Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Ride #4: North on Arkansas River Path to Sedgwick County Park

Maps of route: MapMyRide, Veloroute. In essence an out-and-back route, with a big loop around the perimeter of Sedgwick County Park, the zoo, various county offices, and the baseball diamonds at the corner of Ridge and 13th. On the way north, I took Charles Street (located just north of the intersection of 13th and McLean); on the return, I took the bike path, which runs along McLean. South of 13th, the path is basically level; between 13th and 21st, the path arbitrarily ascends and descends the bank. One warning: at the 21st Street bridge, which the path passes under, there's construction occurring directly over the path. There's a "Sidewalk Closed" sign but no barrier in place. The amount of debris (concrete, pieces of wood, etc.) on the path makes pretty plain that during the work week, you'll want to go up to street level and cross that way.

Another cool day (we Wichitans collectively must be engaged in some serious clean livin' to have been blessed with this early-fall-like weather), another longish ride for me.

As the city's bike paths go, the Arkansas River Bike Path is its crown jewel. It's the longest (almost 14 miles); it's the best-maintained; its route--it passes through downtown, the Museum district, and links up at the north end with paths that run to the Sedgwick County Zoo--is great for visitors wanting to cycle to the city's Greatest Hits. It's clearly intended primarily for recreational cycling, but its generally north-south route, along with its length, its passage along the western edge of downtown, fairly easy access to it at its northern end for West Wichitans, and its eventual linkage at the southern terminus with the the Gypsum Creek path (which I posted on here), make it a decent commuting route.

I briefly considered riding the entire route as I'd done with the Canal and Gypsum Creek routes but in the end decided to ride the southern half on Tuesday. Just in case anyone is wondering . . .

It was a cool Sunday morning, so I expected to see folks out--but the pedestrians and other cyclists (more about the latter later), especially downtown and at the park, were numerous enough that we had to be alert for each other. It was fun. I was especially intrigued to see a fair number of cyclists who were clearly older than I am--some appeared to be in their 60s. Wearing the cycling jerseys and spandex shorts. Passing me by, no less. Today also gave me my first glimpse of West-Side cycling culture in Wichita, and--at least as far as rec-cycling is concerned--it seems to be alive and well: in addition to the ubiquitous Treks there were lots of folks on cruisers, and a couple of mothers were towing small children in trailers. As I rode along Westdale Road, I happened to glance into a house's open garage and was startled to see about half a dozen bicycles leaning against one of the walls.

I'd like to wonder aloud a bit about these spandexy folks or, as Andrew calls them here, the "thin-tire" crowd. Thus far, because most of my riding has been during the work week, I've not had too many encounters with them. Today, though, 4 or 5 of them passed me, and though they all warned me as they approached, I found myself thinking, "Don't these racing bikes come with some sort of bell or horn or something? Or are bells for weenie cyclists?" (My Fuji came with a bell.) While I don't begrudge them their desire to attain and maintain a certain speed, it seems to me that attempting to do so on a bike path on a weekend with lots of folks out--and not just slow-pokes like me, either, but pedestrians as well--is, well, in its way akin to motorists presuming that cyclists have a lesser right to use the streets than they do. They--the thin-tire folks--would have had more success had they been on the street, or had they just driven out of town a half hour in any direction. The last thing we need to have happen is incidences of cyclist-on-cyclist road rage on bike paths.

All that said, though, they aren't entirely to blame for wanting to ride there. The simple truth is that there aren't many other places for them to go on that side of the city: west of I-235, there are no other designated bike paths for folks to ride on except at the park and the connecting path to the north end of the Arkansas River path. That's about a quarter of the city that, relative to the rest of Wichita, is woefully underserved as regards bike paths or designated bike lanes on streets. The WAMPO proposals recognize this, but its list of priorities (pdf file) don't rank west-side projects very high.

I'd like to say that the crowded paths are a nice problem to have, but it seems to me that they indicate instead that, as the city has grown to the west, it and the county have fallen behind in providing bike-paths and bike-friendly streets (yes, that's true all over town, but I'm speaking relatively here). Until that circumstance changes, "sharing the road" will be a needed principle to apply on at least some of Wichita's bike paths, too. At least on the weekends.

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