Letting the Play Come to You

Background Reading


The article begins:

Yet again, two policy makers in the Netherlands seized the opportunity to show how much they care about people’s well-being, the environment and cycling. On Friday 7 November last, the alderman for Public Space and Green Space of the city of Utrecht and the representative of the Province of Utrecht with the portfolio of Recreation, officially opened Cycle viaduct De Gagel” over the Northern Ring road of Utrecht (NRU). The opening of any cycle bridge in the Netherlands is always a perfect opportunity for politicians to make headlines in a positive way, but it is deserved. Thanks to this political decision there now is a good entrance to a nature reserve that has been developed in the last 30 years and that is now nearing its completion. People living in the borough Overvecht can now easily reach that Noorderpark. This viaduct is the only possibility to pass the barrier of the NRU, that previously couldn’t be crossed (legally and safely) for a length of well over 1 kilometre.


The new cycle viaduct in Utrecht Overvecht over the Northern Ring Road of Utrecht. That the design was inspired by Bailey Bridges is very clear. Very basic design, but it gets people across.

America has a frenetic reaction to its infrastructure creation. On the one hand we want to have as much piled on our plate as possible as soon as possible. But when we ‘get caught with our pants down‘ we get pissed and lash out.

First the Governors Highway Association report was supposed to be a ‘lie‘. Then we calmed down and began issuing ‘spin‘ after ‘spin‘ of the data to show how it had been distorted. Now finally we are witnessing three Congressmen request that there be an investigation not into the notions of the report itself, but rather the infrastructure that underlies.

We are in essence afraid that perhaps what we are having municipalities do in our name is making things worse. How can that be?

I won’t argue that poor design can create problems. Having been a software engineer for more than three decades it stands to reason that unless the underlying design of a piece of software is sound the finished product ‘will suck’. But this is where I remind my readers that working as a consultant is a prime opportunity to have a customer rant about wanting their product ‘yesterday‘ while disregarding the admonition that the planning is not ready yet.

And surprise, surprise when the warning turns out to be true, the first thing the client wants to criticize is that the software is causing more problems than it solves. That my friends is precisely where the Urban Cycling Movement finds itself at this very moment.

The emphasis has been on quantity with the assumption that the quality was going to be there. In fact the StreetsBlog Lapdogs began to take IDOT to task for not forging ahead at a pace they thought best and instead requesting a bit of time to get it right. They were probably looking to gather data that would tell them whether something that was being built had in fact done what was intended.

Instead CDOT forged ahead and built the $500K boondoggle known as the Dearborn Street PBL and then followed that up with an even more useless piece of ‘street furniture‘ entitled the Berteau Greenway. The only thing really ‘green‘ about it has long since peeled off of the road surface.

A Football Analogy

Like the young players who are entering their first Super Bowl Championship it is difficult to allow the game to unfold of its own accord. The old-timers call it ‘letting the game come to you‘.

Evidently the Dutch understand something of this approach. You will note that the viaduct which is the central news of the blog entry cited above is a ‘gateway to nature preserve‘. Nothing very special in this other than that at long last a useful entrance is now available to the general public.

The Suburbs of Chicago are a bit like the Dutch in this regard. We are all about ‘connecting the dots‘ or ‘finishing the last miles‘. We have been ‘letting the game come to us‘ for several decades.

My town does not have ‘bike lanes‘ anywhere that I can remember. What it does have are serviceable trails along Butterfield Road which along with the Forest Preserve Trails to which they link make it easier to get from the Fox River Trail through Fermi Lab on trails running through St. James Farm, Blackwell F. P., Herrick Lake and over to and through Danada Farms.

Every few years we slowly ‘add on‘ improvements. Eventually you get some serviceable routes that actually take you places. And what is really interesting is that you can get there without too much interaction with automobile traffic, should you be so inclined.

Even our streets in town have Bike Routes posted that get you (on streets, generally devoid of ‘bike lanes‘) back and forth to the local colleges and parks. One town over does have an ‘experimental bike lane‘. It sorta works, but does not have anything fancy. There are no special stop lights for bicycles or anything that might bring a newspaper reporter out to write a column that reads as if we were at the vanguard of bicycle infrastructure development, when in fact nothing about the damned thing really works very well.

Instead you can get clear across DuPage County to the north on ‘trails‘ and ‘sidewalks trails‘ that actually take you to Bartlett.

There are connections that will take you south all the way to Lemont via trails that connect streets and sidewalk trails and forest preserves. Nothing fancy in any of this. But it is serviceable and to a large degree something that any Dutch cyclist would find familiar.

We have been ‘letting the game come to us‘.

Maybe it is time for the rest of the country’s Urban Cycling Enclaves to realize that all of this has happened in DuPage County without having to resort to World Naked Bike Rides or for that matter Critical Mass Rides. In fact the very first lengthy development here in DuPage County (the Illinois Prairie Path) was a volunteer effort by local citizens.

Like the Big Marsh Area ordinary citizens undertook to get the job done. Activism is frankly more about sweat than photo-ops and that is as it should be. Maybe it is time to learn that lesson in Urban Cycling Strongholds.

From where I stand, pretty green paint and PVC bollards are a joke. They remind me of the snow forts we built as kids. Easy to put up and a mess to clean up afterwards. And like their ‘bike lane counterparts‘ lacking in practical usage.

Sure the trails in Chicago parks are going to be full of snow come winter. But that is why the Good Lord created ‘fat bikes‘. If I have to listen to one more bellyaching city dweller who is wasting time on the phone with his alderman because someone shoveled snow into the ‘bike lane‘ can you imagine such a horrible thing, I’ll scream.

These folks would never have made it during push westward in Conestoga Wagons. After all the prairie grasses were tall and no one bothered to mow them prior to their arrival in search of ‘paved bike lanes‘ for the cattle to walk in.

Heck, I doubt most of these whiners would last more than a few days before turning back if they were to have to venture out on a cross country ride route that included interstate highways, gravel roads and ‘all without a single goddam bike lane‘. Oh, the horror of it!