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  1. #1
    Carfree Retro Grouch hayneda's Avatar
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    Bikepaths--the road to death

    I've been doing an experiment on my commutes to work over the last week. I normally ride to work on the roadway. But, I recently have temporarily relocated to a location that has one of those horrible bike paths located adjacent to the roadway (only on one side). This path is about 5 ft wide and is separated from the roadway by anywhere from 5 to 20 feet. In addition, it is poorly maintained, with lots of glass, potholes, and big jumps where new neighborhood roads and business entrances have been 'cut' through it. Of course I know to ride on the road instead of this path, but as an experiment I've been riding it last past week. Here's what I have discovered.

    First, this thing is incredibly dangerous--I've 'nearly been hit' everyday save one (that is to say that I believe the average, uninformed casual bike rider WOULD LIKELY HAVE BEEN hit). I was of course looking for these and able to avoid them. I ride this path only with a great deal of attentiveness. In particular, I find it VERY necessary to look back over my shoulder for turning vehicles before crossing every neighborhood, business, or church entrance.

    Here are the dangers that I've found in approximate order of danger:

    (1) When traveling on the path in the opposite direction of travel of the adjacent traffic lane, turning vehicles traveling in my same direction never see me (they are looking at oncoming traffic for a chance to turn and then they accelerate to get across. Even worse, they often get stopped to wait for a chance to turn, and I overtake them while they are waiting--If I then cross the side street (as I have the right of way) they would never see me until they hit me.

    (2) Again, when traveling in the opposite direction to the adjacent lane, vehicles entering from side streets don't bother to stop for the path, but proceed up to the roadway to 'see.' In the extreme, drivers turning right onto the roadway approach looking left for an openning in traffic so they can roll through the stop and pull out. I had one guy that I spotted at about 100 ft coming out of a church parking lot. He NEVER looked to the right at all, and never even knew that I had locked up my brake and swerved behind him (he never saw me at all). This situation is also compouneded by trees, bushes, etc. that block vision. In other words, I can 'pop out' into view only 5 or 10 ft from the crossing.

    I am NOT talking about drivers that do the obnoxious blocking of the path when they see you coming--this is merely irritating and not really a safety issue, but one of curtesy (or lack thereof).

    (3) Basically the same as above, but for when I'm traveling the same direction as the adjacent lane. In this case, drivers are MORE LIKELY to see me, but many still do not. Particularly drivers turning right off the road onto a side street.

    (4) Pedestrains, joggers, dogs, holes, glass, etc. Peds are the most dangerous as they walk unpredictably and are apt to 'move over' at any point, particularly when you are approaching from the rear. The ones wearing headphones can't hear your "Passing on your left/right."

    From all of this, I draw these conclusions. The most danger comes when riding on the path in the opposite direction of traffic in the adjacent lane (by far the majority of my 'close calls.') Second, drivers for the most part don't have a clue that adjacent path traffic has right of way over entering and leaving (turning) vehicles--at least here in Alabama, the heart of Redneckia.

    As for recommendations; first, ride in the roadway not the path (but then we already knew that). Second, if you must ride the path, treat every crossing (side street, drive, parking lot entrance/exit) as either a stop sign or a yield, depending upon your ability to see. Utmost, you must look behind you for vehicles turning off the roadway. Third, look behind you for vehicles turning off the roadway. Fourth, don't assume that the driver entering from a side street, etc. will honor the stop sign. Firth, look behind you again for turning vehicles!

    Dave

  2. #2
    Life is good RonH's Avatar
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    Dave you hit the nail squarely on the head!!
    Originally posted by hayneda
    Peds are the most dangerous as they walk unpredictably and are apt to 'move over' at any point, particularly when you are approaching from the rear. The ones wearing headphones can't hear your "Passing on your left/right."
    I see these idiots all the time. Sometimes they are in small groups walking 3 or 4 abreast so you can't pass them. Sometimes it's one person walking somewhere near the middle of the path and meandering to the right and then the left. :confused:

    Cyclists can't win when riding on a bike path. Pedestrians just don't get the point that the bike paths they are walking on were originally designated as BIKE PATHS.

    Motorists think its a sidewalk and anyone on it should yield to them.
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  3. #3
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    Originally posted by hayneda
    I've been doing an experiment on my commutes [by riding on the bike path]. This path is about 5 ft wide and is separated from the roadway by anywhere from 5 to 20 feet. .....

    (1) When traveling on the path in the opposite direction of travel of the adjacent traffic lane, turning vehicles traveling in my same direction never see me .....
    I don't disupute your findings. However, I believe you were travelling at a decent speed. How do you think it would have been if you had been travelling at a very low speed (like many newbies).?

    Originally posted by hayneda
    I am NOT talking about drivers that do the obnoxious blocking of the path when they see you coming--this is merely irritating and not really a safety issue, but one of curtesy (or lack thereof). [/B]
    It's irritating, but I would also say it's a safety issue. These paths are great for newbies (at least, that's what is told by authorities, designers, etc.), and newbies aren't always good at stopping for "nothing". And apart from drivers who look before crossing the path, then inch their way through it, there are the much unsafer ones who arrive at full speed through the path.

    Originally posted by hayneda
    (3) Basically the same as above, but for when I'm traveling the same direction as the adjacent lane. In this case, drivers are MORE LIKELY to see me, but many still do not. Particularly drivers turning right off the road onto a side street. ..... [/B]
    In many cases, one has to consider the information overload many drivers face. It's hard to come out of a side street and look for a clearance on the sidewalks, on the bike path AND on the street. Add to this parking (legal or not) between the path and the roadway itself.
    BTW, this is not as much a defence for drivers, as it is an indication of a faulty design.
    Michel Gagnon
    Montréal (Québec, Canada)

  4. #4
    Huachuca Rider webist's Avatar
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    I agree with your assessment of the hazzards. We have similar path arrangements in our town. It seems our government has put the paths up alongside roadways which are the MOST likely to present these dangers.

    However, in our town, and perhaps others, use of the term "bike path" is wrong. Though the term is frequently used by politicians when bragging about their devotion to recreation. According to the signs which addorn our "bike paths" they are actually "Multi Use Paths." In some cases there is a roadway adjoined by a sidewalk AND a seperate "Multi-Use Path." Multi-use is not further defined, but I suspect I should not complain if I encounter a horse and rider on one.
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  5. #5
    Year-round cyclist
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    In our city, we have two major categories:

    - Side-of-the-road paths are usually called bike paths, although we could consider them dual-use paths. They are officially open to cyclists and inline skaters. In practice, inline skaters are present in a few places only, mostly around tourist areas.
    There are a few wheelchair users. Their presence is technically illegal (they should be on the sidewalk), but mostly tolerated. For these people, using the path is more comfortable (less cracks and more even surface) than the street... and there are not too many of these people to present a problem.

    The major problem we have with these paths are that both directions are placed on the same side of the street.

    - Segragated paths. These are indeed multi-use. In some cases, a footpath is beside the paved path. BUt, as most pedestrians would say, what for?

    Regards,
    Michel Gagnon
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  6. #6
    Punk Rock Lives Roughstuff's Avatar
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    Well...all I can say is that, except in VERY unusual circumstances and in urban areas of CRITICAL need, bike PATHS are a waste of time and money. You would be better to spend the money on a wide shoulder on BOTH sides of the road, and teaching cyclists life saving defensive riding skills.

    As for bike LANES in urban areas, I have to listen to the folks on this board and see how they feel, as I am not an urban rider. But my EXPERIENCE with them so far has been very negative.

    I was in black forest regions of germany where many bike paths have been installed..and to boot, to be very GREEN and politically correct, they planted shrubbery beween the path and the road. the result?? EVERY place where traffic can take a right turn is a potentially fatal crash...they can't see you on the path, and you can't see them on the road. No wonder Schroeder got re-elected!

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  7. #7
    JRA
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    I've logged many miles, both on bike paths and on roads. I wouldn't classify one as safer than the other. The hazzards of riding a bike path tend to be slightly different from the hazzards of riding on the road. As the saying goes, "You pays your money and you takes your choice"

    Bike paths may be dangerous for riders who are used to riding on roads. The converse is also true - roads may be dangerous for riders who are used to riding on bike paths. The techniques for survival are somewhat different.

    Bike paths vary a great deal. There are some around here that I consider virtually unrideable. There are others that I love, especially on off-peak hours when I virtually have them to myself. I also like roads on off-peak hours when I virtually have them to myself.

    Hazards of bike paths:
    dangerous road crossings, roller bladers, bad pavement, ditches or potholes, other cyclist, walkers, joggers, road kill, horses (and horse poop), dogs, packs of wild dogs, drug dealers and/or muggers, trash, broken glass or other debris, hecklers, flying golf balls, football teams walking on the path, cross-country teams running on or across the path, women pushing baby carriages, kids just learning to ride, people driving cars or trucks on or across the path, construction equipment on the path, construction crews, detours, snakes, squirrels, and ducks, to name a few.

    I have seen virtually all of these things on bicycle paths. But so what? I've come across virtually all of these hazards on the roads as well.

    I put dangerous road crossings first on my list because it's a serious safety issue, while many of the other things on the list are simply annoyances.

    How dangerous a bike path is depends on the path and when you ride it. Some bike paths are great, others not so great.

    I like riding on bike paths; I like riding on roads; I like riding off road; I like riding.

    I hesitate to say that one type of riding is more dangerous than another. It depends on a lot of factors. A well-designed bike path is usually pretty safe. So is a well-designed road.
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  8. #8
    Senior Member knobbymojo's Avatar
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    Ive gotta agree with JRA on this one. It depends to great extent on the quality of the bike path or road one is on as to its safety for cycling. The only time you really risk getting hit by a car on a bike path is when you are crossing roads. It has been my experience that drivers really dont look for you when you are on a bike path, so you had better really be watching when you cross a road. The paths do have other obstacles, like pedestrians, dogs, etc. Roads have lots of cars, so as mentioned in previous posts, it is a bit of a tradeoff, one set of dangers for another. The times I use a bike path are generally later at night when there are very few pedestrians around and when I feel I am at a greater risk from being hit by a car that doesnt see me. I usually ride on the roads during the day, because traffic has an easier time seeing me. And under these circumstances I feel safer on the road than on the sidewalk with those crazy pedestrians.
    I have gone looking for myself. If I should return before I get back, please ask me to wait for myself.

  9. #9
    It's in my blood Pete Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by hayneda
    This path is about 5 ft wide and is separated from the roadway by anywhere from 5 to 20 feet. In addition, it is poorly maintained, with lots of glass, potholes, and big jumps where new neighborhood roads and business entrances have been 'cut' through it.
    Keywords:

    "...separated from the roadway..."

    I commend you on your experiment, Dave. It took guts.

    When I was young, I was told that bicycles weren't allowed on the sidewalk. Now, they build paths that look like sidewalks with stop signs every few feet. Yet people are trying to ride bikes on them.

    I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I really need to sell as fast as possible...

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  10. #10
    Sprockette wabbit's Avatar
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    I generally try to avoid bike paths except where that's impossible, or I'll take them when rush hour traffic is at its worst- our bike paths also have those numerous hazards listed above. On one of the Shared Roads, used frequently by cyclists, there are bike lanes on both sides, and I have to say I really like it for the most part. They are plainly visible to the motorosts and no one yells at you to get onto the path since they can see where you are. However, those lanes end whnen the municipality ends, so it's only for a few kilometres. The only thing you have to be wary of is garbage cans on garbcke gpick up day. Nothing is perfect, but at least it's not overrun with pedestrians, bladers, etc.
    You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. That's great...if you want to attract vermin.

  11. #11
    JRA
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    Originally posted by Pete Clark
    I commend you on your experiment, Dave. It took guts.
    Maybe in the sense that waking up in the morning takes guts. I question the validity of conclusions based on a week of riding one bike path. And I suspect the conclusions were in mind before the experiment began.

    Is anyone supposed to take the title of this thread seriously: "the road to death?" Come on, now! Some of the bike path bashing I see on these forums is quite ridiculous.

    Now, they build paths that look like sidewalks with stop signs every few feet.
    Where is there a bike path with stop signs every few feet?

    On the two bike paths I ride most often, the average distance between road crossings is close to a mile. (this is in an urban area where the average distance between intersections is otherwise probably closer to a couple of hundred yards)

    And the bike paths are a heck of a lot more attractive than the roads.

    Yes, some of the road crossings on bike paths are dangerous, no doubt about it. But not any more dangerous for cyclists than the average intersection. The design of the road crossings on bike paths varies from very good to atrocious.

    To me, well-designed bike paths are a good idea. Poorly designed bike paths are a bad idea. Duh!

    I feel the same about well-designed and poorly-designed roads.
    Last edited by JRA; 10-03-02 at 11:22 PM.
    "It may even be that motoring is more healthful than not motoring; death rates were certainly higher in the pre-motoring age."- John Forester
    "Laws cannot be properly understood as if written in plain English..."- Forester defending obfuscation.
    "Motorist propaganda, continued for sixty years, is what has put cyclists on sidewalks." - Forester, sociologist in his own mind
    "'There are no rules of the road on MUPs.' -John Forester" - Helmet Head quoting 'The Great One'

  12. #12
    Formerly Known as Newbie Juha's Avatar
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    Originally posted by hayneda
    ...I had one guy that I spotted at about 100 ft coming out of a church parking lot. He NEVER looked to the right at all, and never even knew that I had locked up my brake and swerved behind him (he never saw me at all).
    We have a lot of mixed bike paths here. I've noticed that a good friendly SLAP on the side of the precious metal cow while swerving always gets the driver's attention. Depending on the amount of obscenities being shout at you after that you may consider stopping and informing him why you did it.

    I also tend to have fun with the drivers who see you approaching but still decide to wait for their turn on the path. I ride hard straight towards the front door and then hit the brakes at the last second, stopping a few cm's short of the door. After that I just stand there and stare at the driver (I always wear a helmet and glasses) until he gets a break and speeds into traffic flow. If it seems he's going nowhere soon, I may tap the window and ask politely whether he always parks in the middle of intersections. This may also initiate hilarious scenes inside the car if done from the passenger's side. At least you have fun while waiting, and you may get the point across as well.

    Last summer I was riding in rural area and came to a small town. They had bike paths along the one main street and as I was approaching a crossing a car from side street came and blocked the bike path. He did notice me and - much to my infinite astonishment - actually backed off to let me through. With a friendly smile and a wave, too. I was so stunned I almost crashed right there.

    --J

    Edit: all refernces to "bike lanes" substituted with "bike paths" to make the post at least vaguely understandable.
    Last edited by Juha; 10-04-02 at 02:43 AM.
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  13. #13
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    To be honest I totally avoid bikepaths at all times. I'm yet to find one that's in anyway safer than the road. To be honest I think bike paths are nothing more than a political stunt by politicians in order to get motorists to vote for them by "getting those @#$*ing bikes off the road!" It also helps them be politically correct by demonstrating a "commitment to sustainable transport".

    Of course, these decisions are made by politicians who have never actually ridden them (or worse still, tried to go somewhere on one of them). My advice is simply don't use them. Your survival chances are much better on the road. I will also add that I have seen a number of statistics on this issue from various sources, all of which state that cyclist fatalities are greater on paths than on the road.
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  14. #14
    Member LngDistance's Avatar
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    I have had the occasion to ride on bike paths in 4 or so cities this summer, and I agree that they can be good or bad. In my home city of DC the bike paths are nearly unrideable, many places with 90 degree turns, and the path itself is only about 3 feet wide. This being the case, I think the most dangerous thing on the path is the 14 year old kid on their huffy's riding staggered with their heads down or not paying attention. I can't begin to count how many times bail off the trail to prevent getting clobbered. I Never take the path anymore. What is nice in DC is on weekends in Rock Creek Park (right down the center of the city -- Remember Chandra?) they close entire sections of the road to trafic, which is really nice, only a few miles though. Chicago has a pretty nice bike path that runs along lakeshore, an example of one that is well done, wide and in pretty good condition (and a hell of a lot better then riding up lakeshore drive). Also one of the most spectacular places I have ever ridden a bike was in Gleenwood springs colorado, under I70 20 miles through glenwood Canyon. The path had dividing lines around corners, and only really crossed one road in 20 miles. So I guess it all depends on where you are

  15. #15
    Senior Member knobbymojo's Avatar
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    I think the only reason I have had better experiences on bike paths than most is that 99% of the time I seem to be the only one on the path. Other traffic would greatly dissuade me from using it. Also, putting signs on a sidewalk doesnt make it a bike path. Most city planners seem to not realize this. If it isnt at least 5-6 feet wide and separated from the street, then to me its a sidewalk and I wont even consider using it.
    I have gone looking for myself. If I should return before I get back, please ask me to wait for myself.

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    Sprockette wabbit's Avatar
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    There are some times when the bike path is pretty quiet and is rideable. Now that school has started and the weather is cooler the weekdays are pretty quiet. Sometimes I can be the only person for miles! Then you get the after work roadies and commuters, not many kids. Summer of course is much worse, especially on weekends. Then there is no way you'll get me on a path, except when I need to use the rest stop or get water- then it's back on the road!
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  17. #17
    It's in my blood Pete Clark's Avatar
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    Bikepaths are built as a substitute for adequate accomodations on the streets for bicycles. Often, the people who use them are lured by the appearance of safety, even though they violate every principle of traffic safety established for vehicular transportation. If you pay taxes and you ride a bike, don't accept second-class treatment.

    If you went to use the restroom and saw "Men's," "Women's" and "Cyclists'" doors, which would you use?
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  18. #18
    I drink your MILKSHAKE Raiyn's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Pete Clark
    Bikepaths are built as a substitute for adequate accomodations on the streets for bicycles. Often, the people who use them are lured by the appearance of safety, even though they violate every principle of traffic safety established for vehicular transportation. If you pay taxes and you ride a bike, don't accept second-class treatment.
    HEAR HEAR!!!!!!!!

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    Senior Member Stor Mand's Avatar
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    I like the paths I've been on. They are fun but could be a little wider. They definitely are not for a workout ... more of a casual cruise on a mini-road.

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    I wonder if there are statistics regarding the incidences of injuries arising from bike path use versus street use. My suspicion is that far more people are injured on bike paths than roads, per mile or per whatever.

  21. #21
    Senior Member John C. Ratliff's Avatar
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    The bike path that I sometimes use must be rather unique, as it doesn't really intersect with other roads. It instead bypasses a very busy "feeder" road. There are city malls on both sides, which feed into this road from parking lots. This road is where I had may accident in May, and I will never ride this particular stretch of road again in the manner I did before. Instead, I bypass it by riding this bike path, which is really, badly unkept. But it avoids a major hassel, and then ends at one of the feeder roads. I can go straight to a traffic light, across the main intersecting road and continue from there on roads. I rarely see anyone using this particular path too.

    I think there are many different types of paths, and to categorize all by what I've read above may not be fair to some of the paths.

    (For those in the Portland/Beaverton/Hillsboro, Oregon area, the road I'm referring to is Evergreen Parkway, between Cornell Road and 185th Avenue.)

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  22. #22
    DEADBEEF khuon's Avatar
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    Originally posted by LngDistance
    Chicago has a pretty nice bike path that runs along lakeshore, an example of one that is well done, wide and in pretty good condition (and a hell of a lot better then riding up lakeshore drive).
    Yeah, Chicago has really become cycle-friendly since Mayor Daley (Richard M. that is) took office over ten years ago. He's a real cycling advocate. I remember seeing him wave to us a couple of times while riding around the block with my brother and friends when I was growing up in Bridgeport (before he was mayor)... my house was right across the alley from his. I'm also glad they fixed up the path along LSD. I remember once taco'ing the rear wheel of my MTB when I tried to gap a section of broken concrete there... that was also over ten years ago. It's too bad I moved away from Chicago a few years after Daley took office so I never got to really enjoy all the cycling improvements he made. Luckily most of my family is still there so there's always opportunity to visit.

  23. #23
    1.64x10^6 posts Grendel's Avatar
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    Like some in this thread have mentioned, I guess it just depends on where you are and the quality of the path. I ride the paths in the Woodlands, TX quite a bit and they are very good in my opinion. The road crossings are well marked and laid out well, the paths are very well maintained and kept clear of debris, and the pavement is in excellent shape and the ride is smooth. Even though the path is set back from the road 10-15 feet, visibility is generally good, although there are spots where you have to be careful because of trees and brush that block visibility in certain places.

    Also, the drivers in the area are generally pretty good about watching for cyclists and not blocking crossings, although there will always be drivers who don't get it (probably visitors). I guess it helps that the paths have been there as long as the community has and there's about 126 miles of paths so it's something you get used to pretty quickly if you live there. I've had lots of drivers stop and give me the right of way even though they could have gone ahead.

    It's not perfect, since there are still all the hazards mentioned earlier (peds, rollerbladers, wobbly kiddos, walkers 2 and 3 abreast, etc... ) but I'd rather take my chances with those than a steady procession of vehicle traffic right by my elbow, with an uncomfortably large percentage of those vehicles being piloted by a--holes who have it in for cyclists for some reason.

    Someone mentioned that you don't get much of a workout on the paths -- I (and my aching legs) disagree... it all depends on how you ride it. There is a lot of speed variance due to the obstacles so if you try to ride it hard then you'll have lots of bursts of acceleration where you can get off the saddle and mash, and nice stretches where you can get up to a good pace without interruption. Also, the paths in the Woodlands have some mild-to-medium elevation changes to keep it interesting and provide some uphill grinds. I'm up to doing 50 miles per ride and it seems to wear me out just fine.

  24. #24
    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Andy Dreisch
    I wonder if there are statistics regarding the incidences of injuries arising from bike path use versus street use. My suspicion is that far more people are injured on bike paths than roads, per mile or per whatever.
    There are some statistics on this here. Yes, your suspicion is right.
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  25. #25
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    The only place MUPs make sense for bicyclists is along rivers, coastlines, or railroads, where there are few (preferably no) intersections. I like the path along Oceanside's San Luis Rey river, because very few pedestrians or skaters ever venture onto it. Even a poor MUP can be a good alternative to a particularly bicycle-and-pedestrian-hostile freeway ramp interchange with high-speed free turns and merges.
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
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