Where the Bike Path Ends

The classic poet Shel Silverstein has a lovely, lyrical poem about the separation of city and nature, and the understanding of children called “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” It has these lines:
“And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.”

But as moving as this poem is and evocative its imagery, I have to take issue with it, just a bit. Because this past weekend, I found one place where the sidewalk – or actually the bike path – ends. And it wasn’t nearly as pleasant as advertised. I would have welcomed some peppermint winds, especially considering the fact that there wasn’t any shade.

I originally started out on my bike ride to map part of a bike route for the upcoming Montgomery County Farm Tour. The Farm Tour is a great annual event where farms that are part of the County’s agricultural reserve – land that can never be developed – open their barn doors to visitors. Many of them give tours, sell produce, and provide an educational opportunity for the public to see a working farm. We had driven to the farms in years past, but what better way to experience the outdoors than to bike from farm to farm?

I had plotted out a course on Google Maps that used roads that either had bike paths along them or looked quiet enough for me to bike on alone. Due to my own poor planning, I only had time to do about 20 miles, so I planned on doing part of the route and checking out the Kentlands in Gaithersburg. The Kentlands is a planned development that is famous in New Urbanist circles for being one of the first multi-use suburban housing developments with a planned commercial center. Not very exciting, but at least I knew there’d be a restaurant willing to fill my water bottle.

To make the route somewhat of a loop, I planned to bike up Great Seneca Highway and then back down Darnestown Road, both of which are major, multi-lane highways. However, according to both Google and the brand-new Montgomery County Bike Map, both roads have bike paths or substantial sidewalks. When I started down Great Seneca Highway, I was on a sidewalk, which appeared to end after a major exit. So I backtracked and went over to the other side, where I could clearly see a bikepath. I toodled along the bikepath for a little while, until I came to this:

Seriously, what the heck? The bike path just came to a complete dead end. It’s not even like it was crumbling or anything – there’s a clear line between the path and the grass. It was as if the person creating the path just decided they were done and stopped before finishing it. I’ve seen some places where there’s a little bit of grass between the intersection and bike path to discourage motorized vehicles, but the intersection was probably at least a quarter-mile down the road.

I ended up being able to bike up and down Darnestown to my destination without incident, so it wasn’t the end of my bike ride. However, it did stretch out its length and cause me serious frustration. It was really hot out, my water bottle was running low, and random shadeless detours weren’t helping.

It’s scenarios like this, where maps have clearly indicated the presence of a safe route that isn’t there, that make bicycling difficult to adopt as a true method of transportation. We need routes that are as safe, connected, and reliable as driving routes. After all, there would be outrage if a road just stopped randomly without connecting to any other roads. We should hold the same standards for our bikeways.

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7 Responses to Where the Bike Path Ends

  1. I had a copy of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” as a kid and really enjoyed that book of poems….so much that we got a copy for our kids as well.

    That’s very strange how the path would just end like that….I hope they can get that sorted out and that the pathways improve in the future.


  2. I love Shel Silverstein too, which is why the poem immediately sprang to mind when I saw it. He’s probably one of my favorite poets of all time, for kids or not. I just thought his idyllic anti-urbanism was an really interesting contrast to the dominance of the road for vehicles and disregard for those with slower and less polluting transportation seen in my experience.

    As for fixing it, if it was part of the city I live in, I could actually bring it up to get fixed. But it’s a state highway, and I’m sure it’s somewhere on the very long list of bike projects to be done in Maryland.

  3. Torrilin says:

    Since you used Google Maps as part of your route planning, one easy thing you can do is let them know the map is wrong. The team is pretty responsive about map errors in my experience. I’ve reported several, and they’re generally fixed in a month or so to better match up with reality. In some cases, it can take a bit of fooling around to get a route that clearly highlights the problem, but this one shouldn’t be too hard. A lot of people make use of the bike route directions, so reporting problems can at least save other people from your mistake.

    Depending on how the state routes get managed, a polite note (like this post!) describing the problem with the map to the agency in charge might also get some good results. (around here, bike trails are either owned by the city or the DNR, so it’s pretty easy to figure out who to write to) Fixing this route into something not utterly stupid is probably as simple as extending the route to the next stop light. Not terribly expensive, and if they know people are trying to use the route, it might get bumped up the priority list.

    As far as the outrage thing about dead ends… not so much. There are cul-de-sacs and dead end alleys all over suburbia, and they are often considered prime real estate. As near as I can tell, a lot of people actually like dead end roads. I think it is very peculiar, and yet…

    • Thanks for the thoughts on how to fix the problem. I admit that this post was more focused on complaining than productive change.

      As for the Google map issue, I actually just looked it up on Google maps, and discovered that Google is accurate. It actually shows the paths on both sides of the street, and the one on that side ending abruptly. Apparently the path on the other side does continue on, even though it was a path in much worse shape and it’s more dangerous to cross the big exit on that side. Which means that the county map is technically correct, but rather misleading and unhelpful.

      I’m almost positive that either the state or county controls that road, so I’d have to figure out which agency is in charge of it. I know it’s not the city, as that’s an incorporated part of the county. Nonetheless, it would be a good idea to write to them and point it out.

      • Torrilin says:

        *nod* I figured after nearly a month you might not be so steamed tho 🙂

        I have been known to pedal along particularly bad routes chanting things to myself like “Seriously Google? Who the hell thought this was a good bike route?” Coz around here, they get their data straight from the city and the DNR, and the city is relatively well known for biking… and yet… there are a lot of situations where you end up being better off if you walk.

        I also spend a fair bit of time wishing there were a pothole alert number for the DNR.

  4. Pingback: Where the Bike Path Ends « Will Bike for Change (or Pie!) | Kentlands Downtown News | Scoop.it

  5. Pingback: Ride Report: First of the Season « Will Bike for Change (or Pie!)

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