Wednesday, January 9

Higher Levels

There is a distinct difference in the bicycle/pedestrian level of service(LOS) on the roads in Powell County versus that of even the most backwater section of the Denver metro area. Without even having first-hand knowledge of either place you could make some pretty accurate assumptions on the attractiveness for walking and biking in my home county.

The comparison of rural Central/Eastern Kentucky roads versus urban Denver is just what you think it would be. But...there are some factors that you may not include when calculating your instinctive LOS scores. I'm not going to even attempt to accurately quantify LOS in the normal way. Let's just assume (because I believe it to be so) that most people have an innate sense of level of service. My wife can instinctively compare roads and have a sense of what is a good road to ride or walk on or by and one that is horrible. She's not in the transportation field, but I believe she, like most non-transportation planners (because I officially am one now ;)), understands the difference.

Examples of the metrics that could be used for bike/ped LOS include:

· Number of lanes and directions of travel;
· Curve lane, bicycle lane, paved shoulder, parking lane, and gutter pan widths;
· Traffic volume;
· Speed limit and 85th percentile speed;
· Driveway density;
· Presence and type of sidewalks and medians; and
· Type of roadside development.

There are some "softer" factors which are harder to quantify, but which have a distinct effect on a cyclists perception of safety.
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Two years ago we were in visiting for a family reunion. Some family members were camping at a state park fifteen miles from our hometown. We borrowed bikes from Mandy's dad and rode along the roadway, a two lane arterial that parallels a limited access highway. It has a lot of local traffic, but no real through traffic.

We'd been riding heavily in the Denver area at that time so it was easy to make an impromptu empirical comparison between the vastly different areas. I was startled at what I perceived.

While the Denver area has a robust and very attractive network of bicycle facilities and a strong bike culture, the Red River Valley—straddling the Bluegrass Region and the Cumberland plateau—has little of those things, and, in my brief experiences of riding on the roads here in the past, not much cultural awareness of things cycling.

I realized long ago that the best thing I could do to improve the cycling environment in my hometown was to just get out and be seen on my bike as much as possible.

So, what does all this mean? What am I getting at?

It seems as if it would be a nightmare to ride a bicycle on Eastern Kentucky roads. This is not necessarily the case. Some roads, yes. 213 between Jeffersonville and Stanton is the perfect example of a road where you take your life in your hands going on two wheels. It would be suicide to ride that stretch of asphalt on a regular basis. On the other hand, highway 11/15 between Stanton and Slade (the route Mandy and I rode a couple of summers ago) is actually quite nice as long as you aren't on it during high traffic times.

But what makes this so?

People.

Oddly, in a culture where people have little exposure to cycling and the normal expectations of motorists behavior toward cyclists, the typical friendly and considerate behavior of the locals fosters an enjoyable environment for riding a bicycle.

I would argue that the LOS for most of Powell County's back roads is higher because of the general behavior of local motorists.

I'm not saying that the people here are better drivers, or that other negative factors aren't present (no, we have dangerous curves in spades), but that in general people slow down, only pass when it's safe, and don't exhibit symptoms of acute road rage.

Last weekend Tom and I did a 24 mile loop. I rode ahead of Tom along 11/15 (Campton Road) because I was a little uncomfortable with the amount of traffic (which was truly minute), and when I reached the side road we were taking I waited for him. When he caught up we were standing over our bikes chatting and a man who lived up the creek stopped and asked if we needed any help. We thanked him, but no, we were fine, and then he proceeded to caution us on the steep hill three miles up the valley. Well, we were there specifically to tackle the steep hill. He was concerned that we'd have trouble making it if we continued. It was a nice change, the friendly exchange, from the impatience, anger, and hostility I've been used to over the past few years.

I don't know if I would go so far as to try and quantify the LOS based on soft factors. But, from first hand experience I am certain that some roads are of a much higher level of service simply because a better caliber of people travel upon them.

Denver, CO

 Furnace Mountain, KY

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