|Uhh...I'll be late for work today...|
Here is my first take on the idea. Los Alamos is built on several distinct mesas and there are a limited number of easy ways to move between them in vehicles, bicycles being vehicles in practice if not always in law. Diamond Drive is a good example of one of the few well engineered ways to get from Here to There and Back Again; its our transportation backbone and we put in pretty good bike lanes. Along the golf course, there is a parallel multiuse path. Elsewhere, right of way limitations make a parallel path impractical. Indeed, that is the case for most of our major roads.
On foot or perhaps mountainbike, one has several more direct options to get between the mesas (take a look at the excellent county trails map and talk to county trails expert Craig Martin for examples) that offer routes closer to those that the venerable crow flies, but they are often not easy to ride, become snowbound and muddy, and may involve technical ascents and descents (as Jim Rickman might agree, based on his comment, many of our trails are pretty tough singletrack). Trails run steeply down into the canyons and up again and are primitive and often quite challenging. Others, like the Perimeter Trail, go pretty far out of the way and ain't always easy to ride unless you are a very adept mountainbiker. As we all know, transportation is best when it provides the option to be direct and swift and can be navigated by mere mortals. We can find diversions when we wish, but when we need to get somewhere, we often feel the need to get there posthaste. My commute to work is usually direct as I have stuff waiting that often makes my teeth grind at night. My commute home is often more adventurous; I love to take the opportunity our wonderful Northern New Mexico terrain provides to beat myself up.
|Narrow bike/ped bridge with low speed limit and |
with dog on leash restrictions.Speed in kph.
Calgary, Alberta, 2005
Then there are projects like the Canyon Rim Trail. A beautiful opportunity to build a multiuse path connecting Townsite to the east-end sprawl at the Airport Basin without sharing poorly designed NM502 with lunatics. I was on the Transportation Board when this path was planned and executed. I don't recall that we were consulted on the layout. Maybe I missed it, but doubt it. My criticism of the Canyon Rim Trail is not its beauty, vistas, intent as a parks and rec project, or its artistic merit; in all of these I think it absolutely excels. Furthermore, I think most agree. I rarely see it empty and we walk it a lot with the hounds and our breakfast burritos. But as far as a "trail as transportation", it has some serious drawbacks in the form of a low design speed, several very sharp, limited sight curves where a cyclist could hit or at minimum, scare the crap out of walkers or have to dive into the weeds to avoid a crash. And of course, crossing 50 mph NM-502 with not even a marked crosswalk to get to to Airport Basin can be tricky. Plus, while it has published rules, these seem to be suggestions. Imagine a county road without curve signs or speed limits, no keep right rules, and trip wires in the form of dog leashes waiting for you. Paths like Canyon Rim work best when everyone is thoughtful. Clearly, whoever built that trail did not design it as "transportation". That's OK, as long as we understand that.
That brings up the basic problem. If the county is designing trails as transportation or overtly encouraging their use as transportation, I think one has to strongly consider adopting standards set down for transportation when designing and building. That's for both safety and to avoid litigation when someone gets hurt. One can always work in artistic merit, natural beauty, a bit of primitive quality, multiuse rules, and the like. That might be both expensive and might be an obscene suggestion to those who want trails to remain as unencumbered by civilization's clutter and as close to their "natural" state as possible. Keeping trails as "trails" implies a philosophy of "use at your own risk" and that doesn't work for transportation systems.
|Wide multiuse path with higher speed limit (kph)|
Calgary, Alberta, 2005
Obviously, individuals can use trails as transportation to their heart's desire and I know some folks who do that. If it was more direct, I might too as it is pretty neat out there. I think if we want to officially identify trails as foot or bicycle transportation rather than as recreational resources, we need to pick them carefully and decide on the basis of terrain, funds, intended uses, compatibility with other intended uses, political feasibility, and whether they connect sources that need connecting in an efficient manner. They in no way replace our need for good roads. Extending the Canyon Rim Trail as a transportation option, to run along the south side of the main mesa towards the west, might be a good idea, but it would need to be engineered and regulated properly and maintained year round if for no other reason than to avoid lawsuits. It should be vetted by transportation professionals. It should have published rules and limits, as do the multiuse trails in Calgary (Alberta), Bremen (Germany) and elsewhere.
The devils, as we know, are in the details. Ask the right questions and you might get good answers. Or not.
AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (1999 version, since revised)