Monday, December 12, 2011

PHIL–PLEASE “SAY IT AIN’T SO!”

In recent days, stories have been circulating in and around counties abutting the Blue Ridge Parkway indicating that the Parkway is going to CLOSE TO CYCLISTS.

No Cyclists

The story has enough “legs” under it to garner comments from the Adventure Cycling Association and Blue Ridge Outdoors. So, my plea is to Superintendent Phil Francis that he issue a clarification of the Parkway’s intent regarding cyclists under the current draft plan…

I spent a portion of my Sunday reading through the draft plan and looking at parts of it in depth. Additionally, I viewed a brief news clip on local ABC affiliate WLOS-TV in which Superintendent Francis specifically states that “cyclists will still be welcome to use the Parkway.” Now, it was a sound byte and lasted all of 15 seconds so it didn’t add much grist to the mill of conversation on this topic.

In my reading of the plan, I found the following, which I transmitted to our members of BicycleHaywoodNC with encouragement to comment on the draft plan after doing their own reading:

In my reading so far, I find that Option B, the one preferred by the NPS, includes a statement under the trails section (pg 48) that states bicycling would continue to be allowed on the main Parkway road and other parkway roads realizing that cyclists would be sharing the road with higher volume traffic especially in urban areas. (This is my paraphrasing so read it for yourself.) There is also a reference to an off-road trail being built in the Blowing Rock area. This has since been eliminated due to costs and will not be included in the final draft plan.

I’ve pretty much read the major areas of the document.  I’ve tried to skim all of it. So, here’s my impressions thus far…

1)      Cycling, while clearly not being banned outright in Option B, receives little consideration.

2)      The language of the plan emphasizes the driving experience as envisioned by the founding fathers of the Parkway.  Unclear to me is if this is a language, semantic issue or if automobiles are clearly given the preference over other forms of use of the Parkway.

3)      Option B includes, after further refinement, some of the management concepts of Option C so it really kind of becomes a hybrid B/C model.

4)      Option C, page 51, includes under the Trails section a plan to develop off road multi-use trails in the high count traffic areas. I don’t know if this is also a mistake and will be eliminated as noted above in the Blowing Rock area.

5)      Option C appears to make more effort than either option B or option A to work collaboratively with various recreational and heritage organizations within the surrounding counties than does the other options.

6)      If you look at the tables in the document, you will see that in sensitive areas no mountain biking is allowed and as you move toward less sensitive areas limited mountain biking on trails is allowed, specifically Julian Price area is referenced. You can find this information under Appropriate Recreational Activities (pg 57).

7)      Further in the plan, you can see specific plans for individual segments of the parkway. Primarily, our area falls into segment 7 and the Buncombe area into segment 6.

My somewhat overarching view of the plan is that cyclists receive little consideration within the overall  context of motorists. The references that I saw to bicycling, while not banning cycling, doesn’t really address safety of cyclists, enhanced facilities for cyclists, etc. On Friday night (I think), when this story seems to have broken, WLOS interviewed the park superintendent.  His sound byte (and yes, it was only a sound byte that made it to air) was that the parkway would not be closed to cyclists and that cyclists would be “welcome to continue to use it.” As I watched it, I know that my impressions were colored by my role as a cyclist so I’m trying to take that into account as I write this. To me, it was not a ringing endorsement of the rights of cyclists to use the parkway nor did his statement seem to have much enthusiasm for cyclists. Again, please keep in mind that was how I heard it and someone else may not have heard it the same way or had the same impression. It would be good for the superintendent to clarify the position of the planners and his own support or non-support of cyclists on the Parkway. The sound byte left me wanting more information rather than alleviating any concerns. Unfortunately, the public meeting for our area was held in November so it is too late to make that public comment via the meeting.

There is another piece of the plan that I don’t fully grasp and that is the application for National Historic Landmark status. The pros are apparently that it leads to more funding opportunities and has significant protections down the road for the Parkway overall. The opposing view seems to be that gaining that status would handcuff the management of the parkway in such a way as to prevent future development of things such as off-road trails. Again, I just don’t understand this piece very well.

 

Please note that the Adventure Cycling article goes into somewhat more detail about the implications of the National Historic Landmark status.

So, what does the future hold for cyclists and the Blue Ridge Parkway? After my reading of the plan, I’d have to say it appears the Parkway will be open for use by cyclists but that they won’t have any particular standing with the management plans, i.e., no widening of shoulders where feasible to allow for safer riding, no facilities, etc. Unfortunately, unless sufficient comment from cyclists is received by the comment deadline of December 16th, we may be left out in the cold again…

Thanks to the VeloHobo for the link to the Adventure Cycling story…

Until later,

- Zeke

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