Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Ride #1: Canal Route and 21st Street

This is the first post in an occasional series in which I'll ride and report on the dedicated bike paths in the city.

The map of my entire route is here. I didn't note my exact departure time from the apartment, but I rode the entire route in a little over an hour.

To start things off for the Sunday Ride series, I chose to ride the length of the Canal Hike and Bike Trails (not sure why it's plural . . . ) and a return home via 21st Street. I chose this route for several reasons: 1) It's relatively close by, and the morning feels like it will be hot today; 2) Friends, curious about my route to work, have asked me if I know it, and I don't; 3) As I've mentioned in a couple of places in this blog, it's a goal of this blog to convey to visitors (and to my council representative) that bike-commuting should be seen as something more than the Yuppie Thing it is often presumed to be--indeed, for many in the Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods just to the north of downtown, as well as for many street people, cycling is the way to get to work and to run errands. North of Kellogg, the Canal Route runs through the heart of working-class Wichita, and I wanted to get a sense both of how practical it is as a commuter route and much it's used. As for 21st Street, it is a major artery through Wichita's Hispanic neighborhood, and I was curious to see how bike-friendly it is.

The Canal Route is, in one sense, a study in contrasts and, in another, a model of consistency. First, the contrasts: North of Kellogg, I-135 is elevated, and the bike-path takes advantage of that by being routed underneath the southbound side of the interstate. As a result, the scenery isn't much to brag about, and there's a fair amount of loose gravel on the pavement. The path has lights installed along it, but the lamps aren't in the best of shape. Something that impressed me about this part of the route is that, in addition to the through streets often being bike-friendly, a few pedestrian bridges also span the canal, allowing for convenient access to the path from the east side. Also, a couple of the street crossings have pedestrian-controlled traffic lights. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by that portion of the route. South of Kellogg, meanwhile, I-135 is at ground level and so the path wends its way through residential areas, greenbelts and parks. Often, the path is fenced off from the residential areas as it runs along in the spaces between backyard fences and fences demarcating highway on-ramps. I have no idea how those portions of the route would feel after dark, but in the daytime the proximity of the houses made them feel safe.

Now to the consistency: For one thing, it's a rare stretch of the route that's exposed to full sun--something not to be dismissed lightly on a hot morning like today. This next part, though, strikes me as strange: It's as though whoever routed the path wanted it to be more entertaining than practical; thus, north of Kellogg, it slaloms around the bridge piers and, between piers, often curves for no practical reason. The same is true south of Kellogg. There's no way my route map can account for all those curves and, because I don't have an odometer on my bike, I can't say for sure, but I'd guess all those curves added well over a quarter-mile to the total length of my ride. There's no denying that, north of Kellogg, the curves make the route (emotionally) diverting to the point that you don't mind as much that pretty much all you have to look at is concrete and asphalt; on the other hand, though, the abundance of bike-tire tracks short-cutting across the bases of those loops suggests that many if not most people who use that stretch aren't there for fun but to get somewhere. South of Kellogg, meanwhile, some of those curves occur in the above-mentioned fenced-off stretches, creating a couple of blind corners that, if you're not cautions, could easily end up putting the "rec" in "recreation."

All in all, then, the Canal Route is shady and fun and, especially north of Kellogg, certainly has features intended to ease access to it. However, its slalom-y nature suggests that it was envisioned as serving primarily for recreation. That's not a bad thing, mind you; but as I imagined using it as part of my commute to McConnell (ultimately not practical, but it does head in the right general direction), I found myself thinking that the curves would cause me to feel as though I wasn't making good time. But that's just me.

21st Street, meanwhile, seemed surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning. Even so, people were patient with me to the point that, when I was waiting to turn left on to Waco (there's no dedicated left turn lane there), the motorist in the eastbound inside lane on 21st deferred to me to turn left. The street itself isn't particularly bike-friendly, but drivers seemed clear on the idea of sharing the road. Though I rarely have occasion to head that way, I'm glad to have made the trip there.


Kansas Cyclist said...

Sounds like a fun and useful project to document Wichita's bike paths -- I look forward to reading more!

Is the shade on the path from trees or from man-made structures? If the latter, ice and snow build-up may be a problem in winter, unless the city actually clears and treats the paths...

Regarding the twists and turns: they may make for a more pleasant-looking path, but can indeed be frustrating for users just trying to get somewhere. Many of the multi-use paths in the KC area share this tendency for pointless curves as well.

John B. said...

Randy (I assume?),
Thanks for the kind words. North of Kellogg, the shade is from the southbound overpass; now that you mention it, I imagine that it would indeed get fairly treacherous along there when icy (I was also trying to imagine what it's like under there when it's raining). I have no idea if the city de-ices its paths, but I suppose I'll be finding out before too long . . .

Thanks also for confirming my sense of the curvy path.