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.