As part of my ride yesterday, I rode down the ‘new’ bike path on Orchard Road. It was sunny, 72 degrees, and generally glorious weather…and yet I was the only one on the path. I couldn’t figure out exactly why, until I came across this:
The asphalt turns to gravel which turns to nothing. It’s a trail to nowhere.
Suburbia is replete with bike trails to nowhere. We let developers build subdivisions that include one little chunk of disembodied bike path that terminates at their property’s boundaries. We apply for grant funding to construct bike paths that start at nothing and end at nothing.
Don’t get me wrong…some communities are doing it right–or at least trying to. But so many communities let the developer define what the bike path should be, and are willing to accept little bike path chunklets that do nothing and serve no one.
Communities don’t think twice about making developers acquire, by purchase or condemnation, land for road improvements. Need more turn lanes? Make the developer build it. Need an off-site road improvement? Make the developer pay. But how many communities make the developer complete offsite improvements to make sure that bike paths actually connect to something?
Let me put this in simple terms: a new subdivision needs water mains. If I build a subdivision, I put the water mains (the big pipes that are buried in the street and that provide water to the houses) in the ground, so that the houses have water service. But my water mains by themselves do nothing. I have to build a water main from my subdivision to the nearest ‘live’ watermain that has water pressure in it–a water main that is connected to wells and water towers that provide the actual water. I may have to build 2 or more such connections, to make sure that the houses in my subdivision have adequate pressure. Even if I have to cross someone else’s property, a community will make me get an easement to install my watermains, so that my water system connects to the community’s wells, and so that the system works. Unless I build those connections between my water mains and the community, no water will flow.
But if I’m a developer and I’m building bike paths, far too many communities are willing to accept a system where I build on-site bike paths, and don’t connect them to anything. It’s like water mains without the water–no connections means that the system doesn’t work, and the link to the community is lost. What does that result in?
It results in bike paths that look really nice when they’re installed…ribbons of smooth asphalt. And those paths sit unused. They weather, deteriorate, and eventually, someone questions why they were built. People who do not support cycling look at the unused bike paths and say, “hey–this is why we don’t need bike paths. No one uses them.”
To use the Orchard Road bike path at the South end, you have to cross two roads, each 5 lanes wide. There are no sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian signals, or other means of making the crossing safely. Once you’re across those roads, you have to hop a curb, walk through the weeds, and then get upon the gloriously smooth ribbon of uninterrupted asphalt. Whose interest is served by that?