Saturday, July 30, 2005

On the trail of the energy bill

Jim at the excellent Oil is for Sissies blog offers a fine description of how motorists behave differently in Minnesota suburbs, as compared to the "grittier neighborhoods of South Minneapolis." However, the thing that strikes me about his post A ride in the burbs is his mention of bike trails and how he uses them to get where he needs to go. This emphasizes the difference between the thousands of miles bicycle trails (at least that's the way it sounds to me from Jim's accounts) in Minneapolis and the two trails I know to exist here in Savannah: Our trails don't really go anywhere.

The 6-mile McQueen's Island Historic Trail and the .7-mile Police Memorial Trail Loop are perfectly acceptable facilities for recreational cyclists, but if you want to get somewhere, not so much. But it looks as if the much-maligned $286.5 billion federal transportation bill may be changing this, if only a little. A front page headline in the Savannah Morning News today proudly proclaims "Millions of dollars headed our way." According to the story, the legislation includes:
  • $1 million for Phase II construction of the Truman Linear Park Trail, a 5.25 mile asphalt shared-use path running between Lake Mayer Park and Daffin Park.

  • $160,00 toward the Heritage Rail Greenway, 3-mile multi-use trail that will run alongside a historic rail line and connect Savannah's Historic District to the Georgia Railroad Museum.
The extension of the Truman Linear Park Trail may be of some use to utility cyclists and likely connects to the Police Memorial Loop mentioned above. But I can't understand exactly what the "Heritage Rail Greenway" is all about. Maybe someone can enlighten me about the proposed route. Of course, hard core vehicular cyclists would surely say that bike trails of any kind are a bad idea, as they reinforce the idea that bicycles do not belong on the streets. Also, a study mentioned in this newspaper story suggests that multi-use trails are dangerous to cyclists and the VC advocates probably agree. Still, I'm excited about the possibility of new trails.

The real "good news" in the newspaper story is the money going to new road construction including $3.2 million for the construction of the "Effingham Parkway," which will link state state route 119 with 30 and should stimulate even more suburban development in Effingham County. Earlier this week, WTOC-TV aired a typically upbeat story on new residential and commercial development in Effingham. Like most local television news stories on suburban development in Effingham, West Chatham and counties just over the border in South Carolina, it was breathlessly positive. After all, growth is good, right?

When the package ended, anchor Dawn Baker said this about Effingham County in her segue to the next story: "In 10 years we won't even recognize it." I think what she really meant is that the area will look a lot different in 10 years when the land is covered with McMansions. We will recognize it, however, as more of the same kind of suburban sprawl that encrusts cities all over the country. If Jim Kunstler is right, these communities, so joyfully heralded now, have no future.

Finally, on an unrelated note: Last night at Publix, an employee offered to take my groceries out to my car for me. I almost agreed, just for the chance to see her expression as she followed me out to my bicycle, parked about 15 feet from the front door. As usual, I chickened out and took the groceries to my "car" all by myself.


todd said...

I've been asked whether I want help out to "the car" myself, when I have like 8 bags. Next time maybe I'll take them up on the offer and roll out to the Xtracycle, just for the look. In fact maybe I'll start the video rolling as we approach.

Jim said...

Todd: sounds like a good idea to me. I seem to be low on groceries, too...

Our bike trail system is pretty good. Sure, I could suggest about 1,000 ways to make improvements that would be useful to those who get around by bike, but I can't really complain. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine did a 100-mile tour of the local area almost entirely on these trails.

My feelings on the trails are mixed. Mostly they get used for recreation, despite the fact that they are actually suitable for transportation. This leads to some friction between those who may be trying to get somewhere and those who are out for a leisurely ride with kids and dogs, etc. But this is a minor inconvenience, at worst. My main objection to the trails and bike lanes, etc, is that they lead drivers to believe that the regular roads are off-limits to cyclists. When 99% of the riders a driver sees are on the trail, he tends to resent the 1% of those who ride on the road as vehicular cyclists.

On the other hand, the trails are often the only realistic way for a cyclist to get over, under, or around the convoluted network of freeways that choke the city.