon of asphalt without the worry of sharing the space with cars. There's a sense of freedom that all trail users can relate to.

Smart Fast Riders

However, even along desolate stretches, one will encounter other trail users from time to time. What now? Can you just blow by these slow movers? Sure, if you don't mind risking biting the asphalt. It's surprisingly easy to go from great trail ride, to asphalt faceplant. Just ask any cyclist that's had a dog (or it's taunt leash) dart in front of their front wheel.

Here's the thing, the smart fast rider knows that by sharing the trail with different mode users, she needs to expect the unexpected and plans ahead. Therefore, she does not pass at high speed. She also knows who the vulnerable users are on the trail and doesn't treat them poorly, as she is sometimes treated on the road by drivers.

The Safe Pass

When you break it down, the safe pass is rather complex. But once you become used to performing it, it becomes routine and simple. Here's how you do it right.

  • Slow speed & scan - as you begin to approach any trail user(s), regardless of their direction of travel. You scan for potential problems (earbuds, long leash, erratic behavior, etc.). Do approaching riders see you while they're busy chatting with their buddies? Make eye contact and give a shout-out - "HEADS UP!" - when necessary, to avoid a head-on collison.
  • Make sure the oncoming lane is clear before attempting to pass.
  • Give warning before overtaking - "passing on your left!" or a ring from your bike bell is not simply a courtesy. It reduces your chances of a collision because you've made others aware of your presence and intention.
  • Look over your left shoulder before moving to your left - or check your mirror to make sure you are not about to be overtaken by a faster rider coming up from behind.
  • Give a wide berth & pass at proper speed - just as you expect cars to give you 3-feet or more of clearance on the road, you should move over to the far edge of the pavement when passing users moving in the same direction. The proper speed for passing is the speed at which you can safely avoid or stop regardless of what happens around you (dog bolting at your wheel is a good measuring stick). If there's a toddler on the loose, go even slower.
  • After passing, glance over your right shoulder - before moving back over to the right side of the trail. Not only as a courtesy to those you passed safely, but while you were passing, a rider may have approached you from behind and may be overtaking you on your right (expect the unexpected!).
  • Move safely back to the right and resume speed. If the trail is open, resume fast speed, if you like.

Practice & Repeat

Practice safe passing technique until it becomes routine. Not only will this dramatically improve your safety on the trail, it will ensure that you are respecting all fellow trail users.

And of course, safe passing technique should always be used, regardless of whether you consider yourself a fast rider or not.

That's Not Fast Trail Riding

Some will argue that by slowing down and not buzzing by walkers (slower movers), you are actually losing valuable speed and time. Well, if you were in a race, I'd say that's true. But public trails are no more a race track than a public roadway.

And when you think about it, what harm is there in making a safe pass and losing a few seconds? Don't we make that same argument when we're implementing road diets that affect drivers' commute times? When they gripe about losing precious seconds, don't we point to safety for all travelers (vision zero) as the ultimate goal?

Surely even the most hardcore speed demons can understand that those precious few seconds are an investment against breaking one's neck (don't forget that bolting dog!), messing up that expensive bike, a potential trip to the hospital, a potential lawsuit, etc. All things that none of us would care to experience. And as it turns out, can easily be avoided.

Wide Open Multiuse Trails? Yeah, Right!

For those that have read this far, at least some may be shaking their heads and saying, "Wide-open trails - Ha! Not where I ride." In Part 3 in this series, we'll take a look at more congested trails and what fast riders can do there.

Go to Part 3.

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Fast Riding on Multiuse Trails - 1/2/16

By Pete Medek

We've all read posts about cyclists vs. walkers conflicts on trails, whether those trails be multiuse or single track. It's the classic "us against them" struggle where each group typically tries to discredit and vilify the other in the comments section.

Horsing Around

Having ridden single track less than a dozen times (it's not my thing), I'll admit to having no expertise regarding soil erosion and ecological or habitat damage as caused by foot, wheel or hoof. On one of my few visits to the dirt, I witnessed widespread damage by hoof. But hey, that may have been a result of those select few that ruin things for everyone.

My focus here is on paved, multiuse trail conflicts. I used 'Fast Riding' in this blog title for a reason. Most trail users would not identify slow riding as a problem. It's the discourteous, fast-riding cyclists that buzz walkers without so much as a "how do you do" that usually raises blood pressures. And understandably so. It's dangerous. So... why do they behave that way?

Interestingly, road cyclists are familiar with this question. They ask it themselves after being buzzed by a driver on the road. So there's some common ground here, when you think about it.

Those Bad Apples

The "bad apples" on the bike trail are a rather select group. They have to be fit enough to buzz walkers. (A slow speed buzz just isn't the same.) They also have to develop some arrogance and indifference toward fellow trail users, like they own the trail. Much like some drivers on the road. And perhaps they have either: not experienced the hierarchical pitfalls on the road, or they choose to pass them along when they are not low man on the totem pole.

What's puzzling to me, is that buzzing peds on a trail is also dangerous for the rider. Any unexpected sudden move by a walker into the rider's path at the wrong moment and whammo, everyone's going to hit the deck. So, these riders must also have little regard for their own safety, or simply haven't considered this danger.

And that's unfortunate, because it's actually quite easy to ride fast and safely on many Ohio trails. I'll cover how to do just that in Part 2. And if your local trail seems to have an overabundance of "bad apple" cyclists, it could be due to another reason, which I'll cover in Part 3.

Go to Part 2.

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Google Renders Bike Layer Virtually Useless - 11/25/15

By Pete Medek

[Update: Google has restored the bike layer to its previous zoom settings as of 12/18/15. Let's hope this change is permanent!]

Sometime toward the end of October, Google decided to change the zoom level at which their Bike Layer displays on Google maps. As a result, the Bike Layer has become largely useless.

The zoom level has been set so far in, that only a small localized snapshot of bike routes can now be viewed at one time.

bike layer

Lower Scioto Bikeway, Columbus, OH

The screenshot above shows most of the 6-mile long Lower Scioto Trail. The southern portion on the west side of the river is not visible. Nor is the entire Upper Scioto or anything more than the southern tip of the Olentangy Trail.

To view those trails, you'll have to scroll. Because if you zoom out just one level, you get this...

invisible bike layer

Lower Scioto without bikeways

Previously, one could survey large regions and see the full extent of bike travel corridors in the form of: multiuse trails, bike lanes and bike-friendly roads.

Apparently someone on the Google team decided that broader zoom perspectives were not needed.

Who Uses the Bike Layer?

So, who uses the bike layer feature on Google maps?

  • People that are relocating or visiting a new area have a number of questions. Foremost in many minds these days is, "what are the biking options there?" A broad picture of those options on a map is invaluable.
  • Bike commuters looking for alternative routes. When your commute is short (local), the options are obvious and no map is needed. When commutes are longer, more route options become available. This is where the bike layer came in handy.
  • Trail riders looking for new trails to visit and explore. When you can't view longer trails or trail networks in their entirety, your trip planning is seriously compromised.
  • For trail builders (or anyone studying, tracking or reporting on trail growth) a map of the big picture of existing bikeway networks was a most useful tool. At a glance, one could see entire networks in various forms of completion. That provided an easy way to identify potential connections, as well as additional routes that might be needed.
  • For touring cyclists, the larger perspective of bikeway travel is essential to planning their routes.

Perhaps the better questions are, "Who didn't use the old Bike Layer?" And, "Who will bother with it now?"

What Prompted the Zoom Change?

Speculation among Google map users in the forums I visited suggests the zoom may have been restricted to avoid viewing a cluttered map. I doubt this is the case, since the bike layer will only appear if you specifically select it to call it up. In other words, it's only being utilized by those who wish to see it.

It's somewhat mind-boggling that Google would invest so much effort into plotting all these bikeways throughout much of the world, only to undercut viewing all that splendid data.

It's very much like looking skyward on a brilliant summer night, to see only 5 stars at a time.

Send Feedback to Google

If you are unhappy with the new zoom limitations on the Bicycle Layer, contact Google and let them know.

1 comment    add comment

Google has restored bike trails on bicycle view.
Posted by David Pauer -- 12/18/15

Examining the Cleveland Bike Lane Controversy - 10/7/15

By Pete Medek

A new bike lane configuration surfaced recently in Cleveland that goes against convention. And it wasn't installed by guerrilla bike advocates. It was implemented by a guerrilla engineer, Andy Cross.

How is it Different?

Here's what a typical buffered bike lane looks like.

buffered bike lane

NACTO.org

Now imagine placing the buffer (striped area) against the curb and leaving a single white strip in its place. You're basically moving the cyclist closer to the traffic and removing the separation that was intended to keep him/her safer. So you end up with a standard, non-buffered bike lane with a buffered curb. That, in a nutshell, is the controversial new configuration that was installed recently in Cleveland.

Breaking the Engineer Mold

Given that engineers are generally known for following standards and specifications to the nth degree, I find it intriguing that Cross bucked convention here.

And convention, in this case, is best current practices.

Flipping the Buffer

This quote from Green City Blue Lake seems to sum up Cross' reasoning here:

"...[Cross] rationalized that [his] design puts cyclists in a better line of sight for drivers. Cross' concern: Cars turning right across the bike lane, he said, would be more dangerous with the buffer along the left side."

The problem is that right hooks occur when a driver has already passed a cyclist (then slows to turn in front of them). The rider is no longer in the driver's forward field of vision, regardless of his/her proximity to the curb.

The Real Issue

The fact in this matter is that neither a buffered bike lane, nor a standard one with a buffered curb, prevents a right hook. It would take a change in driver behavior to achieve that.

Cross' point that his design is safer, is an opinion. It's subjective. And not backed by any data that I'm aware of. Ideally, road safety standards are based on data.

Safety Comes First

Is safety subjective? It certainly shouldn't be. Not when it comes to public safety.

That's where press conferences and public meetings come in. If you take your case to the public and they buy in, everyone's happy.

But when you play 'Father Knows Best,' you're sticking your neck out.

Who Needs a Buffer Anyway?

With Cross' willingness to do away with a buffer between drivers and bicyclists, you would think there is no need for one. Au contraire. Greater separation is all the rage right now and for good reason. Distracted drivers are everywhere.

During my 9-mile work commute by car, I see them so frequently, that I can recognize their behavior when following them from behind. (I'll bet you can, too.) The distinctive weaving pattern on the road, or the listing to one side that often takes them outside their lane... repeatedly.

By putting cyclists closer to that hot mess, you are asking for trouble. And for fewer cyclists to use your bike lanes. So, think twice Mr. Cross, before deciding that buffer serves no useful purpose.

I invite you to join us in the ongoing process of refining bike infrastructure to improve it further. Your concern for cyclists' safety is much appreciated. But there's a process here that needs to be respected.

Experimenting with new designs should never be taboo. But at the very least, you should have local community approval before implementation.

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How Does 'Bike May Use Full Lane' Work? - Part 2 - 9/23/15

By Pete Medek

(To start with Part 1, go here.)

Let's examine what Ohio law says about a cyclist's right to "take the lane." Though we're looking at the larger standard (state Law) here, keep in mind that local jurisdictions can also have their own bike laws.

Section 4511.55 reads as follows:

  • (A) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable obeying all traffic rules applicable to vehicles and exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction.

The word "practicable" is key here. "Feasible" would be an excellent definition, as well as an appropriate substitution. "Practicable" did cause some confusion, so the following paragraph was added to the law in 2006 for better clarification:

  • (C) This section does not require a person operating a bicycle to ride at the edge of the roadway when it is unreasonable or unsafe to do so. Conditions that may require riding away from the edge of the roadway include when necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, surface hazards, or if it otherwise is unsafe or impracticable to do so, including if the lane is too narrow for the bicycle and an overtaking vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

And there you have it. A more complete explanation is now included within the law itself. To learn more about Ohio bicycle laws, visit the OBF website.

AFRAP Cases

As Far Right As is Practicable (AFRAP) cases have gone to court since the law was made clearer in 2006. So take note that even though the language has been improved, that doesn't guarantee all law enforcement officers will get it right in the field. That's why it's important that you know your rights. Not only to ride more safely, but to contest a ticket you might receive when you are properly following the law.

To learn more about AFRAP cases, see How to Win an AFRAP Case by Steve Magas.

As you may have noticed, the law does not specify where you should position yourself in the roadway when you take the lane. It says, "... as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable..."

This leads to different interpretations. Many say ride in the middle of the lane (or middle of tire tracks), while others suggest riding in the right tire track.

Which is Better: Middle or Right Tire Track?

Since taking the lane is primarily intended to encourage drivers to allow bikes adequate space when passing, I would suggest only moving as far into the lane as needed to achieve that result. Then you will be in full compliance with the law and in a safer position. As mentioned in Part 1, I find that riding in the right tire track does the trick where I ride.

However, in some cases you may need to go to the middle of the lane to achieve the same result, or due to other circumstances.

Different Road Configurations

In my area, virtually all roads are narrow with little or no useable shoulder. So taking the lane is a no-brainer.

But let's say you have a wide lane with a smooth, wide shoulder that's not debris-riddled. If using the shoulder allows plenty of buffer space from motor vehicles, that's a good start. But what about intersections, parked cars, etc? These factors all require you to plan ahead.

You'll want to avoid frequently jumping back and forth in and out of the lane to pass parked cars, for example. If there are few parked cars, and they are spaced generously apart, and there's ample opportunity to signal to merge into the lane well beforehand, it can work. Just as a merge into the lane at periodic intersections is a good idea (to avoid a right hook). The key is to be predictable and plan ahead, rather than jumping in and out of the lane like a slalom racer.

How Much Space Should a Cyclist Have?

Many states have laws that require drivers to allow a minimum of a 3-foot clearance when passing, while Pennsylvania requires 4 feet. So the general attitude among the biking community is that 3 feet is safe. But is it?

If you were to fall over suddenly, would 3 feet keep you safe? Or could a car still run over your head? Some suggest a fallover distance standard would be safer.

Ultimately you decide how much room is safe for you. After all, you are the vulnerable user out there.

Ride safe!

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How Does 'Bike May Use Full Lane' Work? - Part 1 - 9/9/15

By Pete Medek

Not all cyclists have bike infrastructure in their communities. And those that don't, may have never seen a 'Bike May Use Full Lane' sign before. bike may use full lane

I happen to live in such a community at the moment, and can tell you that some riders in my area still shun the idea of "taking the lane." If you are such a rider, read on. This blog's for you.

Daredevil on a Bike

We all know it takes some guts to ride in the road. It's not for the squeamish. The busier the road, the more experience and chutzpah required.

We all have a built-in tolerance meter as to how much congested roadway we can take. So it's no surprise that some cyclists prefer not to put themselves directly in the line of fire by riding in the lane, rather than along the edge of the roadway.

A Counterintuitive Act

But in narrow travel lanes (or lanes narrowed by parked cars, tire-sucking sewer grates, etc.) "taking the lane" can make you safer.

Have you ever had a driver pass too close to you? Sure, we all have at one time or another. But it may surprise you to know that if you're hugging the right-hand edge of the road, you're encouraging this behavior.

When drivers see you hugging the curb, they often assume there's room to pass between you and the centerline, so they try to squeeze by. Oftentimes without slowing down. In narrow lanes this puts the cyclist at risk of a close call, or worse yet, being struck by a vehicle.

When you take the Lane and move left to ride in the right tire track or center of the lane, you are signalling to the driver that they must cross the centerline to pass. And when there's oncoming traffic, that means the driver must consider how to do so safely. By controlling the lane, you are essentially creating this safer pass scenario.

Creating a Buffer

By riding in the lane, you are also giving yourself a buffer zone to your right. Imagine a vehicle pulling a wide trailer is passing you and the driver does not properly account for the trailer width. If you're using a mirror (you are, right?!), you can anticipate his/her mistake and move right to avoid being struck. However, if this scenario plays out while your riding the edge of the pavement, there's nowhere for you to go. So you'll be struck or forced to kamikaze off the edge of the road to avoid the impact.

Repeat after me: "Buffers are good!"

Angry Drivers

You might wonder, "Won't I tick drivers off by getting in their way?" You'll be surprised that the vast majority will pass safely with no complaints.

Of course, many U.S. roads are about as far from utopian as one can get. So there will be a few bad apples out there that may give you a rough time and may even buzz you with their car. It's important to understand that you are not immune to this behavior, even if you're hugging the curb.

Know Your Rights

So don't make the mistake of assuming you are provoking a driver's wrath by taking the lane. The reality is that there are drivers who don't want to see bikes on the road and show no respect for them there, regardless of their position on the roadway.

My Experience

I've found that riding in the right tire track works well in my area. It's far enough into the lane that it discourages the squeeze-bye. And not so far left (some recommend riding slightly left-of-center when taking the lane) that it confuses drivers.

On rural highways, however, my approach is different. When cars are traveling at higher speeds, it's important that they see you from a greater distance. So I will ride in the center of the lane to be more visible. As a vehicle approaches from the rear, I will move over to the right tire track, where again, a safe pass is encouraged.

In Part 2 we'll take a look at what the law says about "taking the lane." And how to decide when to use it.

Go to Part 2.

2 comments    add comment

This is a great article. It can be hard to 'take the lane' sometimes for all the reasons you point out. But i have found it to be a much safer way to ride. There always grey areas though, like when the lane is wide enough to allow both a bicycle and a car. Those situations make it more difficult to conscientiously take the lane (at least for me).
Posted by Matthew -- 9/10/15
Thanks, Matthew. You make a great point: Determining when you should 'take the lane' is not always a simple, straightforward decision. I'll shed more light on that in Part 2. Coming soon.
Posted by Pete Medek -- 9/10/15

Vehicularists & U.S. Bike Infrastructure - 7/12/15

By Pete Medek

Have you ever wondered why the U.S. is not among the world leading countries in bike infrastructure? For decades we've been playing catch-up to select european countries with the most advanced designs.

It's a bit like we're cavemen staring at a Picasso on a cave wall and scratching our heads. It takes us some time to understand and appreciate the design. And when we do, we're eager to paint some on our walls.

So how did it come to this? How did we get left so far behind?

A recent article by Marc Caswell has shed light on this subject and created much discussion among bike advocates.

In a nutshell, it says that in Davis, CA in 1967 advanced bike infrastructure was being implemented and further developed around the country. It claims, however, this development was successfully compromised by a minority of outspoken cyclists known as vehicularists, or vehicular cyclists. And that compromise led to "designs that treated the cyclist more like a motor vehicle than a human."

For those not familiar, vehicular cyclists are those who believe that one should ride a bike as one drives a car -- taking the lane as necessary, following all traffic laws and being predictable. They also believe that bike infrastructure is unnecessary and dangerous, that other cyclists can manage just fine on existing roads (with some training/education), just as they have.

[To read an in-depth discussion with an Ohio vehicular cyclist, go here.]

And therein lies the problem. The majority of U.S. cyclists did not agree with this in 1967, and do not agree to this day that bike infrastructure is unnecessary or dangerous. Furthermore, most cyclists are no more hard core messenger-types or vehicularists, than they are bike racers. As a result, they have not taken to the road in increasing numbers, until more recent times when better bike infrastructure has become available.

I think all cycling advocates can agree that more people on bikes is a good thing on so many levels. So let's chalk this up to a valuable history lesson learned. It's not only about being the most vocal at those public meetings. It's about advocating for the best and safest designs.

Because in the end we now know that properly designed bike infrastructure = more cyclists. And that's a big win for anyone who wants to ride.

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The Pitfalls of Traditional Bike Lanes - 4/6/15

By Pete Medek

I sat in a couple of meetings recently with local transportation engineers and planning officials in Mansfield and Richland County. The meetings were about introducing marked bike routes to the area.

During discussions about safety and potential heavy auto traffic, a suggestion was put forth to extend the road shoulders on one particular road to accomodate a 5' wide bike lane for bike travel.

This proposal seemed acceptable to both city and county engineers. And initially I didn't disagree. When engineers speak of providing a separate place for you to ride, you don't begin by saying, "No, thank you." But the more closely I examined the idea, the more questions I had.

Traditional or Old-School Bike Lanes

The wide-shoulder bike lane has been around for decades and is likely the first bike infrastructure introduced on U.S. roads. At first glance, the concept seems very reasonable. Pave a wide, well-marked bike lane on the edge of the road to provide cyclists with their own lane of travel. What's wrong with that?

On the surface, nothing. But there are consequences to this approach that are worth considering. Let's take a closer look.

Life in the Fast Lane

By placing cyclists outside of the auto travel lane, drivers no longer have to share the lane and can drive "unimpeded." This results in higher speeds, compared with shared use lanes. This can be viewed as a benefit for drivers and a definite drawback for cyclists, who ride a mere few feet away from the car lane, unprotected.

In another sense, you are also removing cyclists from the consciousness of the driver by separating the two. Again, with everyone in their separate lanes, that can work. But what happens at intersections?

Well, there is no bike infrastructure in the U.S. that maintains this separation at intersections. (Update: The Dutch have a solution and a few U.S. Cities have started using it since this blog was written!) And therein lies a problem. How do we safely reintegrate bikes with cars there?

Right Hooks & the Left Cross

The video below demonstrates the 2 most common dangers intersections pose for cyclists traveling in a bike lane. It also offers advice for both parties regarding how to avoid them. You'll notice that the advice is counterintuitive, and therefore, will be lost on many who will have the mindset to remain in their respective lanes.

Understandably, there have been efforts to find a design solution that eliminates this "experience required" dilemma at intersections. The Bike Box is one such attempt that is not without its shortcomings.

Once one fully appreciates the design challenges that the road-shoulder bike lane creates at intersections, one can see the importance of looking at the bigger picture. So let's continue...

Road-Widening Not the Only Expense

By placing the bike lane on the shoulder of the roadway, one is putting the lane where debris collects. I.E. - Loose gravel, broken glass, bits of metal, etc. Debris is a problem for cyclists that can bring them off their bike in a crash or to fix a flat. To prevent this, the lane will have to be swept periodically.

In addition, bike lane pavement will require maintenance to prevent potholes, broken pavement and other tire-sucking hazards that cyclists avoid at all costs. If the pavement in the bike lane is bad or full of debris, the rider will cycle in the travel lane, defeating the purpose of the bike lane.

And finally, the bike lane markings (lines, bike symbols) will need refreshed periodically. So let's take a look at costs and challenges that have to be addressed with a traditional bike lane.

  • Road Widening (when needed) Cost - to install bike lane(s)
  • Bike Lane Maintenance Costs - to ensure the lane will be used
  • Intersection Hazard Challenge - strategy needed to address safety

The Shared-Use Lane

Interestingly, where shared-use lanes are possible, virtually all of the costs of the bike lane disappear. (With the exception of costs related to signs and refreshing bike sharrow markings, if the corridor is marked for shared-use.)

With cyclists riding in the travel lane, there is no need for sweeping maintenance. And safety at intersections is improved with bikes already sharing the lane as they approach and engage crossing traffic.

Summing Up the Options

In areas where shared-use lanes are possible (lower speed limits, lighter traffic density, etc.), they may in fact be a better option than the old-school bike lane.

Even when bike lanes are moved away from the gutter or road shoulder, there can be problems. Such as when they are placed in the door-zone alongside parked cars. This illustrates how bike lane placement requires careful consideration.

And perhaps explains the growing popularity of separated or protected bikeways, which do not necessarily suffer from the same drawbacks as traditional bike lanes. As long as all design aspects such as intersection safety are handled properly.

1 comment    add comment

I certainly agree... I have seen bike lanes in West Chester OH and in Ft. Myers FL, that I definitely would not want to ride my bike on. There may be some exceptions, but "SHARE THE ROAD" Is still the best policy.
Posted by Carl Bishop -- 5/30/15

The Blind Eye of Trail Advocacy - 9/29/14

By Pete Medek

If you've spent much time on the Ohio Bikeways website, chances are you have encountered some content that's frank, raw or surprising.

Perhaps it was our interview with a bike advocate who dislikes trails. Or maybe our news coverage that regularly reports sexual attacks and murders along trails, as well as other crimes.

In today's world of sexual predators, suicide terrorists and such, there is little that can shock the reader. So if that were Ohio Bikeways' goal, we would fail miserably.

However, our coverage is a bit shocking when compared to other bike and trail advocacy sites. Why? They tend not to cover any bad news unless it fits their agenda.

That means they report heavily on hit-n-run drivers who mow down bicyclists. But what about cyclists who cause accidents or run down and injure pedestrians? Well, no, that doesn't really help advance their cause... so they may take a pass on those stories.

And what if there's a rapist on the loose targeting women along an Ohio trail? Are you likely to learn more about that from the trail's website? No, sorry. That might make them look bad and discourage tourism. Can't risk losing those tourism dollars.

So a trail website that provides public service announcements regarding construction closings, flood warnings, etc., decides not to inform you about serious crimes along that same multiuse corridor. Why? To avoid giving itself a black eye. So they make it a blind eye instead and say nothing.

Obviously, we have a problem with that.

Their approach prevents trail users from being properly informed so that they can take steps to protect themselves and steps to help local law enforcement identify and apprehend criminals. As a result, trail users become sitting ducks. That's an outcome that we find deplorable. And one in which we'll never willingly participate.

As mentioned in our blog on the Knockout Game, this blind eye approach creates a lose / lose scenario for both the public and law enforcement. And a big win for the perpetrators who can continue their crime spree, thanks to reduced public awareness of their activities.

Ohio Bikeway's approach is advocacy through education, not by filtration or censorship. And we'll continue to do just that.

1 comment    add comment

"Integrity" is the word! It's either the beautiful lies or the ugly truth, Shawn (Book Author of Biking Ohio's Rail-Trails)
Posted by Shawn -- 9/30/14

The "F" Word In Trail Building - 7/3/14

By Pete Medek

The obscene term in trail building that landowners dread hearing doesn't start with the letter "F." But it sends a similar message.

The actual term is more than one word, it's: eminent domain. To put it simply, it's the "screw you" directed at property owners when their land is taken outright.

Are there good reasons to take private land? And why do so for a trail? Let's start with some basics.

What Is Eminent Domain?

Eminent domain is "the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation."

Historically, this has been a common practice in constructing new roads, particularly highways. Engineers plot the course for the road, which inevitably crosses private land, and eminent domain is used to secure (take) the necessary corridor from landowners. Proper compensation ($$) is sometimes a further point of contention in this process.

Eminent domain may also be used for trail projects when a governmental entity is doing the building. But there is a key difference here, or at least there should be. Whereas taking land (with compensation) for roadways is typically a given, the same should not be the case for trail projects, in my opinion.

Trails bring many benefits to local communities. So it can be said that trail-building is a pro-community undertaking. If that's true, why would trail builders want to alienate some community members by commandeering their land? For the good of the community, you say? Perhaps. But there is more to this issue than taking land because you can do so legally.

When Should Land Be Taken For Trail Use?

I'm a proponent of the idea that eminent domain should be used as a last resort when trail building, if at all. This motivates builders to be creative and look at alternative route options. It also forces them to be more considerate with landowners, rather than dictate to them. To try to work with those neighbors through an open dialogue where both sides can be better understood in the search for common ground.

No doubt there will be circumstances where a landowner is not interested in any of the above. Even in those cases, there may be other viable options to explore. When there are not, and intrusion on private land is minimal AND we're talking about a major trail route (aka transportation corridor) of real significance, only then should ED even be considered. [ There are exceptions to every rule, but you get the idea. ]

How Not To Use Eminent Domain

And of course there is the wrong way to use ED: the Land Grab. A news story out of Dakota County in Minnesota makes my point.

There are a number of pro-landowner articles in these cases, as well as those depicting halos over trail builders heads. So whether the details of this particular case are being skewed in the above example is not important for the sake of this discussion. Let's assume the "facts" are correct.

If they are, this is indeed a land grab. Rather than build a simple trail along the river, builders are seeking to establish their own park-like setting and acquiring much more land than is necessary to put the trail through.

This is greed, plain and simple. The kind that comes from using eminent domain as a first option. The kind from which elaborate development "visions" are born.

Who Really Wins? Who Loses?

Sure the trail builders get their big chunk of park land, so they're happy. But what about the affected landowners along the river? And their friends and family within the community? Hard feelings can fester for years. This is not a desirable result for a supposed pro-community project.

It also sets a bad example for future trail builders who may be tempted to wield the power of ED and forego the importance of pro-community relations.

And land grabs for trails do nothing to bridge the gap between trail users and those that have no use for trails and see them as a waste of money. In fact, it gives the latter more reason to vilify trails and trail building.

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Epic Fail: Gov't Holds Parks & Trails Hostage - 10/13/13

By Pete Medek

Tired of news reports of U.S. citizens telling Washington, "Get back to work -- just do your job!" -- ? I certainly am. I wonder how many people in our country realize that we're not experiencing mere governmental dysfunction. We're staring down the barrel of abject large-scale failure of the 2-party system and government as we know it. Ridiculous? Hear me out.

Government Gone Bad

A quick civics lesson for those who think this is just another ongoing squabble between Republicans and Democrats. In a free democracy where government services are funded by taxpayer money (the people), the government role is caretaker and distributor of those funds for the betterment of the people and society in general.

(Ideally speaking, of course.)

In simpler terms, the government works for and serves the people, not the other way around. Examples abound that demonstrate that this is not the current state of affairs in the U.S. The recent handling of national parks during the shutdown is a prime example of governmental disservice to its own people. Let's take a closer look.

Reports have been coming in of barricades being erected and federal officers being dispatched to prevent and ticket citizens who try to enter their national parks that the Obama administration has decided to close. Oops, did I say Obama? Well yes, after all someone has to authorize such actions, you know.

There are even reports of the feds trying to shut down privately funded facilities. Is this overzealousness or incompetence? Take your pick. Both are telltale signs of mismanagement.

So now, a government that was intended to be the caretaker of our parks and trails (among other more important matters, of course), has turned the tables. They are dictating to us... with money we give them. So there, Joe citizen. Keep telling them to get back to work. That'll do it.

States Get Into The Act

Now some states are offering to open some national facilities on their own dime. Really? Taxpayers have already paid for the feds to do the job. Now they are holding parks hostage and states will pay the ransom? Incredible.

It's been reported that it costs $50k per day to operate Zion National Park. That's a cool $1M every 20 days, just to open the doors at 1 park. There are 401 national parks.

The New Twist In Your Fate

Government waste is nothing new, though it should never be ignored. Nor should the fact that U.S. citizens are pawns being blatantly leveraged and propagandized in ever-increasing fashion.

There is no need for the barricades and policing. In the words of one Ohioan, "...you can't really close trees... This is public land that we paid into."

The Emperor Has No Clothes, But He Has Huge Personal Bank Accounts

Why can't we make the government do the job they are paid and sworn to do? Because they are no longer beholden to their people. Think of them as a large, miserably managed, over-bloated corporation that's been "hired" to do the job. Only they've got their own mission statement. And you can't fire them.

Nope, sorry. How do you vote out 2 powerful political parties that have a lock on a corrupt system?

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Trail Users Targeted In "Knockout Games" - Part 3 - 8/17/13

By Pete Medek

(To start with Part 1, go here.)

In this post we'll explore what communities should do when gangs use trails to target victims.

Step #1 - Hold Local Media Accountable

Whether due to excessive political-correctness or ignorance: Most news outlets give misleading reports of these gang attacks.

Whether this is done deliberately or not, the results are the same. Locals are lead to believe that these crimes are unfortunate isolated acts of violence. Nothing more.

Telltale signs of shoddy reporting in these cases include:

  • A lack of description of the assailants -- Typically only two descriptive facts are given -- the number of perps and that they are "youths" -- despite witnesses to some of these attacks.
  • While the generic term "severely beaten" is often used, no mention of the focus of the attack to the victim's head area is reported -- Which is the MO or signature for a "knockout game" crime. But photos of the victims (when available) and their accounts (when they are able to speak) reveals the extreme head trauma of these attacks. Some victims remember nothing due to this trauma. Others are not able to speak or do not survive.
  • An over-focus on whether the victim was robbed -- Once a gang beats you unconscious or into a comatose state, whether they then rob you or not becomes incidental. With the "knockout game" robbery is not the primary objective, so it may or may not come into play.

Under-reporting of this heinous crime is a tremendous community disservice. It fails to properly inform local residents about this crime. This in turn prevents locals from taking steps to protect themselves or to help to apprehend the perpetrators and put a stop to this violent crime. It's a lose / lose scenario for everyone except the perpetrators.

And this may be why the "knockout game" has not only survived, but spread across the country. Thanks to the media, there is little public awareness of this criminal activity or its true nature.

Step #2: Organize A Community-Wide Response

Just as building a trail is a complex effort that requires cooperation between local entities as well as public support, taking back a trail where assailants are targeting trail users may also require a community effort.

Trail user meetings should be combined with local park entities and law enforcement to determine a community-wide plan of action along the trail (& other areas that may also be affected).

The action plan should be straightforward:

  • Identify & inform citizens of "hot spots" where these attacks occur
  • Provide guidelines for trail users regarding safety & how to report suspicious behavior
  • Increase law enforcement patrols & surveillance
  • Enable trained volunteer patrols to assist
  • Take additional steps as necessary
Take Action & Help Spread The Word!

For those of you who have these life-threatening crimes in your area, do not sit idly by. Educate local residents concerning the true nature of this gang-related violence and organize a community response. Take back your trails and parks!

Have you been a victim or witnessed this crime in Ohio? Report it to local law enforcement, then contact us so we can spread the word to others.

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Trail Users Targeted In "Knockout Games" - Part 2 - 7/11/13

By Pete Medek

(To start with Part 1, go here.)

As promised, we'll explore some of the dynamics of this violent crime and what you can do in the short term to protect yourself.

Examining The Mob / Gang Violence Threat

Most trail users know to take measures to protect themselves against possible muggings and other crimes along trails. Many of those typical safety practices are outlined on our Safety page.

To my knowledge, however, no one has published any tips on what to do when confronted with a gang or mob that intends to do you harm. This is a different dynamic where much of the standard safety advice may not apply.

While jogging with a buddy will decrease the odds of a single attacker targeting you, you're not guaranteed to get a pass from a group or large gang of perpetrators. It becomes a numbers game that's played at their discretion.

Pepper spray, when used properly can be effective in one-on-one confrontations. But again, the numbers are stacked against trail users when confronted with a gang. While you're engaged with an initial attacker, what will the rest of the mob do -- flee or circle you?

Trust Your Instincts

A trail rider, commenting on one of the Metropolitan Branch Trail attacks, said he carries pepper spray and relies on his awareness and instincts as to what he sees ahead on the trail. He went on to say that he saw a large group of youths on the D.C. area trail the day of the attack and decided to detour around them using adjoining roads, rather than ride through and take his chances.

I agree that being aware of your surroundings is critical. Trust your instincts as well when it comes to potential danger. Be particularly vigilant if attacks have been reported on the trail you're riding.

Other Measures To Consider
  • Ride in larger groups (when possible) to avoid becoming the easy target.
  • Avoid solo runs, walks & rides if the trail has a history of trail attacks.
  • Report any suspicious activity to local law enforcement.
  • Carry a weapon (concealed or otherwise) if you choose and can do so legally.

Though the weapon advice is bound to be a controversial one, I see no crime in defending yourself or your loved ones. This should of course be done legally. You should have a proper permit and check to see if you can legally carry the weapon (and in what manner) on the trail you wish to use.

I won't attempt to explore what one armed person can/should do when attacked by a gang. Beware of the obvious, however, which is if you are taken by surprise (hit from behind) that your weapon may be used against you. But then again, without a weapon you may still have your head kicked in, as that is how the Knockout "Game" is often played.

Long Term Solutions

In the next post, we'll look at what communities must do to put a stop to these gang attacks.

Go to Part 3.

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Trail Users Targeted In "Knockout Games" - 6/18/13

By Pete Medek

Generally I'm not one to read comments to news stories. I get my news and move on. But when I read about violent crime or tragic incidents, I sometimes go to the comments section to get more details from the locals.

Such was the case with a recent article that described 15 Youths Attacking A Cyclist on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in the D.C. area. The article offered no explanation for the attack and instead focused on the victim's bewilderment at being attacked "for apparently no reason." So I headed to the comments section.

There a self-described reverend posted that these youths were playing the "knockout game." I apparently had been living under a rock, as I was clueless about this activity. If you are as well, let me fill you in.

What Is It?

According to Wikipedia, "Knockout, also known as the knockout game and knockout king, is a violent activity played by teenagers in which they attack an innocent pedestrian in an attempt to knock him or her unconscious with one punch. The game can result in serious injuries or death for its victims and corresponding criminal charges for those playing it."

Some claim this "game" has been around for at least a decade, though examples are cited that go back as far as 1992. It's practiced widely and has been described as "nearly contagious" in the St. Louis area.

Why Trail Users Should Be Aware

After reading several accounts of these attacks, I can tell you that the "game" is sometimes refined for victims along bike trails. While one punch can lead to a swing and a miss with a passing cyclist, they've found that chucking them to the ground first is much more effective. That way attackers can properly pummel their victims into coma or death more easily. For you see, that's why it's called the knockout game. If they don't (or can't) knock you out, they keep beating or kicking you... in the head.

Does any of this sound familiar to Columbus trail users? It should. The attacks in 2010 and again in 2013 on the Alum Creek Trail appear to mirror this behavior.

At the time, Ohio Bikeways naively reported these incidents as "assaults and robberies," thanks in no small part to stifled journalism by the Columbus Dispatch. What the Dispatch failed to report was the severity of these beatings and their possible knowledge of this "game." A clue that there was something more sinister at play did come out in March, however, when the Dispatch reported that local law enforcement officers were suddenly speaking about park rangers carrying weapons.

So don't expect much help from media reports regarding the true nature of this activity. Few news outlets speak plainly about these attacks, such as this one out of New York.

Are Trail Users The Perfect Victims?

Sadly, yes. Many of the things we love about trails also appeal to these attackers. Trails can provide secluded spots near urban areas, where perpetrators are not likely to be caught on camera or seen carrying out their brutal beatings. Nearby wooded areas can provide a concealed escape route as well. And of course, trail users often pass by only 1 or 2 at a time, so they can lie in wait for whichever victim type they choose. The fact is that victims literally come to the waiting perpetrators!

And consider infrequent (or nonexistent) patrols by unarmed park rangers. For the perps, that's preferable to encountering an armed police officer with a patrol car on the street.

How Did This "Game" Come About?

Thankfully there are a brave few that investigate how these disturbing trends originate. One such journalist is Colin Flaherty. Read his post, "Bike Trail Builds Reputation For Mob Attacks" and his book, "White Girl Bleed A Lot" to learn more.

And of course, you can also Google "knockout game" to learn much more.

What Can You Do About These Crimes?

Staying home or crossing your fingers when you use your local trail is not the answer. In upcoming posts I'll cover what you can do to stay safe and combat these crimes in your area.

Go to Part 2.

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Where Do Bicycles Belong? - 4/18/13

By Matthew Stanfield

[The following is a cross-post by permission from the author's website, "Field 9: architecture."]

This post is a bit of a departure from what i normally post here. In an effort to be less detached and put more of a personal face to my Architecture practice, i have decided to include some non-architecture related posts. Of which this will be the first. For, in truth, in addition to being an Architect, i am a Father of seven, a cyclist / advocate, and gardner among other things.

bike tune up

Mansfield Bike Tune-up Event

I attended a Community Tune-Up event on Saturday, April 13 being hosted at a local Armory that is being repurposed as a community center. The event was wonderful, and we had a great turn out. There were several groups present including representatives of community gardens and the Armory Project. I was attending as part of Richland Moves, a bicycle / alternative transportation advocacy group, to help with the bike tune-up event. We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 bikes come through to get checked and adjusted by volunteer bike mechanics. The riders also received bike helmets and bike lights while supplies lasted. It was a very successful event all in all.

Naturally, i rode my bike the 1.75 miles from my home to the event with two of my children. As the law allows and even mandates, i was riding in the street. Herein lies the irony. As i was helping get ready for the event, a police officer came up and asked if he could have a word with me. So he took me aside and proceeded to reprimand me for not pulling off to the side of the road and waiting for the car to pass me. The law does not require that, as a vehicle on the road, i remove myself from the flow of traffic to allow faster moving vehicles to pass. Clearly this is a courtesy i could afford to motorists. In fact i often do, when it is appropriate, but i am not required too. I certainly will not put myself, or my children in danger to do so. When the lane is not wide enough for both the car and the cyclist, i am going to exercise my right to take the lane. Putting myself in a position such that the operator of the motor vehicle must consciously reckon with my presence and creating a buffer for myself as well as my children who were riding with me.

Apparently the driver of a car had called the police because i was exercising my rights with respect to the law and the driver did not like that. As i was riding in downtown on Fourth Street towards the Armory, this car rolled up behind me and started laying on their horn before they even had to slow down. The driver proceeded to follow me the remaining .75 miles or so to the Armory refusing to pass me and periodically laying on their horn. At one point, they apparently were yelling at me to get onto the sidewalk, though i could not hear exactly what they were saying (my son asked me if someone was telling us to get on the sidewalk). I can only conjecture what exactly happened, but it seems this driver followed me into the parking lot of the Armory, called the Police, and then waited around for the police to arrive so they could point out this dastardly law abider to the officer.

To be perfectly fair, the officer was rather pleasant about the whole thing despite what was likely my evident agitation, but he should never have even approached me. The conversation should have ended with him telling the driver of the car that i was perfectly within my rights as a vehicle on the road and warning the driver about harassing other vehicles on the road.

The definition of vehicle in Title 45 Ohio Revised Code includes bicycles so long as they have a wheel larger than 14? in diameter. It is true that local jurisdictions can regulate traffic (which includes bicycles). But according to 4511.07 of the Ohio Revised Code the local jurisdictions only have the right to regulate bicycles in such a way that it is consistent with regulations for other vehicles and such that bicycles are not prohibited on public streets or highways. So clearly the roads of Ohio are intended for use by bicycles. While there are many more laws that could be cited here, the final point i want to make is about impeding traffic. The police officer that pulled me aside had two main concerns. The first was for my safety. In which case he should have warned the driver of the car about harassing me. His second concern was that, as a user of the road, i am not allowed to impede traffic. Which is true. The problem is that i was not impeding traffic. Firstly the car could easily have passed me in the left lane had they so chosen to do. Secondly 4511.22 of the Ohio Revised Code, while prohibiting the operation of a vehicle at "unreasonably slow speeds", requires that the capabilities of the vehicle and its operator are considered in determining what constitutes an unreasonably slow speed.

I was not riding particularly slow. Maintaining a speed between 12 and 17 mph with two children is a reasonable speed for cycling.

For more information on this topic, see Steve Magas' blog on Ohio Bike Laws and Ohio Revised Code Title 45.

If you would like to get involved with bicycle / pedestrian / alternate transport advocacy in Richland County, connect with Richland Moves on facebook.

1 comment    add comment

I love that drivers will try to harass cyclist[s] onto riding on the more dangerous sidewalk with their kids. I wonder if the officer would have allowed you [to] have the discussion with your accuser, and discuss harassment charges, rather than just let the driver go on their merry way. But, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Posted by Don Timmer -- 7/12/13

Richland Moves! Picking Up Speed - 11/20/12

By Pete Medek

Richland Moves!, for those unfamiliar, is a ped & bicycle advocacy group in Richland County, Ohio. The group has been in existence for about 2 years now and meets monthly in Mansfield. I attended the group's initial meetings and have since become a regular member. I thought it might be a good time to report on how the group is coming along and why you should consider getting involved if you live, work or play in Richland County.

Paul Bender & Ted Stiffler, from Richland Regional Planning, started the group meetings at the Mansfield Public Library. Those early efforts included discussion on potential local bike/ped & trail projects. Guest speakers chimed in from time to time and brought further interest that drew good attendance from the local community.

Once off to a good start, attendee's looked to Paul and Ted to lead the charge in making Mansfield and Richland County more bike/ped-friendly. (For those of you unfamiliar with Richland County, other than the very nice B&O Trail, there's not much bike-friendliness happening at the moment.)

However, Paul and Ted had been forthright in stating that their primary roles were as facilitators, that the group would need to be a community-based effort. So when no one stepped up to take over the reins, Paul diligently hung in there and continued to host the meetings. He even championed the group's first project, the Mansfield Bike Rack Plan, himself.

It took a while for the group to settle in and start to gel. But in recent months it has begun to find it's stride. Currently It has several important projects in-the-works and near completion:

  • Mansfield Bike Map
  • Mansfield Complete Streets Plan (draft to be reviewed by the city)
  • B&O Trail bollard safety project (currently in progress in cooperation with the Richland County Parks Board)

I'm not going to suggest that the group is a well-oiled machine at this point, but it has made progress. And with the completion of more of the group's work expected soon, I can see momentum building.

For those of you in Richland County that care about bike/ped projects in our area, keep in mind that your fingerprints need to be all over these projects. How do you do that? Participate! Come to the meetings, or, if you're waiting for a particular project to sink your teeth into, be sure to keep up with what the group is working on.

There is no membership fee or long-term commitment required. Come when you can, do what you can. Most importantly, stay in the loop regarding what's happening.

The group's email list is essential for that purpose. It cranks out meeting notices and minutes, occasional updates on current projects, and important alerts or calls to action when they arise. Check out the RM Facebook page. Select "About" to contact Paul and get on the list. Click "Events" for meeting times and dates.

Again, if you want to help shape new bike/ped projects in the Mansfield or Richland County area, you need to be dialed in to Richland Moves! Make a difference. Join the movement!

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New Ohio Bikeways Map Launched! - 9/25/12

By Pete Medek

The new Ohio Trails map has been upgraded to Google API V3. The changes between versions are significant. Let's take a closer look...

Pros Vs. Cons - How The New Map Stacks Up

Here's a punch list of the improved changes. Here are the Pros.

  • Map now displays more trails, bike lanes and bike-friendly Ohio roads
  • Built-in Route Planner allows customizable route planning
  • Route Planner has distance and travel time calculations built-in
  • Users can update trail & other bike-related map info

And now the Cons...

  • Many bikeways are user submitted & therefore contain some errors
  • Detailed trail info (parking, restrooms, etc.) is no longer plotted on the map

Yes, the trailhead and parking locations provided on the old map were handy. But that info is not far away. Each trail mini marker, when clicked, reveals links for more trail details.

The Downside Of User Submitted Data

Many of the depicted bikeways are derived from user submitted data and that does have some drawbacks. Sometimes the trails are over-embellished (shown to go farther than they actually do). Or a corridor may be represented instead of a finished trail, such as the Tallgrass Trail in Marion which has only 1/2 mile of completed trail at this time. No distinction is made between its finished and unfinished segments. And of course, unpaved trails are not distinguished from paved trails. They all get the same green line.

How To Add/Edit Ohio Bikeways

However, Google does allow users to plot or edit bikeways. See the demo below to learn how-to make changes to the Google Maps bike layer!

Despite the lack of distinguishing details on the map, the benefit of the larger state-wide picture is undeniable. Now one can clearly see all bikeways and their proximity to one another and plan routes and rides accordingly.

Just remember to delve into the mini marker links to learn more about how many trail miles are open, etc., to confirm the representation you see on the map. This may also help you to avoid potential problems like construction closures that are not shown.

To learn more about using the map, see Map Notes and the User Guide pages.

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The Trail Bollard Hazard - Part 4 - 7/17/12

By Pete Medek

(To start with Part 1, go here).

Now let's turn our attention to alternatives to the dreaded bollard treatment. The following designs are intended to demonstrate how trail builders can discourage motor vehicle encroachment without endangering trail users.

The Split-Trail Or Landscape Method

Since traditional asphalt trails can also resemble a paved one-lane road, inevitably some drivers will become confused and unwittingly drive onto a trail. Particularly if the entrance has no signs clarifying that motorized vehicles are not permitted.

The split trail method disguises the trail opening where it meets the road so that it no longer looks like a road, or perhaps even a trail! However, clever designs of this type do allow trail users and emergency vehicle access nonetheless.

landscape treatment

The example shown above splits the trail into 2 - 5' sections. Next it uses low height landscaping to fill the median that's created between sections. The median is low and narrow enough for emergency vehicles to straddle to enter the trail when necessary.

Proper (& Effective) Signage

Drivers mistakenly turning onto trails are likely the most common reason for encroachment. To help prevent drivers from making this mistake, proper signage can be used.

The "No Motorized Vehicles" sign has been the old standby for this task. My only beef with this sign is that, though it provides the appropriate warning, it does little to draw attention to itself. It's a bit too generic. In these times where distracted driving is so commonplace, you're asking a warning sign with no pop or punch to get the job done. It will suffice for some, and I suspect fail with others who are more focused on figuring out where this strange one-lane road may lead.

nmv sign nmv symbol
Good                                                Better

The bright orange of construction zone signs or red for wrong way signs do a much better job of getting our attention. The newer bright green signs as well. The brightly colored reflective strips attached to sign posts can add to the effect. The premis is basic: Grab their attention to prevent the "wrong-turn" mistake.

Trails Without Bollards

If you've never been on a trail that has no bollards, you may not be aware that such trails do in fact exist! Let's look at one example.

Visual Cues

A minimalist approach to discouraging motor vehicles from entering trails can be found on the west coast. The concept uses visual cues to let drivers know cars are not permitted.

photo

The image above shows nothing more than an offset curb cut to discourage vehicles from entering the trail. For those Ohio trail users that have become accustomed to bollards, this may hardly seem like a reasonable solution. After all, haven't bollards like those on the B&O Trail been keeping cars at bay? What's a measly curb going to accomplish?

photo

Take a look at this photo. This was taken in Lexington, Ohio. It's the former at-grade B&O Trail crossing on Main Street (Rt. 42). After an underpass of the busy 4-lane road was proposed for the bikeway, the curb cut on the north side of the street was never made.

As a result, we have a trail entry point for vehicles that has no center bollard and no "No Motor Vehicles" sign in place. The only thing preventing cars from entering the trail here is the high curb. This simple visual cue is doing the job of keeping cars out. With a slight modification of smaller curb cuts to allow bikes to enter and exit the trail, this visual cue can be left in place to continue to deter drivers.

This demonstrates how this technique works right here in Ohio. For trail builders that have become dependent on bollards or may be nervous about minimalist designs, "No Motor Vehicle" signs can be added for an additional deterrent.

But What About The "Crazies"?

But what of those who are determined to deliberately drive onto trails? As I covered in Part 1, it's virtually impossible to keep vehicles completely off many trails, even when trail bollards are used liberally. (Remember, the B&O has 49 sets, yet still allows 24 vehicle access points.)

Trail bollards have been shown to be largely ineffective as many can be easily driven around. The bottom line: if someone is determined enough to drive onto a trail, they will, despite bollards, fencing or whatever barriers you care to erect for them.

While this may seem tragic for some, I can assure you it is not. My research on the B&O Trail has yet to uncover 1 case of injury or death from a vehicle striking a trail user in the trail's 17-year history (at the time of this writing). But I did learn that vehicles can and do drive on the trail on occasion. It turns out the results are rather benign. The current scorecard:

Deaths from bollard crashes: 2

Known injuries from same: 16 & counting...

Trail users struck by vehicles on the trail: 0

Unfortunately many have used the bollard presence as a sort of security blanket over the years. They have seen them diligently holding their positions, supposedly keeping vehicles off the trail. Well, if you were to take a superficial look at them, yes, you might think they're doing good. You may even believe that those dangerous little poles are preventing chaos from breaking out on the trail. But if you've read all my posts in this series, you are better informed and you now have more than a superficial understanding regarding this subject.

But don't stop there, spread the word about this trail hazard! If you have these dangerous bollards on your trail, let the folks in your community know. If nothing else, refer them to this blog for further reading.

(Do you have a bollard problem on your trail? Or a trail bollard story? Send it in!)

1 comment    add comment

I've really enjoyed the series of stories about bollards. I'm involved in building the Marion Tallgrass Trail, and this series has been very informative.

I noticed on GOBA that the trail that we took into Chillicothe (from the west) had a set of bollards at an apparently random position, along a shaded area of the trail and not close to any intersections. That trail has few bollards, so it was a big surprise when we came upon them, and I easily could have hit them. Perhaps they were at a change of jurisdiction.

Great job with this story, and I'm really hoping that some action will be taken with the bollards on the B&O Trail and elsewhere.
Posted by Dan Sheridan -- 7/20/12

The Trail Bollard Hazard - Part 3 - 7/3/12

By Pete Medek

(To start from the beginning of this topic, go here).

So, why do trail builders place bollards in the middle of trails? The idea is to block motor vehicle entry, of course. But why is this dangerous method used? The short answers are: economical methods and an approach that equates with "trying to reinvent the wheel." Huh? Let me explain...

Bikeway Budgets

Trails can be expensive. Not when compared to roadways mind you, but that doesn't mean they are cheap to construct. It's been estimated that a mile of trail can cost anywhere from $330K to $1M to build. While the main focus may be trail construction, costs can be driven up by things like land acquisition and infrastructure such as fencing and yes, trail bollards.

What does that have to do with bollard placement, you ask? Everything. Envision a long parking lot that abuts a bike trail where drivers can literally drive onto the trail surface. If your goal is to stop motor vehicle encroachment, you have two choices: cordon off the lot with parking blocks and heavy duty fencing, or, just put a set of bollards across the trail at the far ends of the lot. It's obvious which treatment is cheaper.

photo

Parking area that abuts the B&O Trail

I believe this explains the haphazard placement of at least 8 B&O Trail bollard sets. These are placed at random locations along the trail to try to address these vehicle access points, like the previous parking lot example. But attempting to cordon off a trail to all vehicle access is no small task. 24 vehicle access points remain on the B&O despite the use of 49 bollard sets. To close the "holes" one would have to add about 48 more sets! It's clearly an expensive undertaking, even when utilizing this less expensive barrier option. And most regrettably, this method is the most dangerous treatment for trail users.

Aren't there better ways to approach this problem? Yes. And I'll get to that in my next post. But now let's get back to trail builders who use the trail bollard approach.

Reinventing The Wheel

As I've mentioned, this dangerous bollard placement is probably the most cost effective approach for those that wish to use these barriers. But why use this approach in the first place? Ah, now that's the real question, isn't it? Let's examine that now.

I've followed bikeway infrastructure design in this country long enough to see a disturbing pattern. First, we come up with our own infrastructure concepts that we think will work on the road and trail. Next, we look to the "innovators" in the most progressive U.S. cities like Portland for the latest "cutting-edge" design advancements. Eventually, the rest of the country follows their lead. Eventually, is the key word here.

The problem with this process is that it's largely a waste of time, money and now lives thanks to design treatments like the bollard hazard. Rather than starting with an obviously flawed concept -- like placing a known hazard on a bike trail -- why not look to other parts of the world where they've been building trails for far more decades than we have in this country? Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?

I'm a believer in American ingenuity. But wouldn't it be prudent to look to the most highly evolved bikeway designs in the world, rather than taking the Fred Flintstone trail bollard approach?

And once we get it wrong, we are not quick to make the proper fix. For example, the B&O bollards were installed in 1995. Earlier this year I visited the County Line Trail in Wayne County that also uses trail bollards. The trail was constructed in 2010, 15 years after the B&O. Yet, the only thing that has changed in that time is the size of the steel bollard. It's smaller. 15 years have passed and virtually no progress has been made regarding this hazard in Ohio. That's simply not acceptable.

Next up, we'll look to better alternatives that do away with placing bollards on a trail.

Go to Part 4.

1 comment    add comment

Thanks for taking the time for this lengthy but needed exposition of the issue!

And to your point about following innovators and leaders like Portland, and Not reinventing the wheel, looking to Europe, I know for a fact that PDOT bicycle planners visited Europe in the late 1990s, and many times since, to examine "Best Practices" over there, and brought back the Colored bike/vehicle on street crossing painting.
Posted by Paul Bender -- 7/25/12

The Trail Bollard Hazard - Part 2 - 6/20/12

By Pete Medek

(To start from the beginning of this topic, go here).

Why are some trail bollards more dangerous than others? To properly answer this question we need to look at three aspects: bollard placement (location), visibility and type.

Bollard Location

As already mentioned in Part 1, trail bollards placed in the center of a trail are an obvious hazard. But perimeter or trailside bollards also pose a threat. Many are close enough to the trail surface to allow a handlebar strike if a cyclist rides too close to the edge of the trail surface. Bladers may also find trouble with a poorly timed leg kick. And finally, riders who unintentionally drift off the trail surface (experienced riders can do this as well) are in for a shock should they drift into a trailside bollard.

The Most Dangerous Locations

When bollards are used, you can typically find them at road crossings. The idea being to stop car encroachment at its point of origin. The problem that bollard-using trail builders soon realize is that cars can often enter a trail at many other points as well. Their answer to this potential problem? Use more bollards -- of course!

photo

The site of a recent serious bollard crash on the B&O

As a result, they place them here and there, away from where trail users expect to see them, at road crossings. The B&O Trail has 8 such sets. At the time of this writing, 5 of those sets still have a center post. It was one such location that took the life of Guiseppe Maino in May. Another (pictured above) was the site of an accident in June that landed an 80-year-old rider in the hospital in serious condition.

Trail users do not expect to encounter center poles at random locations along trails. Therefore bollards at these spots are more likely to cause accidents, particularly with users that are not familiar with the trail. For those that ride trails without bollards, no placement would necessarily be expected.

Truth be told, it's virtually impossible to eliminate all vehicle access points on many trails. And that's not such a bad thing as many might imagine. After all, don't we expect rescue crews to reach trail users in an emergency? If so, consider that bollards slow their response time.

The B&O Trail has a total of 49 bollard sets. Despite this, there are 24 vehicle entry points where a vehicle can drive onto the trail without encountering any barriers and access 59% of the trail. For those that count on bollards to keep them safe on the trail, this is a disaster. Or is it? When one considers that these access points have been around for 17 years with no harm to trail users (to my knowledge) from any motor vehicles one has to ask, "How effective are trail bollards? And are they doing more harm than good?" In the case of the B&O Trail, they are clearly doing more harm.

Bollard Visibility

When trail builders place bollards directly on a trail surface, they know they are creating a hazard for users. To attempt to minimize that hazard, they try to make them as visible as possible. There are many treatments used: striping, bright colors, reflective treatments, etc. Though this may prove helpful, it cannot eliminate the hazard altogether. As mentioned earlier, the "multi-task" and "distraction" scenarios can still lead to serious and fatal bollard accidents despite their visibility.

Bollard Type

Bollards come in different forms as well. The B&O uses the old steel version from 1995, when the trail was constructed. These posts are quite tall, wide and very robust. If you test them in a collision, you will surely lose. Shorter versions have been produced more recently that are smaller in height and diameter, but still unforgiving and solid.

Flexible versions have also popped up in other parts of the country. You might think that cyclists are happy to see those. Well, not exactly. You see, these more-forgiving versions, along with the collapsible models (fold over to lay flat), all have a fixed base. This base is essentially a trip hazard. So if you collide with one of these, you can still suffer a serious accident, albeit a different type.

So if your local trail swapped their rigid bollards for the more flexible type you might rightly wonder, "Did we just exchange one type of hazard for another?" "Isn't there a better solution?" Well, yes there is. But before we get to that, let's look at why trail builders place a known hazard on trails. That's coming up next.

Go to Bollards - Part 3

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The Trail Bollard Hazard: A Closer Look - 6/13/12

By Pete Medek

What's a trail bollard? It's those posts or poles that are deliberately placed on trails for your safety. "Your" as in you the trail user. Their original purpose was to keep cars off the trail. In theory that would make conditions safer for trail users. But this treatment has been backfiring around the country. The post in the middle of the trail method has resulted in serious user crashes on trails. We've had two such crashes on my local trail, the Richland B&O, that have resulted in fatalities.

I lost a good friend in one of those incidents. It prompted me to research and study the matter regarding why bollards are used, why trail users are crashing into them, and why we deliberately place a piece of infrastructure on a trail that we know is a hazard.

In this and upcoming posts, I'll visit various aspects of the bollard hazard issue to help educate and inform trail users. Let's get started.

Trail Bollards Are Clearly Visible: What's The Problem?

"Those posts are clearly visible. Why don't others open their eyes and pay better attention when trail riding? I've had no problems avoiding them." This is a common perspective held by some cyclists. They have not had a bollard crash or close call, so they have no understanding as to how they occur. It's also likely that they haven't had a friend or loved one suffer such a crash.

I've found two common scenarios where one can crash into a clearly visible trail bollard: The distraction and the failure to multi-task properly. But before we get to those, we need to identify the "safe zone."

The Safe Zone

The safe zone is the area on the trail surface where your bike needs to be to avoid contact with a center or perimeter (trailside) bollard as you ride by. This zone will vary depending on your handlebar width and the width of the two bollards you're riding between. (For short bollards, measure from the outside of the lower leg or outside of the pedal on a standard bike, while low-riding recumbents may still require a handlebar measurement.)

photo

On my wide-handlebar mountain bike, I measured and found the zone to be 2' 10" wide on a typical bollard set on the B&O Trail. Again, this zone will vary, but the point is you need to be in the safe zone or you'll risk a handlebar strike or worse.

The Multi-Task Failure

Now let's get back to the cause scenarios. The failure to properly multi-task error can best be seen at a typical road crossing. As the rider approaches the road and bollards, she begins to multi-task by assessing crossing traffic while also monitoring the bollards to find her safe zone. She takes on both tasks because she has been taught to do so. Whether it's riding a bike, motorcycle or driving a car, we're taught to look directly in front of our vehicle, while anticipating what's happening further ahead at the same time. This is normal behavior, not reckless or stupid.

If she fails to find the safe zone during her multi-tasking, she will risk a close call or crash. How could she fail at something that sounds so simple? Perhaps she's tired or dehydrated from a long ride. Maybe she's a novice rider that's still learning to hold her line. The possibilities are numerous. If she doesn't get it right -- for whatever reason -- she's at risk of a collision.

Here's a video of what such a failure looks like.

The Distraction

The distraction scenario is more complex. Again, for those who've never experienced it, many cannot relate. I have experienced it myself. Here's how it works:

I was stopped on my bike at a trail stop sign, waiting to cross a rural highway that crosses the B&O Trail. I'd been having some trouble with my depth perception (yes, it's an age thing) and was attempting to be more vigilant at crossings. I started to cross, noting an approaching car in the far lane. I pushed off and continued to monitor the only car coming my way. It was at a safe distance, or so I thought.

I quickly realized that the car was either traveling faster than I anticipated, or was closer than I first thought. So, I stomped on my pedals to stay safe and not aggravate the driver unnecessarily. Within one hard stroke (or two) I was picking up speed and entering the trail again on the opposite side of the road.

Still fixated on the car, my head swung around after I entered the mouth of the trail. My speed still rising, I experienced a sudden start that caused my body to jump as my eyes confronted the bollards and I reflexively steered into the safe zone to avoid a collision.

Initially, I did not understand what had happened. I knew the bollards had taken me by surprise, but I didn't know why. I'd passed by them hundreds of times and both my conscious and subconscious mind were well aware of their presence. How could I be surprised by something I knew was there? It didn't make sense.

But when I thought back to the road crossing, things began to come clear. I was so focused on my depth perception issue, that I had momentarily forgotten about the bollards altogether. I (or the car, depending on your perspective) had managed to distract myself completely, putting me at risk with the immovable objects.

I had ridden the trail for about 15 years or more and just experienced my first distraction that could have easily lead to a bollard crash. In fact, if the bollards had been at the mouth of the trail, rather than backset by a number of yards, you could have flipped a coin as to whether I'd have gone down.

No Rider Is Immune

Here's what I learned: You will not know the time, place or form such a distraction may take. Therefore, you cannot prepare for it. It may be a hornet flying inside your jersey collar at precisely the wrong moment. It may be a blaring car horn from a nearby road that causes you to turn your head without thinking. I hope you are fortunate and never have such an encounter, but make no mistake, no one is immune.

But it didn't take this incident to make me realize that putting trail bollards in the middle of a bikeway is dangerous. I knew it the first day I laid eyes on them. The placement is an obvious hazard that cyclists, bladers and others have to try to avoid the dozens or hundreds of times they pass by them. For example, if you ride the entire length of the B&O Trail out and back, you will encounter 92 bollard sets. You'll have 92 chances to make a mistake that may result in a life altering or ending event... during one ride.

If you and those dearest to you have been fortunate enough to avoid a bollard collision, I'm very grateful that you have been spared. But for many of us who've ridden bollard-laced trails for many years, my experience has been quite different.

As I've mentioned, I've had a friend die from injuries he suffered after a bollard crash. Another friend was riding with her brother who also died from bollard injuries. I rode upon the scene of another bollard crash that bloodied a young man's face and of course I had my close call.

[Since I'd written this, I happened across a young man who told me about his recent bollard crash. He was alone and riding at night. He was knocked unconscious after colliding with a bollard and in his words, nearly bled to death. He showed me his stitches. I asked if he had reported the incident. Like many, he had not.]

Once local media picked up on this topic after the most recent tragedy, more people came forward to tell their stories. It turns out that many bollard collisions go unreported and more folks I know have either witnessed a collision or had one themselves. Its difficult to determine how widespread these accidents are, but one thing is certain. If you ride on trails that use this antiquated bollard placement method, it's only a matter of time until it affects you too.

Why are some bollards more dangerous than others? I'll take a closer look at that question in the next post.

Go to Bollards - Part 2

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The Transportation "Plan" - 3/1/12

By Pete Medek

As big brother presides over money that's in increasingly short supply in Washington, and the debt continues to skyrocket, politicians are making noises like they might actually do something about the mess they've created. (AKA government gone wild.) Talk of doing away with or combining government agencies is on the rise, at least among Republicans. Slash, cut and restructure talk is likely to pick up steam as the debt continues to rise.

Federal transportation funding is likely one of the first big targets for reorganization. As pump prices continue to climb, fewer gallons are sold and less tax revenue collected. Electric, hybrid and more fuel-efficient vehicles also spell trouble for tax collectors as those vehicles consume less fuel. As a result, we have a further shortage of available funds for transportation, compounding the problem.

But if the current discussions over the pending transportation bills in the House and Senate are any indication, politicians will continue to do the one thing they are well known for in the U. S. - get it wrong.

It appears from these talks that trimming the transportation budget means doing away with everything except car-centric projects. In other words, ignoring other forms of transportation, no matter how beneficial they may be.

One Representative reasoned that in effect, the federal government would be giving individual states the right to determine if they wish to continue funding ped/bike and other related transportation projects formerly known as "enhancements."

While the concept of letting states decide sounds good, I'm afraid the reality (at least in this case) would not be. If the politicians that run your state are pro bike & ped, mass transit, high-speed rail (or whatever your cup of tea) then you might get a bit of transportation funding. If they are not for any of these in principal, you can forget it. No soup for you.

Even bike-friendly state leaders may have to bow to pressure from majority constituents if any stink is made about giving up the tiniest bit of funding for silly bike & ped projects. That is, if those leaders care about their re-election. And what politician doesn't?

So, I suppose I'm arguing that a federal mandate to maintain enhancements sets a uniform outline for states to follow. Take that away and "complete streets" could easily go the way of the dinosaurs. And walkable, more livable communities with them.

I've blogged in the past of how beneficial trail projects are to the local communities they serve. How they help people commute, save money and energy, improve their health and bring revenue into local coffers. When you have a component that works so well for communities large and small on so many levels, why would you abandon it? Perhaps because you're a typical politician, rather than a true public servant? Or maybe you're simply too accustomed to getting it wrong.

Our government is well-known for throwing away or losing track of obscenely large sums of taxpayer money. Here's a crazy thought: Why not start government reform by addressing that, rather than abolishing transportation enhancements that consume a miserly 2% of the transportation budget and benefit communities across the country. No, that would make too much sense... another commodity that's in short supply in Washington.

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Top Stories/Trends For 2011 - 1/12/12

Reoccurring stories or themes defined the news scene for 2011. So, along with our usual countdown of the "top stories" comes several news trends as well.

1. Threats To End Federal Trail Funding

Several attacks were launched in D.C. to eliminate federal funding for Ped/Bike projects. Below is an RTC video that summarizes how the thinking behind these repeated attacks is flawed.

Here's another perspective from Jay Walljasper.

2. Sink Holes Plague Great Miami River Trail

A couple of 30' sink holes cropped up along the GMRT in Middletown, Ohio. The cause: corroded sewer pipes. After heavy equipment was used to fix the lines, the total damage to the trail approached $30k for repairs.

3. Towpath Floods For 3rd Time In 2011

2011 was a soggy year that saw many trails covered by flood waters. Low lying bikeways like the Ohio & Erie Towpath were particularly vulnerable. Some sections of the towpath flooded at least 3 times in 2011.

4. Ohio Trail Gaps Being Closed

With federal trail funding prioritizing trail connections and links, and a couple of decades of trail building already under it's belt, Ohio began completing and connecting trail segments around the state. Some of the noteworthy headlines included:

5. Parks Struggle With Minimal Budgets

Some Ohio park districts continued to struggle in 2011 with some closing facilities during the winter in an effort to save money.

A silver lining continues to shine through in areas where park districts actively work with volunteers to keep facilities open. Such was the case in Clark County, where thanks to public cooperation, trails were reopened in April.

6. Minneapolis Takes Top Biking City Award

For an area of the country that's known for cold weather, the fact that Minneapolis ascended to the top of the most bike-friendly cities was quite a surprise to some. And Minneapolis continues to surprise and impress by having the highest rate of women cyclists as well as their numbers continue to surge.

7. Legislation Helps Protect Cyclists

As the trend to integrate bicycling into traditional U.S. roadways continues, so does the effort to pass laws that protect cyclists. Ohio has taken a good first step by creating more awareness for road cycling by launching a "Share The Road" campaign. (Toledo also passed a version of the "3-Feet" Law in 2009.)

Here are some other notable headlines from across the U.S.

California also proposed a "3-Feet" law that the governor refused to sign. The bill is being re-worked and will be proposed again.

8. Cleveland Struggles With West Shoreway Project

Bike/ped controversies in Cleveland seem to be the norm. In 2009 Cleveland cyclists were left out of an important bridge project and now they are being removed (in large part) from an important restructuring plan that is intended to make the lakefront more accessible.

A bit of a dubious circumstance, when you consider that Cleveland approved a "Complete & Green Streets" in 2011 as well.

9. (Re)Building Bridges

More aging infrastructure along older Ohio trails will continue to be a challenge for trail managers. Trail resurfacing, along with bridge structural restoration, will be among the most expensive costs.

Two noteworthy bridge projects in 2011 were the often delayed rehab of a Newark Trail bridge and the re-building of the Sippo Valley Trail bridge that had been burned back in 2008.

New trail bridge construction on the Blacklick and Bike-Hike Trails also made news. As well as the Ed Honton bridge dedication along the Alum Creek Trail.

9. NYC High Line: A New Greenway Concept

A unique greenway concept is gaining national attention. Abandoned elevated rail lines in urban areas are being reclaimed as green space.

The story of the NYC High Line is one of great success. Currently it is the #2 tourist attraction in NYC.

The High Line has become a model for similar projects, such as the Harsimus Stem Embankment in Jersey City. more...

10. 20,000 Trail Miles Mapped

RTC announced that it has mapped 20,000 miles of trails across the U.S.

Garmin works in conjunction with the RTC and its trail data and released its Trail Maps Ver. 3 in November.

11. Land Acquired For Athens Countywide Trail

"Through private donations and grants, an Athens organization purchased more than $300,000 worth of land to continue work on a project that would create a countywide bike path." more...

12. U.S. Bicycle Route System Resurrected

"You might be surprised to hear that there's an actual, official interstate "highway" system for bicyclists. Although there's a pretty good reason that you're probably not familiar with it: after the first two routes on the U.S. Bicycle Route System were designated in 1982, the whole project has essentially been neglected and ignored by officials.

"Until now, that is." more...

13. "The Bike Rack" Opens In Cleveland

"...The City of Cleveland and The Downtown Cleveland Alliance offer the region's first full service bicycle parking and commuter center. The Bike Rack demonstrates a collective effort to create a more bike friendly environment in downtown Cleveland, welcoming bicyclists with the convenience of secure bicycle parking and fulfilling everyday commuting needs with individual shower/changing facilities, lockers, and a full service bicycle repair shop." more...

14. OSU Earns Bike-Friendly Bronze

"In the last three years, Ohio State has invested more than $2 million into efforts to promote and provide a bicycle-friendly environment for students and visitors, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

"The LAB has honored OSU as a Bicycle Friendly University for transforming its campus into a friendly bicycling culture. OSU is the 26th university to be nationally recognized and is the first in Ohio." more...

15. $1.7M Awarded To Ohio Trail Projects

In a struggling economy and with so many threats being levied against trail projects, the annual awarding of federal grants for ped & trail projects has become a precious prize. more...

16. Toledo Purchases Trail Corridor For $6.5M

"After decades of use as a working railroad, a mostly inactive stretch of track from West Toledo to Perrysburg Township passed into public ownership Monday. The ultimate use for the 11.6-mile right of way: a bicycle and pedestrian path." more...

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An Important Message - 12/21/11

We'd like to thank you for visiting Ohio Bikeways. And to thank the many folks that have taken the time to email to say how much they enjoy and appreciate the website.

It's because of visitors like you, that visitation numbers at Ohio Bikeways have never been higher and continue to grow each year. We thank you and appreciate your patronage!

Giving Is Good!

This is the point where we're supposed to ask you for a donation. Well, we're not here for a hand out. But there is something you can do to help trail users that visit these pages. Let me explain...

If you've visited us in the past, chances are you know that Ohio Bikeways has been evolving and growing over the years. Your emails, along with the visitation stats, indicate that we're doing well. Perhaps too well.

We noticed a puzzling trend that appeared as we improved the website: While kudos and visitor numbers went up, user submitted trail updates and reviews went down. We scratched our heads at that one for a while.

We asked ourselves, is Ohio Bikeways a finished product? Is it that good? The answer is "no." We feel it's lacking most in user feedback. The day-to-day perspective from the trail that is so valuable to other users.

Without this user input, this resource cannot reach its full potential. So if you appreciate Ohio Bikeways now, imagine how much better it could be with more trail feedback from users like you!

Create/Share

Please help us improve Ohio bikeway coverage by becoming a contributor. Here's a list of things we need on an ongoing basis:

  • Bikeway construction updates on closings and detours
  • Trail surface condition and maintenance updates
  • New trail & trail extension reports
  • Photos for reviews that have none or need updated
  • Guest blogs, interesting trail stories and thoughtful reviews

Without healthy doses of user input, Ohio Bikeways can never be as content rich as originally envisioned. So explore the website and get what you need for your next trail ride. Enjoy the maps, news coverage, reviews and more. Then give something back from time to time.

Got nothing special to give? No problem. Send in some comments / impressions from your last trail ride. It's all good!

Happy Holidays!

Pete Medek

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Huron River Greenway Battle Part 3 - 11/25/11

(To start at the beginning of this discussion, go to Part 1.)

Ohio Bikeways: Tell us about some of the other dynamics that were in play during this time, like the local news coverage.

Steven Myers: Other factors include that the Sandusky Register newspaper, always supportive of the trail and the park district when they were winning, started taking the side of the property owners after the 2007 Supreme Court of Ohio case.

Finally, while the park district was without a director (he retired in August, noting his frustration with the legal fighting as a factor), the Register brought out a special section expose' against the trail. The reporter "discovered" all the stuff the CPPR has been saying for years on their web site. The reporter never used any information from Erie MetroParks -- if the reporter even bothered to ask for any.

Perhaps it was the reporter's political bent, or the paper smelling the anti-tax/government winds now. It feels like the paper went out of their way to poison the trail just to sell papers.

The Lorain Journal, having previously been anti-trail, has actually been very fair and informative of late.

OB: You'd mentioned to me that a 2.5-mile trail section will be left intact in Milan. How long is the northern section that will remain open? I'm trying to determine how many total trail miles will remain open and how many (previously) existing trail miles have been lost.

Myers: The northern section will be just over one mile long (about 1.3 miles according to an old railroad track chart). A short, undeveloped part of the right-of-way north of the current entrance will now be developed, providing a new trailhead that connects directly to River Road.

The southern trail I still don't know much about. I am waiting for the park district's official statement about it (where the new entrance/exit is, and how much of the former right-of-way was obtained, etc.).

An internal park document I was provided mentioned "2.5 miles" of trail. Whether this is the old railroad right of way or a combination of the rail right-of-way and other spur trails that have been formed in this area is undetermined. The document mentioned that a boundary will be established and a barrier erected along the old railroad, but also that an easement was given to the park district to provide an outlet along Riley Road, just north of the Village of Milan.

The park district also will obtain ownership of the last surviving former Milan Canal-era warehouse at the foot of Main Street. Erie MetroParks already manages the grounds of the Thomas Edison Birthplace, just behind and up the hill from the Greenway/warehouse. I can envision that the trails and the warehouse will be incorporated into the Birthplace grounds.

OB: Having worked for so long on this project, what is your take now that this is all finally wrapping up?

Myers: As much as my dream of a trail along the Huron River is now no more, I think the agreement they hammered out is for the best.

We still preserve some trail on either end and some of the historic Canal area on the south end. It effectively returns the Greenway to its extent in 2003.

I spoke to one of the park commissioners and he was happy that all the litigation was going away, that they could get back to being a park district again. Considering it could have all been lost, I am thankful we got this.

It may also open up other opportunities for us, such as extending the trail south to Norwalk and connect to the NCIT.

OB: If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?

Myers: If I had to do it again I'd be absolutely sure we could obtain the land, and (one more time) not go public too soon.

OB: Any final thoughts?

Myers: I am concerned with the fate of the historical markers, for which I had a hand in their design and purchase, being returned to the park district and erected in new locations.

Like it or not, I am relieved it is all over.

OB: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Steven.

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Huron River Greenway Battle Part 2 - 11/18/11

(To start at the beginning of this discussion, go to Part 1.)

Ohio Bikeways: Was Erie MetroParks simply given bad legal advice regarding ownership of the trail corridor? Or was this controversy created by an overzealous park district or director?

Steven Myers: I don't think there was "bad" legal advice. It had been title searched several times and if there was clearly a problem I would not think the park would have gone through with it, or would have found another way to work it out.

But, controversy was driven by a determined former park director and board of directors members (now gone or deceased) vs. equally determined, well-heeled property owners that drove and financed the opposition.

The railroad felt they owned the corridor outside of the old Milan Canal route and that the original lease of the Canal property by the railroad was still in effect. This was upheld as such in an early appeal.

I felt from the beginning that the lease of the former Milan Canal to the railroad would be the biggest problem. At least one property owner had taken possession of a portion of the leased right-of-way before the park district's involvement (the portion that blocked the Greenway south of Mason Road). That portion was never involved in this whole fight but it turned out to be a key to the property owner's arguments.

However, the Court, in the appeal mentioned above, held that the old canal land was privately owned, and that there was a valid lease that was still in effect and that the park could continue to build the trail. The fight then became where the private property started, and the leased property ended.

This whole experience could really be a test case for study in law schools. It had every conceivable twist you could think of. It was an unbelievable legal maze that both sides got trapped in at times.

OB: Was any of the vandalism and trail damage over the years thought to be a part of the dispute?

Myers: The most serious vandalism, allegedly performed by adjacent landowners, was when a bulldozer actually dug up portions of the trail north of Milan in 2003. The trail there had not been developed or opened yet; but after the damage was repaired it was opened in an unfinished state, if only to keep eyes on it.

There were some tacks in park district vehicle tires and super glue in a lock at another time. Vehicles were occasionally parked on the corridor, and some were towed.

The major vandalism to the Kara Deering Overlook in 2005 was caused by juveniles and was not considered anti-trail. The opposing property owners group, Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights (CPPR), actually co-operated with the park district, sweetening the reward for those responsible--who were turned in and confessed.

Of course, the opposition pointed time and time again to when the park district cut down portions of wooden stairwells built down the hill from property owners' homes in 2002. These stairs were built before the railroad tracks were removed and were so close to the tracks that if a train ever went down the track, the locomotive would have taken them out. The park district offered to modify the stairs. but the property owners did not respond to repeated letters.

When it came time to start working on the trail, the park district removed them to the point where they no longer encroached on the corridor. I could understand why it had to be done, but I now wish they had not done it. It was a public relations disaster for the park district.

OB: Can you walk us through those ongoing attempts to settle this issue?

Myers: Settlements between property owners and the park district started after the 2007 Ohio Supreme Court decision. These were on the very north end and were fairly reasonable in cost because the lands weren't as attractive (i.e. not along the river) and these property owners weren't being influenced by the most vocal opponents, who had formed the "Citizens for the Protection of Property Rights (CPPR)."

But as they moved down the valley and riverside parcels came up for review, they started running into these more-firebrand property owners, or those who were being influenced by them. Appropriation actions would grow bigger and more expensive, culminating with the last property owner probably feeling they could either stop the trail or bankrupt the park district if they couldn't. These property owners would not abide with a trail, no matter what was offered.

The second and last purchase of a riverside parcel went to a jury trial and their attorneys were skilled in finding jurors who would suit their side. That jury awarded the property owner $130,000 for 6 tenths of an acre of land, with legal fees and other costs that could have easily exceeded $300,000. The park district realized that they were in jeopardy and would have to lay off people and cut programs that had nothing to do with the Greenway to pay for this. The last levy barely passed; and a protracted fight would not bode well for the next one.

OB: And now that the landowners have been given a hefty final settlement, when one factors in previous court and attorneys fees, as well as trail building costs, what is the total cost to local taxpayers?

Myers: The paper estimates over $3 million dollars cost to the park district, well above the park district's estimate of $1.7 million, not including the final settlements.

OB: When one adds the $1.935M final settlement to the park district's estimate, it totals $2.635M. Though there may be some disagreement here, we are beginning to approach the $3M reported in the local press.

Myers: Fortunately, only a small percentage of what was spent prior to the agreement was spent in the portion that will go back to the property owners. If this fight continued, the potential costs literally had no upper limit.

We wrap up this conversation in Part 3.

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The HRG Battle: A Closer Look - Part 1 - 11/4/11

By Pete Medek
photo

Kara Deering Overlook
In September it was reported that the 15-year feud between Erie MetroParks and affected landowners along the Huron River Greenway had come to an end.

The trail manager, Erie MetroParks, had thrown in the towel and agreed to pay the landowners $1.935M. As part of the settlement, part of the existing greenway would be closed. (Read the full article.)

We're taking a closer look at this long-running dispute. Hopefully we can learn some lessons from a battle that strained the relationship between a local parks board and its residents and siphoned off local taxpayer money in legal fees and settlement costs.

I contacted Steven Myers, who had been involved with the trail project and had managed a website about the trail.


Ohio Bikeways: Thanks for joining us, Steven. Can you tell us how you became involved with the trail project and the role you played?

Steven Myers: In 1988, when I had first learned about rail trails, I wrote a letter to the then-director of Erie MetroParks and told him that the railroad track between Huron and Milan would be abandoned before long, and that it would make an excellent trail.

In 1991 I obtained permission from the railroad to walk the right-of-way and invited the director, someone from Rails-To-Trails Conservancy and the public to walk the right-of-way on April of 1991.

This might have been my first mistake, going public too soon. When I made a presentation before the park board later that year; the meeting was filled with angry property owners. This was at a point when nothing but a walk of the right-of-way had taken place.

The same thing happened when I called a meeting to form what became the non-profit Huron River Greenway Coalition in 1992; angry property owners outnumbered those interested and literally shouted most supporters out of the room.

Fortunately, I gained the support of Jody Lee Ritter who encouraged me to continue my efforts and we formed the Coalition. We continued to work in public and private and, in 1994, the Erie MetroParks Board of Park Commissioners adopted the project. While we were in their corner, they did most of the fighting.

OB: I can appreciate that in hindsight you feel the concept was taken public too soon. But at some point it does need to be presented to locals for their input.

Generally speaking, trail projects are developed in communities that embrace the concept. That's not to say that literally everyone is on board. But by your description of those early meetings, it sounds as if locals were more opposed to the trail than in favor. If that was the case, why did you continue to pursue this project?

Myers: I was convinced this project had merit and felt that if I put the right information out there, that it would gain support, not only among the public but among the adjacent property owners.

We quickly got over 100 members in the Coalition from our membership brochures and publicity. In surveys; at least one commissioned by the park district and another conducted by a university, trails in general and the Greenway in particular were supported by large margins.

OB: Tell us more about the land dispute and why the park district gave the green light to this trail project.

Myers: I thought the most important property owner to deal with was the railroad that owned the corridor. So did the park district who received a quit-claim deed from the railroad for land supposedly not part of the Canal lease.

However, many of the adjacent property owners were of the belief that it became their property as soon as the trains stopped running. Both the park district and I could not find any evidence that the railroad signed over property to any more than one or two property owners.

Initially, the park district was winning in the courts. I don't know when it turned, or how it turned, but the opponents finally came up with a winning argument. Once they got the courts on their side, they could ratchet up the battle as much as they needed to.

OB: How many times did this go to court?

Myers: I have copies of 7 state court cases and their associated appeals in a folder in front of me. Only the first one against Key Bank had the Board of Park Commissioners as plaintiff. The remainder were filed by property owners as plaintiffs and the park board or director as defendants. They had all been upheld for the park district except the final one, the "2007 Supreme Court of Ohio (SCO) decision" that ordered the park to pay affected property owners.

There were 3 federal cases, two that were held in abeyance pending the outcome of the state court cases. After the 2007 SCO decision, these cases were re-opened but had not been adjudicated yet. A third federal case was opened earlier this year by the property owners who were shut out of another SCO case by not filing in time. These three cases were dropped as part of the final settlement.

[Go to part 2 of this interview.]

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How NOT To Spoil A Great Trail Ride - 9/25/11

By Pete Medek

We finally posted a review of the Alum Creek Bikeway this week. Long overdue, you say? Yes, most definitely.

I'd been refraining from exploring the trail until it was nearer completion. Building a 22-mile bikeway through a metro area is a long, slow process. Building one that has no established corridor to follow -- like an old railway bed -- is tougher yet. In fact, it's hard to imagine a much more difficult scenario for trail builders.

All the effort and expense will hopefully produce an important trail corridor that will be around for a long time. At this time, two small gaps totaling 1.6 miles are all that remain to completing the trail.

Inadequate Signage

[My visit to the trail rekindled a pet peeve of mine: inadequate trail signage. While the Alum Creek Bikeway may be the whipping boy in today's blog, bear in mind that the majority of Ohio trails typically fail in this regard at the present time.]

Update: Long since this was written, there are finally reports of new pavement markings being installed to properly mark the main bikeway, along with direction of travel. - 11/10/16

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Excellent Sign Strategy

The efforts to clarify navigation along the Alum Creek Trail are both encouraging and disappointing. The existing signs show destinations and distances. The proverbial 'You Are Here!' maps give a larger perspective for mapless riders. This is worthwhile and done very well.

But the ball gets dropped for riders on the main bikeway. The signage doesn't allow new visitors to cruise by spurs and connectors fully confident of their direction of travel. And that's unfortunate, especially when you consider the money already spent on clarifying navigation.

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Sign of Confusion

The current signs may provide enough clues to figure out these confusing junctions. Perhaps all I needed to do was stop at every spur and look at the signs that were welcoming users from different directions. Signs that were facing away from me! But I had no interest in that. I wanted the information presented as I rode along, not as a puzzle to slow me down unnecessarily.

I'll admit that I'm spoiled. I'm used to highway exit signs telling me everything I need to know about turn off options. Even residential roads that branch off or intersect with the lane I'm traveling on reveal different names, clearly distinguishing themselves. Is it so hard to sign a trail to accomplish the same thing?

No. We can fix this... quite easily, in fact. The trail already has most of the needed signs in place. Now it's a just a matter of adding the missing element.

A Simple Fix

Trails offer the opportunity for elegant, simple solutions. Like this one: Why not distinguish the main trail with an identifier? Paint a bold "ACT" (Alum Creek Trail) or "ACB" (Alum Creek Bikeway) onto the main trail surface near any spur junction. The paint grabs your attention, as signs do, and should be equally effective.

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Arrows Could Serve a Dual Purpose

Or, existing markings could be used instead. As I was riding north from Three Creeks Park, I began searching for easy clues that might keep me on the main trail. I noticed that initially, directional arrows were painted on the main trail near spur junctions. Thinking this may have been done deliberately to distinguish the main trail, I began following them. Unfortunately, the pattern was later broken.

It's understandable that most locals have no navigation woes on trails on or near their home turf. They know the area well and have no need for signs. As a result, many bikeways leave them out because they miss the obvious, the visitor's perspective.

However, paying someone to design signs (and workers to install them) should produce acceptable results for all users. Theoretically they're paid to do a proper job, so some thought should go into the process, no?

Attention Metro Parks! I'm available as a consultant to solve your trail signage woes. Drop me a note and I'll bring your trail navigation system up to par with the high quality trail and bridge infrastructure that's already in place. (Or, you could use a simple identifier as already mentioned and be done with it.) Trail signage should complement the Alum Creek Bikeway and enhance the user experience, not detract from it.

Today more people are beginning to view Ohio bikeways as the alternative transportation routes for which they were intended. Isn't it high time we signed them accordingly?

Related Reading

Here are more tips for enhancing the user experience on bikeways, along with more thoughts on navigation as well.

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The Holmes County Experiment: How Practical Are Twin Trails? - 8/31/11

By Pete Medek

On a recent ride I made an out-and-back pass along the finished 15 miles of the Holmes County Trail. It was interesting to note how the twin trails are being used by cyclists and horse-and-buggies.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, much of the trail actually consists of two side-by-side pathways, one for bikes and another for horse-and-buggies.

The completed section of the Holmes County Trail extends from Killbuck north to the county line where a single trail (that does not allow horses) continues into Fredericksburg.

The two side-by-side trails are about 16' in width, creating a wide berth for users. The design was intended to give horse-and-buggies a separate trail. The asphalt surface was given a thin chip-n-seal coat to help protect against wear from horse hooves.

Now that the twin trails have been in place for several years, one might ask, "How well is it working?"

Cycling Mode

Cycling was the primary mode of transport on the Sunday I visited. Most oncoming riders gave me an unusually wide berth by moving completely off the bike trail and onto the buggy path to pass by. I found myself overtaking riders in the same way. I'd swing wide onto the buggy path, rather than call out a warning and pass in closer proximity on the bike trail.

As a result, riders were all over both trails. (I found myself following a smooth wheel track on the buggy path for a few miles as well.) This didn't pose any problems as there is more than enough room on both trails to yield to buggies and peds, when necessary. It felt like a more freestyle type of trail travel.

Although travel on traditional trails is pleasant and doesn't feel restrictive, you are generally staying in one 4-5' wide slot along the right-hand side of the pavement. The extra room afforded by tandem trails creates a more open feel as you travel.

Horse-And-Buggy Travel

As previously mentioned, part of the original concept was to give horse-and-buggies their own trail. By giving other users their own path as well, the buggies travel unimpeded and surface wear is confined to one trail. But is it?

Well, not exactly. Though the center of the buggy path shows the most wear from hooves, similar wear (to a lesser degree), as well as horse droppings, can also be found on the bike trail in some areas. Are these simply a consequence of two buggies passing each other on the trails? Perhaps.

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Killbuck, OH

And perhaps the freedom of space feeling that cyclists experience is also shared by buggy drivers, despite the large white letters affixed to the bike trail that read, "No Horses This Side." If that's the case, the surface wear issue may become more of a maintenance cost than originally thought.

The building of the Holmes County Trail has already taken hits from the economic downturn. The newest trail segment, in Killbuck, is essentially 1 trail wide, despite the "No Horses" paint suggesting otherwise. Resurfacing costs are high, and while chip-n-seal tactics may be adequate for the buggy path, it would not be welcomed by road bike riders on the bike trail.

As this is the first trail in the country to use the twin trail concept to accommodate buggies, it will be interesting to see how trail use continues to play out on the Holmes County Trail in the years ahead.

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Trails: A Waste Of Taxpayer Money? - 6/6/11

By Pete Medek

A popular criticism levied against trails is that they are a waste of taxpayer money. Oh, really? Funds completely wasted, like that $15 you advanced little Billy to mow your lawn and he never showed up? That was a waste, I agree - you got nothing for your cash.

Trails, however, give a lot in return. They provide recreation and transportation avenues for local residents and help youths get to school or the local park more safely. They also bring tourism revenue to communities. For people that use them regularly, they build better health and save users real dollars in transportation costs.

Trail Demand

In fact, these "wasteful" trails are used to attract young professionals and improve the quality of life in communities all across our state. They are regularly included in city and township bike plans. Isn't it an incredible injustice that all these communities are clamoring for such waste?

Typically, those that don't use trails only see the recreational aspect.

Big Government = Real Waste

Our government is growing larger all the time. And as it does so, it creates layers upon layers of red tape. The bureaucratic quagmire that results is the farthest point from lean and thrifty that a governing body can be. As a result, virtually everything it does is unnecessarily complex, extremely expensive and frequently wasteful. And, yes, that includes how it builds roads and trails. But that's small potatoes.

Let's look to the king of waste, Uncle Sam, to show us how it's done. In this 2009 article, 50 examples of government waste are listed. Here are a few:

  • The federal government made at least $72 billion in improper payments in 2008.
  • Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
  • Washington has spent $3 billion re-sanding beaches -- even as this new sand washes back into the ocean.
  • More than $13 billion in Iraq aid has been classified as wasted or stolen. Another $7.8 billion cannot be accounted for.

That's billions with a capital "B" and this is just a sampling of how Uncle Sam handles your money on a regular basis. That's real waste -- like hiring little Billy, only on a ridiculously grander scale.

Value For The Money

Trails cost considerably less than roads to build and maintain. When properly constructed, a trail surface typically lasts years longer than a road surface that's subject to heavy automobile and truck traffic.

Trail costs are often deferred by volunteers, private funding and in-kind donations by the communities that value them. A good example is the Friends of the Little Miami State Park volunteers that help maintain the Little Miami Trail. These volunteers mow, remove downed limbs, fundraise and do whatever is necessary to keep their trails open for use. In recent times, more trail groups have begun to follow this model, while others have done so for many years, in one form or another.

Another impressive example is the 13.4-mile Kokosing Gap Trail which was built, resurfaced and is maintained by private funding and the tremendous work of its volunteers.

For comparison sake, what do drivers do for their precious roads? Maybe pickup some litter?

Anyone who is genuinely concerned about the waste of taxpayer money in this country should start by doing their civic duty to chop down the size of government. Vote out any and all representatives that perpetuate the status quo. It's leading this country down the path of financial ruin.

Or perhaps I'm mistaken. Maybe it's our investment in bike infrastructure that's really doing that.

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Learning To Ride My Bike Again - 5/19/11

By Pete Medek

The cold, wet and longer than normal spring season has hampered many Ohio cyclists on their road back to top form and fitness -- myself included.

Currently I'm preparing for a 2-day endurance ride later this month. To get ready I've been increasing the miles on my long rides and throwing in a bit of higher intensity training during the week. I'd done a few hill climbing workouts on the trainer earlier in the season, but it was time to do them on the road, especially since hills would be a part of the 2-day ride.

So off I rode to get the legs used to climbing real pitches, instead of those on a stationary machine with the front wheel propped up by a couple of old phone books.

The strategy was to get a full warm up and spin easily between climbs to keep the legs fresh and the heart rate down between vertical efforts. The pitches and lengths of the climbs would vary, but most were stacked into the first half of the ride, so I would be fresh and ready to climb.

The first few climbs went ok, but I didn't feel particularly good. On the first moderately long climb (moderate pitch), I stayed planted in my granny gear and crawled up to a false flat roughly in the middle of the climb. I noticed that I was suffering and couldn't spin up my small gear. Im no climber, so the suffering was familiar territory. But when I'm fresh, I can spin up most climbs in my area, barring the steeper pitches (none of which I was tackling today).

After a bit of respite between climbs, it became clear on subsequent slopes that my climbing legs were AWOL.

I'd been babying my legs and lungs between climbs and only riding (or attempting to) a steady climbing tempo, yet I was toast. My mind searched for answers, "Am I tired? Was that ride yesterday harder than I thought? Is my climbing fitness light years behind my base fitness? What's going on here?"

I took a snack break and thought back to a similar experience I'd had last season. I'd purchased a new road bike and dialed in the geometry for a very comfortable riding position. But whenever I tried to climb, I had no power. After moving the seat ever so slightly forward, suddenly I could climb again!

We all have different physiques and riding styles, particularly on climbs. Some like to sit way back in the seat and drop their heels and power over the top of the pedal stroke, ala Jan Ullrich. Some, like me, like to slide forward on the saddle and force the pedals down to spin them up using a quick downstroke. Others may have a rounder pedal stroke and/or sit more in the middle of their saddle.

The bottom line is, if you spend enough time on your bike and put in the miles, you'll eventually find the most efficient pedaling style for your body type.

Thinking back to my poor saddle position from the year before, I wondered, "Could I be making that same mistake again?!" I got back on the bike and eventually rolled up to one of the last climbs of the ride. I moved forward on the seat and started to punch out the downstrokes. My spent legs suddenly came back to life as I methodically churned over the climb.

Once on flat terrain again, I slid back on my seat, but not all the way back. I had a hunch to try. I settled my hands over the brake hoods and watched as my speed and cadence moved slightly higher than earlier in the ride, while my heart rate dropped down a bit. My spin felt more effortless now and a smile came back to my face. I would finish the ride feeling strong, not spent.

Just getting out to ride, run or walk is a good thing. But always remember to utilize the efficiency you've perfected over the years to make your outing even more enjoyable. So if you're having a bad day on the bike, remember to check your position and technique. Perhaps, like me, you forgot how to properly ride your bike!

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Bike Boxes - How Well Do They Work? - 5/10/11

By Pete Medek

For the record, I'm all for bike infrastructure that improves safety and travel for cyclists on the road. I find many of the newer concepts interesting and admire those that are working diligently to create and improve upon them.

But the real test for any design is how well it works in practical terms, not just in theory. That brings me to today's topic: bike boxes. How well do they work?

The obvious disadvantages of bike lanes are the notorious ''right hook' and the dilemma a cyclist faces when trying to turn from a lane on the far side of the road. In other words, traditional bike lanes can make intersections a nightmare.

The bike box is intended to help eliminate these problems at intersections. The idea is to allow the cyclist to move to the head of the line at a stoplight. Here he is more visible to make a safe turn in either direction, or simply continue riding straight through the intersection.

In theory (and demo videos) it all works smoothly. And I must admit, I've never encountered a bike box on the road to try out myself. But after mulling over the concept and design, I have a few doubts.

To my knowledge, the bike box consists of pavement markings and signage. So the cyclist has no warning as to when the light will change. (Unlike the flashing hands that peds see that warn them to clear the crosswalk before a light change.) So, visualize our friendly neighborhood cyclist rolling up alongside cars stopped at a light about to pull in front of them to enter the bike box when -- oops -- the light suddenly turns green at the worst possible moment.

Whatever type of driver one considers, it's not likely to be one that is looking for a cyclist approaching from the rear and making a short turn in front of them just as they're stepping on the gas.

And what happens when the light is green and there is no opportunity for cyclists to slide into the bike box ahead of traffic where they can be more visible? If they continue on in the bike lane, they are just as vulnerable as if the box didn't exist.

And a final point concerns large vehicles like buses or box trucks stopped at red lights behind (hopefully) bike boxes. I'm cycling up from the rear in the bike lane and am trying to determine if the box at the approaching intersection is full of fellow cyclists or if the truck at the light has left room in the box (as opposed to stopping on top of it). I have to commit myself by riding up alongside the truck and hoping it has left a spot for me. If it hasn't, I'm stuck in the worst possible position before the light change.

So, to summarize the potential problems I see:

  • The inopportune light change
  • The green light / stay in the bike lane scenario
  • Trying to determine if the bike box is clear as one approaches

The bike box concept, as I see it, is simply trying to integrate cyclists back into the traffic lane prior to them entering the intersection. That's a worthwhile goal. I'm just not sure the box is the best approach.

One obvious improvement would be to create a warning just prior to the light change to eliminate one of the dangers. A flashing red light could warn the cyclist that it's about to go green. But that may also encourage impatient drivers to start into the intersection a bit early.

A better solution may be to integrate cyclists into the lane prior to the intersection stop line, rather than once there. Imagine a bike lane that dissolves before an intersection, then reforms again after. The advantages to this strategy are worth considering:

  • No light change issue
  • No issues with a full or obstructed bike box
  • No being stuck in the bike lane on green lights
  • Integrates cyclists into traffic lane both in front of and behind cars (more slots for more cyclists)
  • Configuration is less confusing than bike box (in my opinion)
  • Cost is minimal compared to $10K green bike box

It might look like this --

diagram


Note that the diagram is only a concept and would need to include markings or signage that informs drivers that cyclists are merging to use the full lane.

Vehicularists may be screaming, 'Just ride in the traffic lane and forget the bike lane!' I agree that on some streets it's better to put down some sharrows and ask everyone to play nice. On others, it doesn't work so well. As with most good designs, it's all in the details. What is the lane width? What about traffic flow? Speed limit? Sight lines? On-street parking allowed? Bike lanes definitely have their place and encourage more people to ride. The trick is to eliminate their shortcomings.

And in that regard, the bike box is a good start. Now let's continue to improve on it or devise something better.

How well do you think bike boxes work?

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Q & A With Dan Rice, CEO, Ohio Canalway Coalition - 4/27/11

Daniel M. Rice is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, headquartered in Akron, Ohio.

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"...Since 1994, Mr. Rice has worked with over 100 community partnerships and raised over $25 million in development funds for the preservation of historic structures, the development of the 101-mile multi-use Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and the conservation of natural resources along the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway." (Read more of Mr. Rice's bio here.)

He was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions for us.


Ohio Bikeways: For those not familiar with you or your work, tell us a little about yourself and how you became involved with the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition.

Dan Rice: I have been with the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition since 1994. Our organization promotes the interpretation, development and conservation of the natural, historical and recreational resources along the Ohio & Erie Canal. We work with over 150 public/private partners on a variety of regional resource conservation projects including the popular 101-mile Towpath Trail, 110-mile Scenic Byway, implementation of the Summit County Trail and Greenway Plan and the Tuscarawas County Trail and Greenspace Plan. Through our community collaborations, we have developed 82 of the 101 miles of the Towpath Trail and stimulated over $300,000,000 of community and economic development along the Ohio & Erie Canalway from Cleveland to New Philadelphia, Ohio.

My involvement with the organization started as a volunteer Board member in 1990, and when the organization decided to hire professional staff, I became the first employee in 1994, and I have been with the organization since then. Currently, we have 4 full time and 1 part time employee. Some of our recent projects include the restoration of the Richard Howe House, the former home of the Engineer of the Ohio & Erie Canal, in downtown Akron, restoration of the Limbach Buildings in the Village of Clinton and the purchase of canal lands in Tuscarawas County.

OB: Do you cycle? If so, are you a roadie or trail rider?

Rice: I ride on both the roads and trails. However, I prefer to ride on trails.

OB: What's your preferred method of travel along the towpath?

Rice: I enjoy hiking and bicycling on the Towpath Trail. Both modes of transportation are great ways to experience the unique natural and historical resources of this outstanding regional legacy project.

OB: Finishing the northern end of the towpath is a complex puzzle thatÂ’s slowly being pieced together over many years. Is the picture any clearer today as to exactly where the trail will go and end, and when that might happen?

Rice: Yes, the route of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail from Harvard Avenue to Canal Basin Park is defined, and the local partners are working on the final design and development of this important linkage.

One of the great challenges of developing the Towpath Trail in our urban areas is that the original canal resources are gone, and we need to define a route through an industrial and urban landscape. We are very fortunate that our local partners, including the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County government, Cuyahoga County Engineer, Cleveland MetroParks and Ohio Canal Corridor are working hard to complete this important and critical linkage.

OB: Can you hazard a guess at this point as to when the towpath might be completed in Cleveland?

Rice: The goal is to have the Towpath Trail completed by 2020.

OB: Summit and Stark Counties expect to complete the trail within their jurisdictions soon. This will essentially complete the trail with the exceptions of both ends, north and south. What other progress can trail users look forward to in the next few years?

Rice: Through the leadership of the City of Akron, Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, and Summit County Government, the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail will be completed through the City of Akron and the City of Barberton by 2012. Currently, construction is underway on these critical sections.

We are working with our partners in Tuscarawas County and we recently submitted a grant application to the State of Ohio for development of the Towpath Trail between Zoar and State Route 800.

With the continued support from the Tuscarawas County Commissioners, Tuscarawas County Park Advisory Committee, City of Dover and City of New Philadelphia, our shared goal is to complete the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in Tuscarawas County by 2020.

OB: News regarding the Bolivar trail section has been hard to come by. There have been reports that the trail will be routed through town, so local businesses can take advantage of the tourism factor. Can you shed light on how much of the original towpath route will be used in the Bolivar area?

Rice: Yes, you are correct. Our local partners in the Village of Bolivar decided to develop the route of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail through the downtown business area so trail users will be able to take advantage of these trail amenities.

The original prism of the Ohio & Erie Canal and Towpath Trail is visible and some sections of the historic resource remain between Interstate 77 and the Village. The route of the Towpath Trail will parallel this historic resource and connect to Fort Laurens, where the Towpath Trail connects to the Village of Zoar.

OB: Is there a definitive southern endpoint for the towpath trail at this time? Or is it a matter of whether communities further down the line show an interest in being a part of the project?

Rice: Yes, the current southern terminus of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is Waterworks Park in the City of New Philadelphia. We would like to get to Lock 13 and the turning basin on the south side of State Route 250, since that is a historic resource.

For the time being, we will utilize an existing recreational resource in the City of New Philadelphia, which is an excellent trailhead for the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.

We have a couple of events to kick off 2011 including:

  • Healthy Steps, a walking health and wellness program that is free and encourages folks to hike along the Towpath Trail, April 15
  • FIRSTMERIT Towpath Trail Century Ride, May 14-15, 2011. A group of bicycle riders will ride the entire length of the Towpath Trail to raise much needed funds for the development of the Towpath Trail.
  • Cargill Canal Clean Up, May 6th. Join Cargill employees as we clean up the banks of the Ohio & Erie Canal and along the Towpath Trail.

For more information, please visit our website at www.ohioeriecanal.org.

OB: For those that may wish to make a donation to the towpath project, what's a simple way for them to do so?

Rice: Individuals can visit our website, ohioeriecanal.org and make a contribution to our organization via Paypal, join us as a member and receive our quarterly newsletter, invitations to our events and receive our bi-weekly e-newsletter.

For more information about our organization, please call us at (330) 374-5657.

OB: I appreciate your taking time for this interview. Thank you.

Rice: Thank you and take care.

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Part 3: Bike Scofflaws & Laws & Education - 4/17/11

By Pete Medek

[To start at the beginning of this topic, see Part 1.]

The oftentimes competing behaviors between drivers and cyclists produce an environment that too frequently results in finger-pointing and the labeling of villains. I've joined the mud-slinging as well, putting the black hats on prejudiced drivers. Sorry folks, but hatred directed against a person or group simply because they ride a bike on the road is wrong. So is vilifying a driver for owning a big SUV... unless you don't believe in freedom of choice, of course. (In this case, freedom of transportation choices.)

Time now to make some sense of these competing behaviors. Let's look at the bike lane placed in the door zone on a typical street. Some of you are already raising the red flag at this dubious placement. But this example illustrates how complete streets differ from traditional ones that try to include cycling infrastructure as an afterthought or add-on. Indeed, traffic planners don't always get it (bike infrastructure) right.

It starts with the drivers parking their cars. Will they look out for cyclists before exiting their vehicle? As a general rule, many of us are less mindful and more distracted these days. Many will forget to look before flinging open the driver's door.

sharrow placement
Sharrows: A Better Option on Traditional Roads

The potential victims in this case, cyclists, are familiar with this behavior and compensate accordingly. If they feel there's enough space, they may ride along the far left edge of the bike lane to avoid getting doored. If space is not adequate, or cyclists aren't sure, they are likely to ride with traffic and ignore the bike lane.

Unfortunately, inexperienced cyclists may perceive the bike lane as a safe haven and ride there without giving thought to the potential hazard. (One could suggest they are not being mindful as well by not considering an obvious hazard.)

The final link in this chain is the drivers who encounter the cyclists ignoring the bike lane and riding in the road. Seeing the bike lane going unused, they may feel that:

  • Cyclists are deliberately not using established infrastructure designed for them
  • The time and expense for creating the lane is wasted taxpayer money
  • Cyclists are breaking the law by not riding in their designated space

In this example, what appears to be scofflaw attitude is in fact self-preservation at work. That's not to say that all bike scofflaw behavior is justified. Nor is passing a cyclist in your car without leaving a safe buffer zone. But that is also a common practice.

Fortunately, laws are being drafted with these behaviors in mind. After all, they establish the real dynamics of what's happening on the public tarmac.

The 3-Feet Law is becoming more popular since drivers routinely brush by cyclists at close quarters.

Texting-while-driving has become routine enough for many cities to ban this practice of dangerously, distracted driving.

The really interesting laws deal with catering to the cyclists behavior on the road. The Idaho stop is one example.

But new laws take time to develop and implement. And once they're on the books, compliance and enforcement are not guaranteed. So how does one approach this behavioral conundrum? Education.

sign

While many cycling advocates believe "driving" your bike like a vehicle is the best educational approach, [Some of these advocates also oppose trails.] I disagree. Education can change the dynamics on the road, but not when it's directed primarily at those at the low end of the pecking order. Until all road users are better educated on how to share these public corridors, you won't find many cyclists there.

Until 'Share The Road' was launched in recent years, virtually no such effort existed in this country to better educate drivers regarding bikes on roads. It's no wonder that road cyclists have been vilified for decades. Perhaps more of this "in your face" marketing (signs, sharrows, etc.) will prove to be effective and go a long way to changing antiquated, adversarial behavior. It's certainly a good starting point.

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Part 2: Bike Scofflaws & Drivers Against Bikes - 4/10/11

By Pete Medek

[To start at the beginning of this topic, see Part 1.]

Before I delve into the psyches of drivers and cyclists, let's clarify a few points and perhaps dispel some myths:

"Drivers also break traffic laws (see video). I won't waste time on who is more expert at this. It serves no useful purpose.

Sometimes offenders are policeman that either don't like cyclists (video) or don't know the law (cyclist tasered in Ohio), or perhaps both.

In many cases where a cyclist is injured or killed by an automobile, the legal system delivers justice by handing the driver a traffic ticket. While cyclists are sometimes ticketed for 'taking the lane' in a legal manner, in order to ride safely on the road.

These last two examples help forge the mindset of many roadies. They realize the legal game is often played against them. And the lack of legal repercussions for taking them out (dooring or running them over) only emboldens many drivers, thereby making the almighty automobile even more threatening and dangerous. The roadie quickly learns that the golden rule on the road is survival. Traffic laws are secondary at best, for some. Not even on the radar for others.

The driver's perspective is easier to understand. After all, most of us log more miles driving than riding. And we've spent time sitting alongside those that demonstrate their attitudes and skill (or lack, thereof) while driving.

For many, their real beef is that they wish to buzz around in their cars and trucks as quickly and as unimpeded as possible. Anything that interferes with that plan is a pain in their neck, including: orange barrels, detours, traffic jams, farm machinery, rising fuel prices, and of course, the beloved cyclist.

When drivers scan the roadscape to assess various obstacles in their path, they begin to rationalize: The orange barrels are a plague, but at least the road will be fixed, so it serves my needs. The traffic jams are a pain, but there's nothing I can do about infrastructure. The idiot traffic planners didn't design a proper system / didn't build enough roads. Farmers, well, their hay wagons and combines are usually on country roads and I suppose they have a right to earn a living and grow my food. High gas prices are the government's fault due to their allowing us to become slaves to foreign oil. Nothing I can do there but pay through the nose. But cyclists, ho ho! They have no right, reason, excuse or need to be on my road. Get them the hell off!

These rationalizations speak for themselves. But a key difference here is that when it comes to cyclists, many drivers become irrational.

Bike Advocate: You know, cyclists are legally permitted on roads.
Driver: I don't care to acknowledge that. They don't belong there.

BA: Cyclists do commute to work and school.
Driver: Don't care; find another way without spending taxpayer money on another bike path. Ride on the sidewalk.

BA: That's illegal in many places.
Driver: Don't care; cyclists don't obey laws anyway. They can take their spandex butts to the sidewalk.

BA: Not all roads have sidewalks.
Driver: Are you stupid or something? Don't you get it? I DON'T CARE!

These attitudes are not uncommon. They are ""an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics."" Sound familiar? That's right, prejudice, in all its glory. For those bike advocates that seek to change these attitudes, I wish you well. But fully understand what you are up against.

Now, let's take a guess at how many drivers on our roads today share these opinions -- 10%, 20% -- more? Considering the large volume of auto traffic on many roads, even 1 in 10 would be a crushing number for cyclists that have to deal with these drivers.

But there's more. Technology has pushed distracted driving numbers to record heights. So, let's factor in "good" drivers that are no longer paying proper attention on the road. Then toss in drivers with bad or eroding skills due to advanced age or other factors. Only then is the picture made clear regarding this public survival zone that challenges cyclists on a regular basis.

When one views this big picture through the cyclist's glasses, it's not hard to fathom why many pay little attention to traffic laws. But remarkably, some bike advocates still don't get it. Are they idealists? Perhaps. Realists? Perhaps not.

So, now that we've examined attitudes, let's look closer at the dynamics on the road. And the behaviors that determine riding practices and how laws are being drafted to accommodate them.

I'll sum things up in Part 3.

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Part 1: Bike Scofflaws & Breaking The Law - 4/4/11

By Pete Medek

I felt it was time to take a look at a hot topic: bike scofflaws. You know, those evil law-breaking cyclists that supposedly snub society -- especially drivers -- in their quest for anarchy on roadways and sidewalks across the U.S. They run lights and stop signs, ride on sidewalks and cycle against the traffic on roadways. They are incorrigible and must be stopped!!

Surprisingly, some bike advocates join in and pile on these supposed "rogue" riders in an effort to convince them to toe the line, respect all traffic laws, set a good example and perhaps not give the haters more to scream about. This misguided attempt demonstrates a flawed premise: that strictly following traffic laws will improve cyclists' safety and relations with drivers on the road. In a utopian society where everyone is looking out for each other and holds the law in high regard, that should work. Unfortunately, our society does not qualify.

For decades cyclists have been vilified on U.S. roadways. They have been buzzed, screamed at, targets of hurled projectiles and even deliberately run over. Many drivers have made it clear that they have no tolerance for cyclists, do not want to see them on the road and feel that they do not pay equal taxes (presumably because drivers that don't cycle buy more gas and pay more gas tax).

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more widespread, open prejudice in this land than the one against road-riding cyclists. That's right. Think about it. The anti-bike fervor is so great in this country that many make no attempt to be politically correct about it. In fact, they proudly extol their beliefs online and on the radio that bikes do not belong on roadways. Check the comments section on most any article on the subject of bike and car conflicts. The bike bashers unashamedly swoop down, like vampires to fresh blood.

I got news folks; the law is not the gold or universal standard here that idealists would like you to believe. If it were, the bike-haters wouldn't have a leg to stand on. For you see, bikes are legally permitted on most roadways and that is a law that many drivers have absolutely no use for. So much for common ground among law-abiding citizens.

The underlying (real) issue here is one of differing attitudes and their respective behaviors and the prejudices that can result. Not necessarily what's wrong or right (that can vary widely), or even legally correct. I'll take a closer look at these differing mindsets of bike "scofflaws" and anti-cyclists in part 2 on this topic.

Stay tuned!

[Go to Part 2]

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Changing Of The Guard... er, Blog - 3/16/11

Ohio Bikeways has been evolving over the years. Steadily reshaping its content, organizing its layout and introducing new features and tools from time to time as it continues to evolve and grow.

And with that growth has come some glitches (failures) that signal needed changes. (We think of them as learning opportunities.) Our latest glitch can be summed up in six words, "Maybe we should start a blog?"

The o-so obvious response came quick, "We already have the Map Blog. You want to start another one... how many do you need?" And thusly the issue was laid bare upon the table.

Ok, so the Map Blog, tucked away in its corner of the Maps section, had its time. We're big on maps and were more than excited with our Google map project, the Gmap. As well as recent advances in Google mapping tools such as Bike Directions and Bicycling Mode. The blog gave us a forum to expound on those subjects.

While maps are an important part of Ohio Bikeways, they're not the whole enchilada. We still needed a place to rant on other topics or to give our take on what's happening in the news, such as the thorny Clark County Trail Closures topic. (Here's our take on that, in case you missed it.)

To make due, we squeezed the occasional editorial comment into the News page or pushed an opinion piece into the Trailside section, hoping readers would find it. But when you've got something to say and no designated slot on your web site in which to say it, well, that's a glitch, for sure.

So after very little deliberation, we've decided to commandeer the Map Blog and change it to the Bikeways Blog -- ta da! We've also given it a prominent spot on the main overhead menu. The broad umbrella of the new blog format will still cover maps, as well as numerous bike and bikeway related topics.

And while we're in the mode of making changes, we're also opening up the blog for comments. So take advantage and put in your two cents when the mood strikes you.

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A Brief History Of Google Mapping Of Ohio Trails - 11/15/09

The growth and popularity of bike trails has been on the rise across the country as more communities are preserving greenways as they strive for more livable, walkable neighborhoods and city centers. As bikeways become more pervasive, it was only a matter of time until their popularity was reflected in business products. The most logical starting point being the mapping industry, since people want to explore new trails when they learn about them. And to do that, one needs to know where they go and how to find the trailheads.

A look back through our news archives reveals that Ohio trails were not being Google mapped until the summer of 2007. The first (to our knowledge) was the Ohio & Erie Canalway site's rendering of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath. The Ohio-to-Erie Trail followed shortly thereafter at Ohiotoerietrail.org. We happily joined the band wagon later that same year.

In the meantime, 'create-a-map' web sites were becoming popular and allowed users to map their runs, rides or hikes. The popularity of trails, combined with the obvious advantages of these interactive mapping platforms, was a logical fit. It was only a matter of time until the big boys took notice.

And now they have. You may have noticed that Google and Bing Maps have begun plotting Ohio Bikeways on their maps. These efforts are in the early stages, so don't expect a comprehensive trail collection that's seamlessly integrated with their map tools.

We did a few tests on Google with their local search feature and were able to pull up about 6 or 7 Ohio trails that were plotted. But if we didn't get the syntax perfectly matched with the name Google used, we'd often strike out. I.e. "Kokosing Trail" would miss, while "Kokosing Gap Trail" would find its target.

Along with Google, Bing and perhaps some other mapping platforms, GPS companies like Garmin will be following suit and integrating Ohio trails into their product lines. This is great news for Ohio trail users, who until a few short years ago, were relying on trail books and a handful of sometimes crude, homemade online maps as their primary trail map resources.

Google 'Street View' Trike Goes Trail Riding

Google recently asked for public recommendations for non-road landscapes to photograph with their street-view trike. 5 trails were nominated, along with other categories that included: University Campuses, Landmarks, Theme Parks & Zoos and Pedestrian Malls. Visit their web site to vote on the nominees and see a video of the Google Street View Trike.

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