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Feature Article - July 2017

Rolling Right Along

Expand Biking Options in Your Community

By Joe Bush


Lisa Potts, the senior greenway planner for the parks, recreation and cultural resources department of the City of Raleigh, N.C., oversees another popular and successful greenway, the Raleigh Capital Area Greenway System. Begun in 1974, the system boasts 117 miles and is planning for 100 more over the coming years. In the past five years, it has added 50 miles.

"This is a result of the overwhelming support we receive from the

residents as well as elected officials," Potts said. "The Capital Area Greenway is one of the city's most valued assets, and residents consistently rank the enhancement and expansion of the CAG as one of their top priorities."

Potts said that besides the value to humans, the greenways also preserve natural characteristics of land, preserve wildlife corridors, preserve riparian buffers as a means of protecting water quality, preserve stream corridors to manage stormwater runoff, provide buffers for multiple land uses, and provide opportunities for passive recreation.

The Midtown and Raleigh greenways have in common the appreciation for the value of strong partnerships with government and residents, continuous evaluation and planning, and regular communication among the stakeholders. Potts said Raleigh was off to a great start before planning began in the 1970s because the city had development regulations in place, giving it the means to acquire land to preserve before any development tried to encroach.

Just as in Minneapolis, the success and popularity of the Raleigh system have resulted in challenges, such as safety issues, maintenance and connections to other trail systems, Potts said.

"Some of these issues include directional signage, emergency response, shared use between recreation users and commuters, deployment of trail amenities to meet the demands of distance users, access and parking needs," Potts said. "The city continues to address an ongoing program for the repair and long-term maintenance of the current trail system. There is also the need to address continued growth and expansion of the system to provide connections to the areas of the city that do not have access. It's a dynamic, evolving program."

Once partnerships and planning are taken care of, how does a community design a linear path system or a network of trails and areas more specialized for mountain bikers? Setting aside unique geographies, there are general rules, said Patrick Gilbery of Bike Saviours, a nonprofit and volunteer-run group that helps Tempe, Ariz., residents learn how to fix and build bikes.

Gilbery said the first and most important step is knowing the population of riders who will use the systems.

"An important thing to remember is that a bicycle is used differently by different people," he said. "For some, it is merely a toy for leisure or exercise, but for others it can be their primary or even only form of transportation. A path that is pleasant for those out on a weekend cruise is unlikely to be as useful for a bike commuter who needs to get places quickly. When designing any sort of bike infrastructure, one should consider the needs of all bicyclists."

He said that if greenways are intended to be used for transportation, the design should reflect that. A good path for getting around will be wide enough for bicyclists to safely pass each other and relatively straight and flat, as allowed by geography. Intersections with major roadways are best bypassed with a bridge or tunnel, but real traffic lights are acceptable as well.

"Ideally, there would be a parallel, but separate, path for pedestrians so that everyone can feel safer," he said. "Lighting is also important, especially for getting less experienced and confident bicyclists out on their bikes."

Mountain bike facilities and areas need more feedback from the ridership, Gilbery said.

"Local riders know what sort of riding they will want to do," he said. "One tendency is for public bike parks to be overbuilt and 'sanitized,' meaning that in an effort to make every section rideable for everyone it no longer poses a challenge to those with even a modicum of experience."

Repyak of IMBA's Trail Solutions has seen plenty of expensive mistakes made because communities didn't plan enough, wanting to spend consulting money on construction, for instance, or failing to engage with the biking population. Careful consideration is crucial, he said.

"There's just so many areas where a more holistic engaged planning process will maximize the efficiency of an area, the environmental sustainability of an area, and of course be suitable for the riders you're trying to serve," he said. "You're doing the public a disservice as an agency if you don't go through the appropriate steps to ensure you've answered all the questions."