Letter from the Editor

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Uneasy riders

It seems a little bit like a cop-out for the county supervisors board to backpeddle on the plan it willingly passed a year ago to build a bike trail when it redoes C65 on the south side of the lake.

A change in the people occupying the chairs in the courthouse is no excuse for reversing course on a vote that has already been made. Neither is fear of being short on cost guesstimates for a project a fair explanation for simply ignoring that project and hoping it eventually goes away.

However, public safety IS a valid reason. And if supervisors are not proceeding for the reason that inviting bikers out on the shoulder of a slightly widened road still with limited visibility and uncontrolled high speed truck traffic is asking for an accident, we will reluctantly back their reversal.

At any rate, the grading is getting done this year, and then it will effectively be too late for this type of trail.

The DOT's attitude is the matter is perplexing, however.

Supervisors say that the state refuses their request to put a trail on just one side of the road, which could make a path somewhat wider and somewhat cheaper.

Instead, the state insists that a path done as part of a road project must include bike trail on both sides, we're told.

If so, such a blanket requirment seems foolish. Road situations differ, and a project should be designed to be the safest possible for a particular environment.

Imagine kids biking around the lake crossing high speed, uncontrolled traffic, back and forth, which would surely be the case if the trail is used much by their homies.

And under such a plan, bikes would have to be within a couple of feet of traffic.

Every felt the force of what a loaded livestock truck doing 60 does to a bicycle 24 inches away?

If the path were built with bikes inches away from traffic on that particular road, unlit and with that prominent dip in which a Schwinn drops clean out of sight, it wouldn't be a case of if another fatality occurs, but when.

And if nothing is done because the DOT refuses to bend or assist, there may well be future accidents though we have done nothing, and as far as I am concerned, the state will have to bear a share of that responsibility.

Supervisor Herb Crampton raises one possible option - putting the path right along the fenceline atop the ditch on one side of the road or the other. If it can be done separate from the road, the DOT would not force paths on both sides. And it would resolve a major safety hurdle by separating the path slightly from the road and traffic.

It's a good thought, but would face major hurdles. Cost could be immense, even more so in that the county would need to do this right and connect with Storm Lake along Highway 110 and to Bel Air on the other side. Otherwise we'd have a "trail that goes nowhere," without a safe way to get bikes to and from it.

And if some farmers already oppose the trail on the road, as superviors tell us, imagine how they would react to being asked to give up a row of crop to put it on their fenceline. Still, it is worth feeling out.

For the record, landowner concerns are valid but not totally earned. We have seen and used bike trails in many areas, without seeing evidence of violation of property, vandalism or trash - quite the contrary, a trail should attract people to take more appreciation in their rural landscape. As for liability, we can't think a farmer adjacent to a trail would be any more responsible than a person living in a house near the LakeTrail in Storm Lake would be.

It is frustrating to think that a place like Storm Lake and Buena Vista County can't manage a workable solution to complete a bike trail around the lake, which seems like such a natural and appropriate thing to do in these health-minded days.

But this is what it seems to have come to.

Supervisors have encouraged biking enthusiasts to form an organization and choose a chairperson and start raising money.

But what for?

If the county isn't going to proceed with a project, what would they contribute to? It would just be another year - or years - of frustration and non commital.

Who's going to donate to a trail the county has given no indication it will build? And what if volunteers do all of this work and the next batch of electees decide they don't need to stick to previous plans either?

A biking group is a good idea, and it is not wrong to expect a group with a specialty interest to pitch in on a project that will largely benefit themselves.

But the county must in turn give a firm indication of where it stands and what its role would be, and if such a bike group would have to look elsewhere for trail possibilities, the county should say so.

Last we knew, the county had given a pretty large chunk of change to Project AWAYSIS to fund driving and biking tourism trails. We assume that money is still available, and we know the city is still interested in doing trails out into the county and connecting with other systems, eventually.

It seems time to merge all of our interests and resources to get started and see what we can achieve, where we can achieve it.

Separate trail projects south of the lake and running north along 71, by two different entities, would probably somewhat compete with each other for grant funds and public interest.

Instead, we can get together the people who proposed the C65 county trail and the committee that formed the AWAYSIS city trail idea. Throw in area bike shop owners and RAGBRAI riders, and of course city, county and DOT representatives.

If we don't work together, none of the trail projects is likely to happen, or at least to happen as successfully and completely as they could if we all work together on a plan.

* Editor Dana Larsen can be reached at dlarsen@stormlake pilottribune.com.