Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Connection to UALR

I'll go take some pictures of this route in the fall when the chiggers, et al. are less prevalent, but for now we can just look at the birds-eye view. Once the Central Rail Trail is built why not extend the world-class, separated, well-lighted bike and pedestrian facility to the west to the University District? There's an old unused rail right of way that starts at the active Union Pacific tracks south of Roselawn cemetery and winds its way between Fourche Creek and the industrial area south of Roosevelt and Asher. You'd have to build a bridge over the tracks from the State Fairgrounds, or you could put a short stretch of Roosevelt on a road diet and install some bike lanes on its bridge to get over the tracks before turning south on Woodrow. Either way, once you're west of the U.P. trains there's a free path all the way to Asher & Madison. Then the path could skirt behind a few businesses for the last half mile or transition onto the local neighborhood streets for easy and convenient access to UALR.

View Rail Trail to UALR from the East in a larger map

Then we'd have UALR, Central High, Arkansas Childrens Hospital, the State Capitol Complex, downtown and the River Trail all directly linked with the expanded network reaching UAMS and Saint Vincent, not to mention all the neighborhoods and other businesses in between.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Car Slant

We obviously have a very long way to go here in the US before most of our cities, towns and countryside become places where walking, biking and taking public transit are viable alternatives to driving. Just try to walk from Little Rock City Hall across Broadway to Robinson Auditorium between 6:00 a.m. & 6:00 p.m. for an illustration. Before widespread changes can occur on the ground though we have some work to do just in terms of how we engage in conversation about those changes. Enter the NY Times today with a great example of how not to do it. 
Europe Stifles Drivers in Favor of Alternatives.
ZURICH — While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
Read the article for more of the same bias. I wonder why the author didn't take a view more along these lines:
LITTLE ROCK — While European cities are making crosswalks safe to improve pedestrian flow and offering apps to help people find available bike share bikes, many American cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to people. The methods vary, but the mission is clear - to make anything but driving dangerous and just plain miserable enough to tilt everyone toward a less environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
I'm in full agreement that much of the space and funds reserved for cars right now should be reallocated to alternatives, but the tone of the article sets up an antagonistic us-and-them relationship that potentially fuels the anti-bike, anti-pedestrian, anti-public-transit attitude that so many drivers on this side of the pond share.

Since we've been so effectively limiting freedom for 60+ years now many Americans have become completely dependent on automobile infrastructure, and any attempt to tilt the balance back toward the livability that marked our cities for the first 175+ years of this country's history is met with open hostility. People cry out that building a bike lane limits their freedom. (postal ROADS are mandated by the Constitution for goodness sake, not bike lanes and streetcars!) Freedom? How many of us truly have freedom in choosing how to go about our daily business? I'm not talking about freedom to choose which car to drive or which road to take, but real freedom of choice. Here in Little Rock, except in a few pockets of livable neighborhoods, most of us do not have a meaningful option other than taking a car to work, the grocery store, and even to the bike path along the river. How freeing would it be to walk out your door in the morning and hop on a clean, comfortable bus when your smart phone alerts you to its arrival, or if the weather is nice to be able to ride your city bike to work without ever feeling like you're risking your life mixing with 45 mph traffic?

Instead of continuing to spend billions of dollars we don't have on expanding freeways and building new ones, which will only serve to increase traffic and the amount of time we spend behind the wheels of our cars, it would be incredibly easy and affordable to build our infrastructure in such a way that allows people to choose how to get from A to B. We'd be healthier; our neighborhoods would be more vibrant and safe; our economy would be less exposed to shocks in the price of fuel; and we'd have more money in our pockets to spend locally.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Central Rail Trail

Have you ever driven down 7th Street and noticed the two train bridges overhead near Whitewater Tavern? The one to the west is actively used by trains all the time, but the one toward the east is completely abandoned. It used to carry tracks for the Rock Island Railroad but hasn't been used in decades. In fact, the entire corridor from roughly 3rd Street to 17th Street is unused with no tracks even on the ground anymore. AND, in most places it's separated from the U.P. right of way by a ridge of rock and dirt.

If you don't like trespassing you can still get a good look at the old rail bed from atop the bridges on 12th, 13th, and Daisy Bates. (Side note: the 13th St bridge appears much newer than the others. 13th Street used to carry the streetcar line from Park to Lewis where it turned north to 11th before making its way over to Ray Winder Field. I haven't confirmed this with anyone yet, but I assume the bridge was replaced in conjunction with the final decommissioning of that old line.)

Rock Island Line looking south under 12th St.
It would be really easy to expand the ol' River Trail south past Union Station and onto a new trail that would go all the way to Central High School without ever crossing car traffic. From there it wouldn't take much to extend to the State Fairgrounds and beyond for the recreational cyclists. The trail's real benefit though would be for the everyday riders. This could provide a major link between several neighborhoods south of I-630, the 12th Street Corridor, downtown businesses, Arkansas Children's Hospital, UAMS, Central High, etc.

Access points to the trail itself could include 16th and 17th Streets, Jones and 11th, 10th, 7th, the Capitol complex, and Wolfe St. Beefing up the on street network though could really turn this into a major hub for connections across the whole city.

The bridge over Rose Creek north of 7th Street is pretty much rotted/washed away, and the embankment behind the capitol would require quite a bit of earth work to carve a trail in. The rest of the path though just needs minimal attention to be usable. It seems like a relatively cheap way for the city or county to build on the amazing work that's already been done in Central Arkansas for cycling and pedestrians, and one that would have real benefits for the non-lycra crowd.

View Central Rail Trail in a larger map