Thursday, April 26, 2012

Grateful for Greenways

Charles River, Boston MA
In my fourth year of cycling in the greater Boston area, I admit that I often get impatient with the greenways that run through the city. Being multi-use paths, they are usually congested with pedestrians. The interruptions are not well thought out. And they don't always take me exactly where I need to go. More often than not, I find myself choosing to cycle on the road instead... which is a shame, because I miss out on the beautiful scenery and the fresh air, all in the name of saving time.

Cycling the Emerald Necklace
Last weekend the Co-Habitant and I did something we haven't done for almost a year: went on a slow, meandering ride along the Charles River. On a sunny Saturday. Some time ago we'd decided this sort of thing was the stuff of nightmares because of how crowded the trail gets this time of year on weekends. But something in the air made us want to give it a try again.

And yes, it was super-crowded, with everyone photographing cherry blossoms and wandering all over the path without looking where they were going.  Dogs on those long, invisible leashes, unattended toddlers making sudden u-turns on trikes, the whole nine yards. We had to ride really, really slowly. We had to be patient. We had to not think of it as cycling, but more like strolling by bike. Every half hour we stopped to sit down on the grass, drink from our flasks, stare at the water, enjoy the sun... It was wonderful!

Charles River, Cambridge MA
To think, we were smack in the middle of Boston and not a car in sight. Birds chirping. The smell of grass and flowers. Lovely boats swaying. People sunbathing and having picnics everywhere. Sure we did not do a 50 mile loop through hilly country roads that day. But who cares? It was revitalising. It felt like a mini vacation.

We have several beautiful greenway networks here in Boston, and I truly am grateful for them. Greenways are not merely about getting from point A to point B, but about creating a healthy, flourishing oasis in the middle of a busy city that everyone can enjoy. Yes, they will be crowded on the weekend. And that is a good thing - it means people are using them. Sometimes we all need to take it slow, take it easy, and find a way to share these beautiful resources.

33 comments:

  1. Not cycling? Glad you enjoyed it, whatever it was! ; )

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  2. Quite so. Bike strolling is really a third, often under-appreciated species of cycling: not transportation, not sport, just tooling around for the heck of it. Greenways and parks are perfect for this, also friendly neighborhoods on warm fragrant summer nights.

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  3. Boston is blessed with so many green ways, both the oldest and the busiest. Even better, as you note, we use them. Because of their age and use, they are often deficient in design and maintenance. Hopefully, cities and the state will see the wisdom in fixing and connecting the exisitng green ways and building more, like the DCR has been doing along Alewife Brook. 

    "Strolling on a bike", I like it. Time on the bike is just as important as miles on the bike, when enjoying the world around you.

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    1. Brian makes a good point. Urban Greenways are great ibenefits for cities such as Boston (Chicago has a few). For too long they have been at best underfunded and too often sabotaged in favor of motorized traffic.

      We all of us need to fight to ensure these treasures are maintained and expanded. They make life for everyone better.

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  4. For a few years I rode daily from Watertown to Back Bay down through Alston and then along the river on the path. As a daily commuter mostly I just encountered fellow commuters and joggers. The river presented a beautiful tableau to muse upon each morning and it was a lovely place to ride. If I felt like I needed to make time, I could always take Comm Ave.

    I now live in Vermont and I miss is having such a variety of choices in getting from point A to point B.

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  5. Sometimes it is best to leave the bikes at home and actually stroll...on foot. That is why there are so many pedestrians there :-)

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    1. The greenways are very long and most pedestrians either live in the neighbourhood directly adjacent to where they are strolling, or else they drive there and park somewhere! To walk the entire length of the Charles River Trail would probably take all day.

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  6. "Sometimes we all need to take it slow, take it easy, and find a way to share these beautiful resources." That needs to be repeated again and again.

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  7. Oh how I miss Boston's abundance of scenic bike pathways. Bike strolling indeed.

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  8. "Taking my bike for a walk."

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  9. I love Boston's greenways, too -- but in a smaller city they can make an even bigger difference. Here in Greenville, NC, before new greenways were built there really was no place at all for a stroll, with or without bikes -- no shared public space that concentrates enough people so that you don't feel lonely and exposed. The downtown was dead and the rest was sprawl, basically. The greenways are definitely the best thing that has happened to this town.

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    1. yes, same thing in Lincoln NE!

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  10. Yes, totally different than cycling for transportation. Imagine if there were these greenways AND better separated or shared accommodation for cyclists!

    OR imagine the Esplanade before they took half of it for Storrow Drive...

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  11. Those Raleighs are well suited to light off road, aren't they?

    When I am out of town on my old Sports I actually prefer to ride on those little dirt paths rather than on the paved country roads. It is easier when there are no cars and no wind exposure.
    I find walkers give way more easily when you are on a vintage bicycle, because they also tend to look at it!

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  12. This is something we do just about every Sunday. It's a little less crowded on Sundays here - most people are too busy with church! :)

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  13. Sounds like an awesome day spent with the one you Love...it doesn't get any better,my friend :) Life happens fast and it's gone,always take time to slow it down when you can.

    The DC

    PS: Wish Bristol (my town) had Greenways to enjoy...

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    1. Which Bristol? Bristol TN/VA?

      I think that town has so much potential...

      -rob

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  14. I like the post - but could I be cheeky and suggest you use Lightroom to adjust the horizon on the top pic? You could get seasick staring at it too long...:-)

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    1. It's intentional, to communicate a tipsy "spring is in the air" kind of mood.

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    2. I don't understand the relationship between tipsy and spring is in the air....it makes me sea sick, also....whoa :)

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    3. It's supposed to. They were swaying back and forth on a floating dock. A level horizon would not communicate the experience of watching the scene.

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    4. Peppy (the things I do for my art)April 27, 2012 at 12:20 AM

      hickka hicka hickkka hickkkaa *blecht* *cough* *hairball*

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  15. Lots of sun and beautiful scenery are nice but I find that the overpopulation of the multi-use path on pretty days ruins the fun for me, even if I'm with my family and even if we go slow. The other day (Tuesday) it was overcast, misting slightly, about 55 degrees, windy, and kind of cold. The forecast was for rain all day long there was virtually noone on the path. Given the slightly slick conditions, I had to keep my speed down somewhat but the tranquility of pedalling through the gray misty day with the wind in my ears made for one of the best rides I've had all year. I'd take cold gray solitude over sunny but crowded any day.

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    1. I agree. I ride a multi-use path every workday all seasons and in the warmer months I often find myself missing the colder months. One of my best rides ever was on a path through a spring snowstorm where the path was warm enough to melt the snow and give good footing. I love it, but my wife would say I'm a misanthrope!
      The real problem with warmer months are runners with earbuds. They can't hear my bell and are indignant when I pass at speed. Maybe 10 percent acknowledge the bell with a hand wave, which is very helpful.

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  16. Slower walkers, making crazy turns and impeding our progress? Sometimes bikers talk about pedestrians like auto drivers talk about bikers. There's an irony in there somewhere.

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  17. We have some beautiful paths like that around here too, one by the lake, one by a river and some through bushland, all lovely rides or walks. Some have more trouble than others with walkers vs bikers, and even bikers vs faster bikers! Great way to spend a day.

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  18. I'm fortunate enough to live within a block or two of the Delaware & Raritan Canal, which is a lovely little slice of green space right through the middle of industrial/suburban New Jersey.
    Bike strolling is fun too, some of the most pleasant rides I've had were on days when I actually did have somewhere to be, but suddenly realized I was running way early, so I slowed down, then slowed down a bit more, and maybe stopped here and there to take a picture or spot some wildlife.

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  19. About twenty years ago, I was lucky enough to take an all-day walking tour of the Emerald Necklace run with competence and enthusiasm by four or five employees of some obscure city agency outfitted in khakis and smoky bear hats. It kindled a long-term interest in Frederick Law Olmstead, the genius responsible for the Necklace and lots of other public places of enduring beauty. The same outfit also ran a half-day bike tour which covered much the same route. If they still do, I would highly recommend it.

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  20. Come to Minneapolis sometime.

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  21. Bike 'pootling', maybe with a hastily wrapped bit of cake and a thermos, is one joy from childhood that I've never grown out of. The sense of discovery is as fresh as when I was a nipper, but, now I get to enjoy an aimless lack of responsibility for a few hours too.

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  22. I agree, come to Minneapolis! Thankfully when they built our extensive grand rounds / greenway system they were smart enough to put in two separate but parallel paths almost everywhere. One is for peds and one is for wheels, so even on busy days you can ride the bike paths and only have to dodge the occasional stubborn runner who thinks they are just too fast for the pedestrian path. For this reason, our trail system is useful for both commuting and recreation. Beautiful and functional--we are so lucky!

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