Midwest Voices contributing columnist: Maggie Jackson
Cycling, there is no other word which brings such a sense of freedom for those of us who love to take the trails, streets, and roads under our own power. Cycling offers just enough speed to get where you need to go in a decent amount of time, but this mode of transportation is also slow enough to allow for the enjoyment of scenery and communities. One of the greatest joys I have experienced since I took up cycling is the kind smiles, waves, and thumbs up from other cyclists and motorists. There is something very special about being able to travel on a good sturdy bicycle. However, cycling is also a huge responsibility which should not be taken lightly by the cyclist or the states which provide bicycle route information. Over the past 3 years I have gone from novice cyclist to what could be considered an experienced cyclist. I’ve cycled across three different states starting with the entire length of the Katy Trail in Missouri, then onto Nebraska’s Cowboy Trail and highway 20, and this year I challenged myself to cycle highway 36 in Kansas. Each of my cycling treks was completed for deeply personal reasons. However, I also take these treks because I love getting to know the people and communities along each route. Now I know that there are elitist cyclists who seem to think or the very least act as though they own the road as well as the trails. As a rather poorly funded cycling enthusiast huffing and puffing on a gifted mountain bike for hundreds of miles with a weighted down pack to slow me down a little more, I certainly do not qualify as an elitist cyclist. Also, before any big trek I research the routes that I plan to take to ensure that the roads are safe and suitable for cycling. Quite frankly, I’m too terrified of being hit by a vehicle to act like an elitist. I wanted to get that straight before I plunged into an abbreviated tirade about my latest trek. As a safety conscience cyclist, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the Kansas Department of Transportation offers a wonderful cycling friendly page. The site is complete with safety tips, lodging opportunities, recreational areas, city biking maps, as well as the best roads for cyclists. There is of course that little disclaimer that the cyclist assumes all risks when traveling by bicycle. However, I think most of us understand that everytime we get behind the wheel of a vehicle we also assume a similar risk of operating a motor vehicle. This is just a cover your rear end type of statement for legal reasons. What I was not prepared for though was the dismal amount of shoulder width provided by one of the recommended routes on the Kansas cycling Web site, highway 36. With sometimes only about 2 feet of paved shoulder width along the highway and semis or other vehicles traveling at 65+ mph not always passing safely around cyclists, that highway can be downright scary at times. Thankfully it is sparsely traveled which is perhaps the only reason Kansas officials deemed it a good route for cyclists. However, here’s my question, why would a state deem a highway with little to no shoulder width as cycling preferred without also including at the very least signs to share the road with cyclists? At the most Kansas should follow the Nebraska highway 20 example and provide adequate shoulders for pulling over as well as for cycling. This would not only provide cyclists with a girth of safety, but it would also reduce the irritation I’m sure many drivers feel when they have to pass a cyclist trying to maneuver a narrow shoulder. Besides, it would just simply add to the favorable cycling friendly face KSDOT displays online. During May’s National Bike Month, I would like encourage Kansas and other states to review their bicycling recommended trails, streets, and roads to ensure that what they recommend is truly reasonable. Perhaps better yet officials should pull out their own bicycles and ride those recommended paths. I bet we would then see those signs to share the road with cyclists pop up everywhere! Happy cycling and keep the rubber side down!