When people find out that I cycle every day, they often share with me that they’d like to cycle more themselves. I ask them why they don’t and they invariably reply that they just don’t feel safe sharing their personal space with automobiles.
As a Bike League Certified Instructor, my job is to teach people to ride in traffic. I teach people to recognize potentially dangerous infrastructure, situations and driver behavior and learn how to avoid them. Armed with the right knowledge, you can eliminate or mitigate most risks.
This is good news, but it’s often not enough to overcome the preference for Dutch-style side paths and cycleways. In fact, that’s what my wife prefers. It’s a big part of the reason that we’re now in suburban Des Moines instead of Ogden. I joke that we moved to Ogden so that I could cycle, and we moved here so that she can.
This area has an amazing collection of side paths, greenbelt trails and even on street resources. They’re pretty well connected, too. From our apartment in Waukee, I can ride east all the way to downtown Des Moines and beyond without ever sharing my space with cars. Heading west, there’s a 70+ mile loop on the Raccoon River Valley Trail that connects an assortment of towns. It really is bicycling heaven, at least from an infrastructure perspective.
Last night, I left the apartment after dinner with the intention of just going a few miles through Waukee and picking up the Clive Greenbelt. I wanted to get a feel for trail condition. So many urban trails look good on maps, but when you actually ride them you discover that they’re crumbling, tight and dangerous. This was not the case here. I rode 11 miles into the city and was actually surprised to discover that the biggest challenge was racing home before the sun went down. I maintained an average speed of about 15 miles per hour. There were other trail users, but most were perceptive and managed to share the space with no hassles.
The system of trails and paths that are being built on the west side of Des Moines is as good as I’ve ever seen, and that includes my visits to Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Malmö. There’s nothing fancy about it. This is the Midwest where utilitarian functionality is valued more highly than stylistic flair. All this trail system does is connect neighborhoods, schools, libraries, stores, places of employment and entertainment. It makes it easy to get around by bicycle. As a result, a lot of those folks that would like to ride more are doing so, at least here and now.