Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pedaler should ride light rail: Bicycling on it is a danergous choice

The following guest editorial published Dec 10, 2008 Arizona (Phoenix) Republic was in reply to a "Letter to the Editor" (see comments for original letter).

Mr. Wilson advocates the use of Light-Rail Right-of-Way for cycling. I am very glad he touts the clean and healthy effects of our great sport and mode of transportation. As a League Cycling Instructor and a specialist in rail-bicycle issues, I am aghast at his disregard of his own safety and the legitimate users of Light-Rail (L-R) and the streets. Let me detail the dangers he creates.
L-R trains have been running in our streets for over a year now and will soon be running almost around the clock. "Not-yet-in-use" is a fantasy that is clearly self-destructive to one's life.
"Pothole free" is one of his claims. In fact there are two holes in the road for every track. They are a bit more than an inch wide and miles long. They are the flange groves of the track itself that can grab a wheel in a split second. The next split second, the cyclist's body will collide with that smooth concrete, or whatever is nearby. I have such a picture in my safety materials.
L-R vehicles are fast and very quiet. Mr. Wilson may be temporarily away from automobiles, but he will encounter trains, whether he sees or hears them, or not. I say temporarily since there are intersections regularly. These intersections do have traffic lights to protect against close encounters of automobiles, pedestrians, L-R trains, and bicyclists following the rules of the road. For cyclists in the L-R Right-of-Way, there is no protection. Do we need to coin a new term here, namely Jay-rider?
Mr. Wilson claims, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that he is not "driving" on the tracks, and therefore not breaking the law. Aside from the few seconds that that argument might last before a judge says otherwise, driving a bicycle is exactly what we teach in our effective cycling classes. Riding is a passive approach that lets things happen to you. Driving is actively taking the responsibility of one's own actions while keeping in mind the rules of the road and how to anticipate and avoid mistakes of others, 100% of the time!
The irony of this argument is that our L-R system is "Bicycle Friendly". There are twice the Federally required number of bike racks on each vehicle. Additional space in the entryways may be used during non-peak hours. Lockers are provided at the park-and-ride stations. Metro Light-Rail has reached out to the cycling community recognizing that these modes of transportation go hand-in-hand. Each extends the destination horizons of the other.
My suggestion to Mr. Wilson: Drive your bicycle to the L-R station, then ride the train. Above all, "Watch Your Back, Keep Off the Track".

Gene Holmerud
PE (AZ, Electrical, retired)
Rails-to-Trails Member #6246510
League Cycling Instructor #1193
Vice-President for Rail Safety and Access, Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists
Operation Lifesaver Presenter


Gene Holmerud said...

Here is the text of Mr. Wilson's Letter to the Editor that appeared in the Opinions of the Dec 6, 2008 issue.

Make light-rail track a bike path

Sunday was a beautiful day, so I decided to ride my bicycle from my home near Camelback Road and Seventh Avenue in Phoenix all the way to Tempe.
Normally I ride on side streets, but when I saw the nearly-finished-but-not-yet-in-use light rail tracks near my neighborhood, I couldn’t resist pedaling my bike right down the middle of them (Hey, the sign said don’t “drive” on the tracks. I wasn’t driving).
It was awesome. I did not have to worry about automobile traffic, and the pavement between and around the tracks was smooth and pothole-free. It was like a bicycle superhighway, along Camelback for a bit then all the way down Central Avenue to downtown Phoenix, then east onto Tempe.
Now, to be clear, I think light-rail transit is a good thing and the entire Valley will benefit from it. In fact, I plan to ride light rail. However, I think it would be an even better thing if they halted construction right now, left the tracks just the way they are, and declared them a path for the ultimate form of clean, healthy alternative transportation: bicycles!

Richard Stowe said...

I believe Mr. Holmerud has misinterpreted the letter written by Mr. Wilson. But I very much appreciate Mr. Holmerud's to teach effective cycling.

Richard Stowe
(203) 966-4387