It's that time of year again, when it is finally warm, the body is finally working, and it's time to get some serious miles under my wheels. And because I often have to be in downtown Albany on certain afternoons and weekends, it makes sense to just take off on the bike path for the first few kilometers of my ride -- there's convenient parking, a porta-potty and a flat path out of town. Which is great in the off-season, but by this time of year, the path is simply overrun with people, and trying to bike on it in good weather is just an exercise in frustration. This is meant less as a complaint than an explanation. People often ask if I ride the bike path, and I say that I try to avoid it whenever possible. I'm not being snobbish, I'm just trying to have a good fast ride, and that's hard to come by on the bike path. Here's why:
- The people I'm coming up behind are generally oblivious and/or unable to hear. They've got headphones or cell phones, or they're just tuning out. Calling out "on your left" is useless. Ringing my bell (yes, there's a bell on my commuter, as required by law) is similarly useless. Or worse than useless, as 90% of the population doesn't appear to know which side is its left, or thinks that I'm commanding them to make a sudden jump to the left, and directly into my path.
- People take as much space as is available. Two people or twelve, they will spread out as wide as possible, pay no attention to whether anyone is coming from ahead or behind, and often act indignant or surprised when they need to move aside.
- Dogs. I love dogs, and in fact most of the dogs I come across on the path are under good control. But my greatest fear on the path is hurting someone's dog, so if I come up on one that is unleashed and not under control, I've got to slow way down to make sure we're not going to have a bad interaction.
- Kids. People say kids are unpredictable. That's crazy. I predict that every single one of them will put himself or herself right where you don't want them to be, and I'm right 90% of the time. It's not their fault -- they're kids. Most parents try to get them in line on the path, but they're slippery little devils.
There are some sections of bike path around here that are unavoidable, often because it's vastly safer than the nearby road alternative (such as much of Rosendale Road in Niskayuna). And the newly paved section running from Aqueduct to downtown Schenectady is a delight, and no longer feels dangerous and abandoned (imagine that: they made something nice and nice people started using it). But in general, once the paths are clogged up with people doing things other than biking, you'll see me on the road.
In some parts of the country there is acknowledgement that paths with a lot of use really need to separate the cyclists from the rest of the multi-users. Maybe someday that attitude will have some effect here, but in a region where money spent on something other than the automobile is generally derided as pure waste, I don't hold out a lot of hope. The $18 million that was spent on the Fuller Road debacle sure could have paved a lot of bike paths for a very long time.