Roads or Pathways?


     Gaston:  Le Fou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking.

     Le Fou:  A dangerous past time.

     Gaston:  I know!

                         ~ Disney’s Beauty And The Beast

The author of a very entertaining blog recently experienced a bike accident which touches on a subject I have been ruminating on of late: which riding surface causes more challenges to cyclists – roads or mixed-use pathways?  My common sense used to tell me the pathways would be safer and less stressful.  Lately, I’m not so sure.

Tim, always a courteous cyclist, left a busy uphill stretch of road and hopped onto an adjacent sidewalk so the cars would not be impeded by him on this difficult spot.  In short order, he ever-so-slightly left the sidewalk, causing his tire to catch on the grass, and throw him briefly into the street, and finally onto a patch of grass next to the road.  He suffered some bruises and damage to his wheel, handlebar, and fork.  The phrase, “no good deed goes unpunished” comes to mind.

Had Tim stayed in the road, he would most likely have traveled without event up the hill.   Although I’ve had a few challenges while cycling on the road, I find I face many more obstacles when I move onto mixed-use pathways and the occasional sidewalk.

When I’m on the pathways, I encounter joggers and walkers who are either taking up the entire path with their friends/pets or moving while completely ignorant of the world around them due to their iPods.  They do not follow any sort of convention while traveling.  They can be on the right, left, middle or randomly shifting as they go.  I am regularly breaking and trying to announce myself to pedestrians with only occasional success.   My biggest fear is the pedestrian who conducts a Crazy Ivan manuever without being aware of me approaching on his left.

I find that pathways are also in worse condition than the nearby roads.  All manner of debris collects on them, making them less safe – especially in wet or dark conditions.  As the seasons shift toward Fall/Winter, I find the amount of leaves and branches on the paths has increased significantly and I’m constantly swerving to avoid mishap.  Even in summer weather, the paths are generally bumpier and the quality/condition of the asphalt is poorer than the nearby road.

I even find that I have more problems with the dreaded automobile when traveling on paths that cross streets.  The drivers are not conditioned to look for cycles on the path so I am constantly avoiding near collisions as the cars race up to the approaching intersection and ignore the large white break line in the road.

When I’m on the road, I have far fewer challenges.  Traffic is moving the same way as I am and in a much more predictable manner.  The road condition is much better and the cars generally take notice of me.  In short, all my pathway problems are gone.  I can actually get into a rhythm and begin to enjoy my ride.

I appreciate the fact that the stakes are much higher when I’m on the road.  I may not have as many issues to deal with, but should “The Big One” come, it will probably be far more traumatic on a road than on a path.   Still, after dozens of frustrating “little incidents,” on the paths, I find the roadway to be my preferred surface.  To be sure, there are exceptions to this rule such as riding at night, in the rain, or in very heavy traffic.  However, on the whole, I think I prefer the road to the paths.


3 thoughts on “Roads or Pathways?

  1. Cycle paths or even dedicated cycle lanes are not too common over here so not a lot of choice. Most of my cycling is on rural routes away from traffic as much as possible but my concern is with punctures. On cycle paths from lack of use and cycle lanes, being at the side of the road collect all the puncture causing traffic debris.

  2. I hear you: pedestrians have not had to deal with many bikes for a generation, so they do seem to react incomprehensibly when they see one sometimes. I’m very careful when riding my Bakfiets (Long, heavy dutch workbike) because the design and height of the box is just right for kneecapping innocent (if dopey) pedestrians.
    The most dangerous area locally -for this at any rate- is in Stuttgart centre where bikes can contraflow on one way streets, but pedestrians only look towards oncoming cars and will step out into the road looking away from me. A bell isn’t much help in a loud city, maybe an air horn?
    Despite the problems though, I still think we need a lot more and better infrastructure: for a family like ours it’s essential: bikes are our main transport, but I’m not about to tak small boys on a road full of drivers who are talking or texting on the cell phone, adjusting their navi and scrolling through their mp3 player. On my own, I’m usually happy to think for other road users and often use a road because it’s quicker than the poor quality cycleways we have locally, but I can’t do it with a family.

    • I visited Stuttgart on business in 1996. I spent most of my time at Patch Barracks, but did manage to take a trip into the city one afternoon. I think I was in the city centre – at least the very large fountain and pedestrian area made it seem that way. I sat at an outdoor cafe and spoke one of the few German phrases I know to the waiter: “Ein bier bitte.” It was an enjoyable afternoon!

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