Some of you may recall my grocery store route in Casselberry — around the block on arterial roads. When I moved to Audubon Park, there were so many options! I tried several routes and settled on one that included Cady Way Trail and Lake Baldwin Lane. I found Lake Baldwin Lane to be somewhat problematic at high traffic times. Avoiding door zone bike lanes isn’t a whole lot of fun in heavy traffic, since 99% of motorists have no idea why you won’t just ride in the space provided. (Fortunately, most don’t fuss, but I still find it uncomfortable.)
It wasn’t until Mighk took John Allen and me for a facilities tour last spring that I realized there is a trail extension that goes to within 2 blocks of Publix. And it’s not just some utilitarian trail. No sir, it’s a scenic lakefront interlude.
I’m not sure why, but it still took me a few months to incorporate this trail into my grocery run (route map). Perhaps I’m just too accustomed to using the road, perhaps it was resistance to using the short stretch of side path (which looks just exactly like a sidewalk) along Lake Baldwin Lane. Silly in retrospect, when there’s a lot of traffic, the sidepath is better than this:
But now, even when the spaces are empty and the road is free of traffic, I take the scenic route. I just like it so much! Who wouldn’t?
(This one’s for Chandra)
Quality experience… a good concept
This is an example of the quality experience bikeways can provide. But it still has some typical components that are not thought through. The side path section is not bad, but it is not ideal and not suited for speed. Fortunately, it only has one driveway and one road intersection to contend with. Beach Blvd. requires some vigilance. On street parking (often occupied by large contractor vehicles) makes it difficult to see traffic approaching on Beach Blvd. Those motorists often drive straight through the crosswalk before stopping. I always do a shoulder check for turning traffic (left or right). The shoulder check and caution has paid off a number of times. Side path conflicts are real, no matter how benign the neighborhood. PnP advocates underestimate the competence, skill and patience required to deal with them. I doubt I’d have the patience to deal with that at 3 or 4 intersections. One is no problem because I’m not in a hurry and the next section of trail is well worth it.
Once the trail veers off from the roadside it becomes an oasis. The land to the left sits empty, construction stalled by the flailing housing market. The native grasses and wildflowers along the lakefront stand alone there. They create a peaceful, albeit odd, juxtaposition to the Stepford houses beyond. That 1/4 mile is one eighth of my trip and yet it defines the entire thing… and that trip to the grocery store enhances my quality of life and how I feel about where I live. It has nothing to do with being away from cars, it has to do with being in nature. If my shortest route was a stark empty road, I’d go this way anyway.
Bicycles are vehicles, even when they aren’t on the road
The connection for Meeting Pl. involves two fancy arched sidewalks making what appears to be high speed exits from the trail. Unfortunately, the one on my approach dead ends. The one on the other side is angled for oncoming traffic. The grass is grooved with bicycle tracks (including mine) cutting across the sharp corner. Google maps shows a satellite view from when this community was still under construction, but you can see the configuration. A better design would be like the photo below.
Because only one side can be accessed right now, many cyclists are inclined to ride the wrong way into the circle at the end of Meeting Pl. It’s not dangerous since there’s no traffic, but any facility that encourages non-vehicular behavior to access it, is not designed properly or with a the right mindset.
If paths were built to enhance the transportation system, they would integrate with fluidity for easy vehicular operation, rather than turn cyclists into rolling pedestrians picking their way through an obstacle course. It’s not hard to engineer this stuff to meet the vehicular characteristics of bicycles. You just have to care to close the gap between the symbolic gesture and true utility.
Decisions made on empty land
The bikeways in Baldwin Park exist because they were planned on an empty drawing board (a chunk of urban land that was formerly a Navy training center). Lakefront land was given to the commons, rather than being carved out exclusively for private homeowners. As much as I gripe about the inexcusable nuisance facilities in Baldwin Park, I do like the concept behind the public spaces and trail infrastructure.
This kind of scenic trail cannot be retrofitted into most of our existing developments. We may be able to retrofit bikeways into ugly power easements, and in some places that could be beneficial for facilitating connections to pleasant road routes. It would be nice to see a larger-scale change in thinking about common areas, green space and alternative transportation in future land use. But that’s a dream. A worthy dream, nonetheless.
Just for fun
I waited all day for Fedex to bring my helmet camera. It arrived late this afternoon. Within 30 minutes I had it out of the box and strapped to my helmet. I couldn’t resist riding up to Baldwin Park and back. Keeping in mind this is me playing with my new toy, if you have 8 more minutes to waste, here’s a video of my route: