Bone posted a link highlighting the kickoff of efforts to extend the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail another 11 miles, reaching from Newville to Carlisle in Cumberland County. I have yet to ride the CVRT, however I am familiar with the region.
Where I am headed with this are general thoughts on how trails like this should be used, because in this case, I can see some conflicts evolving. There have always been debates about the best way to integrate bicycle transportation into the infrastructure. The big debate is whether we should configure existing roads to encourage bikes via bike lanes and markings, etc…; or whether bike specific trails are the ticket.
Given my riding style and experience, where I live, and my general opinions on spending tax dollars; I pretty much come down on the existing road side. But I also realize that there are communities that have built a series of bike paths that have resulted in “transportation” networks for bikes in order to relieve stress on existing roads from car traffic and parking. I don’t have a problem with that.
The bike paths that I have used have been mostly rail trails, and are marketed and used as multi-use (hike, bike, horse) recreational trails. Usually, they don’t connect population centers.
So here’s the rub: When completed, this leg of the CVRT will span from Carlisle to Shippensburg. Both towns have significant populations, businesses, colleges, etc…; and there is probably a fair amount of commuting between the two. With that said, I could see the 22 mile stretch developing into a transportation route for bikes. If that were to happen, would it interfere with the recreational aspect of the existing trail?
22 miles isn’t that far on a bicycle if you’re moving along at a good pace, and on level grades like you find on a rail trail. I’ll guess that you could cruise along between 12 and 22 mph; and here you can see the problem – that’s fine if other bikes are moving along within that range, but not so good if you’ve got families out for a day ride with kids, or hikers strolling along three and four abreast. The different use will result in conflicts and mis-adventures when fast rolling transportation bikes come up on slow moving recreational users.
I suppose the easy answer is to declare the CVRT a recreational trail and post speed limits. That would move transport bikes over to Route 11, which isn’t a bad road – fairly level and wide berms. But Route 11 is already congested with truck traffic, has 50-55mph limits, and has no bike lanes/markings. Plus, why would you spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a rail trail, and then discourage a segment of users that could result in less cars?
If we continue to invest in these trails, I can see this becoming a more widespread issue. The Hanover Junction spur planned for the Heritage Trail in York County; the extension of the Conewago/Lebanon Valley Trail through Lebanon, etc… We are slowly and gradually building a transportation network for bicycles.
How will we make it all work?