Monday, January 25, 2010

Multi Use Paths - Benefit or Detriment?

If you ask cyclists their thoughts about multi use pathways (MUP’s) you will get all sorts of reaction - ranging from pure happiness to strained disdain on the verge of witnessing bleeding temples. These segregated pathways, intended to provide recreation and safe passage for pedestrians and cyclists, are controversial. At least for some cyclists they are. For others they offer a safe haven, and in my opinion a place for new cyclists to become comfortable with their rides.

Some MUP’s are quite beautiful and can take you to areas you could not reach by car. This is a good thing. Since they are disconnected from the roads they offer a respite from ass-hat drivers, honking cars, and choking exhaust. Often they meander through parks and settings that the poor saps stuck in their cages will never see if they don’t get out and ride or use the path. Some cyclists will complain though that they merely serve to demean cyclists and reinforce the “get off the road!” paradigm that many drivers have. Other cyclists will complain that money spent of MUP’s means money taken away from other cycling infrastructure such as dedicated bike lanes, signage, etc.

It’s true that if you are looking for destination rides a cycle commuter, the MUP is probably out of the way and not going to take you to the store or other regular business. The roads do that job. MUP’s serve different purposes however. Part of the problem comes when the fast hardcore cyclists try to use the MUP as a personal freeway. In such a case these riders are no better than the speeding drivers on the roads who believe the street ROW is their own private autobahn. You simply cannot ride many MUP’s at full paceline speed and then complain about the lady walking her dog who does not respond to “on your left” as you approach at 18 MPH.

The greatest benefit of MUP’s is for beginning and youth cyclists. Not many - save the very hardcore - are likely to take their family brood and youngins out on the same dangerous roads that they brave on their bikes or tikes. While they are learning to ride and to ride responsibly, MUP’s are a perfect place for those lessons. When the time comes, and new riders gain the confidence and desire to actually get somewhere other than scenic beauty, they can start to venture out into the Mad World of auto traffic. 

As such, MUP’s are an ideal bridge to encourage more people to get out on their bikes and ride. A person who starts to use the MUP for weekend recreation rides could very likely be the same person who decides to try bike commuting one day per week once he/she is comfortable on their steed. Maybe they will sign up for a group ride. Ideally they become regular cyclists. Everyone starts somewhere and even the hardcore had a 1st day venturing out on their bikes where they were unsure and a bit shaky. This is all good for cycling in general. People on bikes, no matter where they are riding as long as it is responsible, is a good thing for society. The more riders that eventually get on the roads - after gaining skill and confidence - the more drivers come to accept it. 

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