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Adventure Blog

Cyclists and Federal Land Roads

Buzz Poole
12/06/2011 - 00:00

Years ago, when I lived in the Bay Area and first started working for Adventure Center, in the mailroom, my bike was my primary mode of transportation. I didn’t have a car, so if the rain was pouring down in winter, I walked or waited for the bus. As a kid, going off-road on a BMX bike was my favorite activity. As a college student studying abroad in Japan, I cherished cycling, tooling around Hirakata and the neighboring towns, passing through rice paddies and hitting my favorite local bar. In recent years, the bike rides I’ve taken along the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles or the Loire River in France count among the highlights of the respective trips.

Living in New York, I don’t ride a bicycle very often these days. I still don’t have a car but the nature of my commutes and the city’s traffic patterns make the subway a better option for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize how riding a bike enhances how you engage with a place, whether it is your neighborhood or a foreign country. You smell, hear, see and feel more of a place when on a bike; you can be a lot more flexible about stopping to check out a store or view; and of course the health and environmental benefits are superior to those of getting around by car.

I couldn’t help but take notice of Michael Frank’s Adventure Journal post about a new US Senate transportation authorization bill that targets cyclists by trying to keep them off the roads in national parks and other federal lands. On the surface, this might seem sensible, but “S. 1813 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” is not so much about keeping cyclists safe from traffic, but penalizing them for, well I’m not quite sure.

As the League of American Bicyclists petition explains, the act “requires cyclists on Federal lands to use a path or trail, instead of roads, if the speed limit is over 30 MPH and a trail exists within 100 yards, regardless of its condition or utility of the path.” In most cities, police can, and will, ticket cyclists for not obeying the same traffic laws drivers are expected to follow, and you certainly can’t, and shouldn’t, ride on sidewalks. Ostensibly, the act is meant to protect cyclists from motorized vehicles, but not all federal lands have adequate alternative paths; in many instances, the paths that do exist are also used by pedestrians so congested paths will inevitably result in risk for both those on two wheels and two feet.

If you want to learn more about the issue, check out this post by Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, and/or these charts.

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