Biking from Boston to Washington, D.C., two summers ago, Pat King of Newton was impressed that she could ride on bike paths -- separate from roads -- about two thirds of the way.
She made the 27-day, 1,000 mile journey with a fledgling group that envisions a chain of bike paths linking cities throughout the populous Northeast Corridor.
The 11 riders "did quite a bit of bushwhacking of potential trail," King said, but also found "there's a lot already out there. Unfortunately, it does not all hook up. We did find out where a lot of the missing pieces were."
Encouraged by the view over the handlebars on that initial exploration, the riders helped formalize the East Coast Greenway Alliance last year. The group's goal, in King's words, is "a sort of urban Appalachian Trail" accessible to bicyclists, walkers, wheelchair users, in-line skaters and equestrians.
Where bike paths exist, King said, recalling the 1992 trip, "we saw exactly what we wanted: Rollerbladers and people on bikes and people horseback riding and women pushing strollers and joggers and hikers, all on the same path."
Once such paths are built, "they are extremely heavily used," she said. Cyclists and roller skaters "who really want to cruise" don't like the mixed-pace crowds, but the multitude of other users is an indication of how much these things are needed.
"And people need a place to learn to ride besides the streets, especially children. You can build confidence to use on the road later," continued King, who is executive director of Boston Urban Gardeners.
This summer, the East Coast Greenway Alliance is inviting cyclists to bike segments of the Boston-to-Washington route on weekends, relay style. At the end of each segment, riders will pass a flag to those who will bike the next stretch.
Where off-road portions cannot be navigated on road bikes' narrow tires, there will be parallel routes on streets. "Sag wagons" are being arranged to carry riders back to the start of each segment.
Greenway rides scheduled through Central Massachusetts are:
"We think more people would get on bikes if they could get on bike paths," said Mink, an astronomer and computer programmer who bikes 10 miles from his home in Boston to work in Cambridge every day. "Six miles of that is on paths, and I really like it ... especially in light of Boston traffic," he said.
Mink acknowledges that there is great debate among cyclists about whether to make bike paths a priority. Many would rather pursue road improvements and make sure we aren't restricted from roads. Mink is organizing a panel discussion of the debate for this fall's Sustainable Transportation Conference in Connecticut.
I'm all for bike paths, but I want to ride on roads, too. In
Central Massachusetts, where there are few bike paths but hundreds of scenic,
paved back roads, many of them lightly traveled, it makes sense for
transportation as well as recreation to maintain cyclists' right to the roads.
For that, it's essential to teach both motorists and bike riders how to share
the roads without fear and loathing. But that's another column.
A 10-mile extension of the Cape Cod Rail Trail from Dennis to West Barnstable will be named Hortons' Way for three members of a Cape family killed by an allegedly drunk driver on Route 3 in Plymouth.
Douglas Horton, 39, of Marston Mills, a cyclist and activist with Cape Cod Bikeways; his daughter, Rebecca, 11; and his wife, Robin Arcipete-Horton, 32, were killed in the two-car crash May 28.
Radio station WCOD-FM is spearheading a $350,000 fund drive for design work for the bike path section. Cape transportation officials expect state and federal money to cover most of the estimated $3.5 million cost of construction.
Donations may be sent to Hortons' Way Foundation, WCOD-FM, 745 West Main St., Hyannis, MA 02601.
Lynne Tolman's bicycling column archives
Lynne Tolman's home page