by Joe Gilpin, Principal at Alta Planning + Design
My family and I just returned from nearly a month in the Midwest on our own little version of the great American road trip. As enormous advocates of the active transportation lifestyle, bicycle culture, and bicycle tourism, it probably comes as no surprise that one of our main objectives in seeing the country was to bike its best trails and greenways. But for myself, as someone who is heavily involved on the planning and designing end of bikeways, this trip was a different kind of bicycle tourism—I was more interested in the bikeways themselves than the destinations they connected. We bought a 20-year-old camper last fall just for this trip, set it up with a bike rack, and off we went!
My key takeaways:
- Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Dakota are really big states to drive across.
- There is literally an infinite amount of work out there for transportation planners and designers to continue to help communities become more active and bicycle-friendly. Most places we went had at least something – an old rail line that had been converted to a trail, a few streets with sharrows (some appropriately used, some not), or a bike lane here or there. Many places we went to had virtually no facilities at all, including an absence of sidewalks nearly everywhere.
- There were a few really big gems out there, like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, but the majority of bike and trail facilities we toured could have been better. It made me really proud of the work that Alta has done so far in designing facilities like the Razorback Greenway in NW Arkansas, the Hampline in Memphis, and excited to see how future projects like the Lincoln, Nebraska, N Street continue to set a new standard of quality. For instance, on the Razorback Greenway, instead of having expansion joints troweled every 10 feet, making for a bumpier, teeth-jarring ride, Alta designed them every 30 feet with saw cut joints and crack lines. The difference is remarkable in comfort and quality, and we hope to see more bikeways featuring this design in the future.
- Active transportation planning and engineering have the potential to touch so many more communities and reach more Americans as the push towards a healthier lifestyle continues to grow. There is literally no limit to the reach and the size we could all potentially achieve.