Cycling home the other day, I caught a glimpse of a clock in a storefront window. At 4 pm it had already grown dark. Like other signs of winter's approach, this gave me a pang of anxiety. The early onset of darkness restricts my mobility, and after two winters as a cyclist I still have not found a good solution.
The main issue for me, is that the two major "commuter trails" we have in the Boston area - the Charles River Trail and the Minuteman Trail - are completely unlit. When it gets dark they turn pitch black. This directly affects my long-distance bike travel, because I regularly use these trails as "highways" to get to suburban destinations 8-12 miles away, both for transportation and for roadcycling. At one point I was determined to conquer the darkness with super bright lights. I was pleased to find that it was indeed possible to cycle on the trails after dark with a strong enough headlight. I would go slower than usual, but it was good enough. However, the one issue I had not considered seriously enough was safety. On the Charles River Trail, I've now been startled several times by intoxicated men in my path. And on the Minuteman Trail last week a group of highschool boys stuck branches in my spokes as I cycled past them. There were maybe six of them, and they'd been sitting on the edges of the narrow path, smoking and waiting for a cyclist to ride by so that they could do this. Under the cover of darkness people who are capable of violence tend to lose their inhibitions, which makes unlit trails problematic. But the alternative routes to the destinations to which the trails take me are along busy roads, and I do not find them viable to use on a regular basis.
So what am I planning to do about this?.. Probably nothing, other than making sure to make it home before dark if I am using the trails, which basically means restricting my mobility again for the duration of winter. Oh I know, I know. I could "be braver" and do those long trips on busy roads. Or I could become a "bring lights to the trails" activist and dedicate my life to getting petitions signed and funding allocated. But the reality is that most cyclists who find themselves in this position simply give up. We should not be faced with those choices just because we want to continue cycling safely and conveniently as the days grow shorter.