Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It All Ties Together

I realize that with a ton of snow on the ground this is a rather strange thing to be thinking about, but I've been pondering riding my bike a bit more. Not just around the subdivision but actually riding it to... you know... GO places. Not only would that be beneficial to my health, but it would be a small gesture toward helping the environment.
But then I thought some more. I think it's about eight miles between my home and work. And in those eight miles are numerous roadways and highways but almost no sidewalks or bike trails. I would have to either ride on the roadway and risk getting squashed by a motorist or ride on the dirt shoulder of the road... in those places where that's even an option.
I checked an online map of bike trails in Genesee County. To its credit, there are some very nice bike trails in the area. The Flint River trail and the new one near the Playscape park in Davison are two examples I know about. Thing is, such trails are isolated from one another. In short, in order to conveniently GET to these nice bike trails, you pretty much have to DRIVE to them!
I understand that some local folks are working on plans for connecting these bike trails in order to make accessing them more convenient. That would be a great start and I wish them success.
But I think that from this point on, if we're REALLY serious about "green communities" we need to integrate sidewalks and trails into overall urban planning in order to make it easy for bicyclists and pedestrians to ride and walk in safety. I realize that's a big project and will take a long time. But it has to start somewhere.
I think the benefits for communities would be many. I already mentioned the health and ecological benefits but I think there are other intangible benefits as well. Community, for one. I live, for example, where three large subdivisions converge. There are a lot of people concentrated in the area. Yet there is not a single store within easy walking distance. I'm completely baffled why there's not - say - an ice cream place or small convenience store at the convergence of these subdivisions that you could walk or bike to on a summer evening and just sorta pick up a few groceries and hang out and meet your neighbors. And there's not even a real park within walking distance. Not even a tiny one with a couple picnic tables.
Okay, I admit I'm sort of rambling now but my point is while individual efforts to be more "green" and healthy are nice, at some point these individual desires won't be enough. Factors such as these need to be considered in urban (and suburban) planning. We need more bike trails, sidewalks, parks and amenities located near where people actually LIVE.
I don't have any answers on how this could be done, but maybe just finding out there's interest in that sort of thing would be a good first step. Maybe I'm just a lonely nutcase who is the only one who thinks this way. But I suspect I'm not. Maybe in the future our cities can be planned based on people's needs rather than in spite of them.

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