Legislation Could Force Bicycles Off Roads In Some National Parks

Cyclists on one-way scenic drive near Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Wouldn't it be nice if all the park roads could be so accommodating? Bob Janiskee photo.

Serious road cyclists do not often dally about when they're out for a ride, instead preferring to dance on the pedals at speeds of 20 mph and more. While they can easily do that on many National Park System roads, legislation pending in Congress could force them onto paved paths now enjoyed by walkers, folks with strollers, those in wheelchairs, and others not zooming along.

The legislation, whose main intent is to reauthorize federal highway funding and safety construction projects, dictates that "(T)he Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road."

In other words, according to Darren Flusche, a policy analyst with the League of American Bicyclists, cyclists who enjoy cruising roads in places such as Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C, or Grand Teton National Park, could be forced off the roads in those parks and onto paved paths.

"If you write into federal transportation legislation that bicyclists are somehow unfit -- because again, the clause is called 'Bicycle Safety' -- it’s a really, really bad message to send that sharing the road with bicyclists above 35 mph is dangerous," said Mr. Flusche, who hasn't been able to determine who added the clause to the bill. "If you can write in a clause that says bicyclists have to use side paths if there’s one available, that kind of implies that maybe bicyclists shouldn’t be on the road at all. And so it’s really a dangerous precedent that we’re seeing."

Cycling is very popular in national parks, from Cape Cod National Seashore to Grand Teton National Park and on west to Mount Rainier National Park. At Cape Cod there's a great trail network that ties into bike paths in surrounding communities, and Grand Teton officials in recent years built a multi-use path to offer cyclists some protection from ponderous RVs and other vehicles.

At Yellowstone National Park, as in Grand Teton, there's a window early in the spring when the park roads are open to cyclists, but not to wheeled-vehicles, and many road bikers see a great challenge in riding the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park end-to-end.

While information on which parks have paved paths running parallel to their roads, and within 100 yards of those roads, is difficult to find, Rock Creek Park is one, says Mr. Flusche.

"It’s a major commuter route for drivers to get in and out of the city because it’s a park. It doesn’t have that many intersections where you have to stop, and so it’s a convenient commuter route for drivers. But it’s also a national park, so there’s also lots of recreational riders and transportation bicyclists," he said. "And there is a path, parallel to the road, for much of the length of it, and a lot of people would say that bicyclists should just be on the path.

"Beach Drive is the main road in Rock Creek Park, and many bicyclists use Beach Drive just to get their workouts and to get to and from work," continued Mr. Flusche. "Being forced on the path would really be killer for those bicyclists who are higher speed bicyclists. They’re almost going 30 mph themselves, and wouldn’t really be able to practically share that path with people taking a stroll or more recreational cyclists who are going slower pace. As it is, the path already tends to get overcrowded."

Another park that draws cyclists to its roads is Valley Forge National Historical Park, which has paved pathways.

“They are open to bikes now, but they’re shared paths with pedestrians, and women with babystrollers. They get pretty crowded on weekends. It works, because not all bicyclists use it, especially the guys who ride very fast," says Deirdre Gibson, the park's chief of planning and resource management. “It could cause a carrying capacity problem for us if road bikers were compelled to use parallel trails.”

National Park Service officials -- who the league maintains doesn't want bicyclists in the parks -- had no comment on the proposed legislation, saying they would comment if asked to testify on it. In the meantime, the League of American Bicyclists hopes to find a sympathetic senator who would work to remove the clause.

"We’re trying to target Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, hoping we can build support in those states to have that clause removed. A lot of Western states have a lot of federal land," said Mr. Flusche. "Whether or not they have bike paths on them is a different question. Certainly, anywhere where you’re used to riding on federal land there’s a threat that at some point you might get pushed off if a trail develops."

The league has created a petition page on its website to fight the clause.

Comments

On one hand, I hate being behind a bicyclist that is not going the speed limit and will not let you pass. On the other hand, I bet they feel the same way on a trail with pedestrians. They do not allow bicycles on the Interstate Hiways either. Maybe widening the road by adding a Bike lane where possible and leaving the regulation alone would be best.

Actually, in most of the U.S., bicycle are allowed on Interstate shoulders. They're safer for cyclists than surface streets, for the same reasons surface streets are safer than most paved trails -- better engineering, better sight lines, fewer intersections, less cross-traffic.
Diguising this provision as "bicycle safety" is a cruel irony -- the studies already exist to prove this will increase bicycle accidents, especially bicycle/pedestrian accidents where neither party is protected by ton of steel cage.
The proposal is purely a motorist-convenience rule disguised as a safety rule.

But on the other hand, Josh, I've had a number of close calls with bicyclists while driving as they shoot through stop signs, suddenly pop out of a driveway, or when another car is forced into my lane when they have to pass a bike. Then there are the bicycle riders who ride inside the auto travel lane even though there is a very wide paved shoulder with ten to fifteen feet of space to the right of the white delineator line where they could be riding completely out of the flow of auto traffic. Or the riders who insist on riding three abreast on a heavily traveled roadway. It's a little difficult to brew up much sympathy for bikes when there seem to be so many irresponsible riders out there. And if I had a dollar for every time I've nearly been hit while walking along a sidewalk, I could go out for a nice steak dinner.

Not infrequently, these thoughtless riders are wearing spandex bike racing outfits, so it's hard to believe that it's only kids or "less serious" riders who do this kind of thing. It seems as if some of them are almost daring a hapless driver to hit them. Almost as if they're saying, "Bring it on and I'll be rich after I sue you. (If I survive.)"

As one who rides a bicycle today and has riden a bike since 1951, terror tactics of bikers on the streets of New York City prove that enough cyclists disregard pedestrians saftey to cause non-bikers to want to curtail biking, especially where walkers, wheel chairs, scooters and the like use the same paths the bikers want to use. And so far as the bikers using roads cars, etc. use, no; they ought not be let. In my experience, the bikers blow off stop signs, run red lights, never yield to anything and laugh at those they chase to the ditch. Any traffic engineer will tell you that a mix of bikes and cars is inherently dangerous. When the bikers buy licenses, get training and insurance and pay for use of the road, maybe I will revisit this topic. Bicycles are sold at places like Wal-Mart and Toys-are-Us. When kids can play with electric trains in the middle of the street in saftey, then the bikers are welcome to play with their toys out there too.

I was once an avid bicyclist. I had and still have a pretty sweet road bike and a few decent mountain bikes. I always wore a helmet and followed every traffic law.

Bicyclists who don't follow traffic rules make me sick. I have no sympathy for bicyclists who get injured while failing to follow basic traffic laws. Recently a bicyclist running a red light in San Francisco hit a pedestrian, and that pedestrian eventually died of head injuries from the incident. While I was in Yellowstone I was driving out of the Biscuit Basin parking lot. I saw two bicyclists exiting the road from the lot, and I had plenty of time to go by them to the stop sign. I stopped, signaled for a right turn, and started going when then blew by the stop sign on the right of me and started making a left turn. They had plenty of time to see my signal and even go around me on the left, which is legal. They of course didn't stop and didn't signal. If I hadn't stopped in time, I would not have been at fault. Even after I yelled at them, i doubt they thought they had done anything wrong.

Lee Dalton:
Not infrequently, these thoughtless riders are wearing spandex bike racing outfits, so it's hard to believe that it's only kids or "less serious" riders who do this kind of thing. It seems as if some of them are almost daring a hapless driver to hit them. Almost as if they're saying, "Bring it on and I'll be rich after I sue you. (If I survive.)"
I used to be on a college bicycling club. I do remember when as a group, riders would often go by stop signs, although generally not red lights. The philosophy was more like some states where bicyclists must treat traffic signs (and maybe signal lights) as a requirement to yield to other traffic but aren't required to stop if there's no other traffic. I didn't necessarily agree, but the rationale was that in a large, tight pack of riders it would be difficult to stop in unison.

However, on one ride the club president was leading the ride. There was a police car waiting right at a stop sign. The club president yelled out before we got to there that he wanted every rider to have one foot on the ground at the stop sign before moving on. We got out of the tight pack, which allowed us to comply without running into each other.

I once was in a collision with a car while riding my bicycle. Totally the driver's fault and there were witnesses. She came out of a parking lot and failed to yield to oncoming traffic. It didn't stop her from claiming that I was riding down the wrong way. The police collision report indicated that the driver was clearly at fault. I remember seeing the police interview people at a nearby business, but that didn't end up in the report, although I'm thinking it factored into the report's conclusions. And yeah - I did go after her insurance company, but the amount I got didn't exactly make me rich. It got me enough to replace my totaled bike/helmet/clothes and maybe enough extra to buy pizza for a few months.

Let's not completely overgovern ourselves. There are already adequate laws in place to provide for the public safety. It is human error, of which no law can adequately prevent, that is the cause of accidents involving cars and cyclists and pedestrians.

When everything is by law made out of nurf in the US, nurf will then be outlawed as being too dangerous.

As a cyclist, I don't like being in front of a car that threatens my saftey by becoming impatient with me, for any reason. Usually I will go out and be passed by fifty or more cars in a half hour who are polite and give me a full lane when passing, and stay back a safe distance in case I should have an accident. But there is always some one who will show disdane for me whether they have to wait to pass me or simply to show me that if they want to they can overpower me with their vehicles. Hate is a strong word to use considering that all that is at stake is the speed of your vehilce as opposed to the cyclist. Why is the speed LIMIT the issue? What about showing respect for another person?

sounds to me like you cut them off. is it legal to pass on the left that close to an intersection?

I don't know why I always read the thread posts: they are inevitably
depressing, full of ignorant and hateful opinions based almost entirely
on anecdotal evidence, and sadly reflective of the state of critical
thinking and policymaking amongst our relatively privileged population.
Where do I even start to respond to the people complaining above?
[Note: I ride 2000+ miles a year for both commuting, recreation, and utility, in both rural and urban areas.]
1.
Just because some bicyclist cut you off or ran a stop sign or was
wearing something you thought should indicate better riding habits,
doesn't mean your unfortunate experience should shape a national policy.

2. Bicyclists are mostly relegated to roads because they are
considered vehicles and it is illegal to ride them on the sidewalk. I
would be happily open to correction on this, but as someone who has
ridden a bicycle for 35 years, this is my experience. It isn't just that
cyclists riding on roads need to "let you pass" - it is also that you
as a motorist pass when it is safe. Which means that you might have to
slow down for a moment. As an aside, riding double-file in a way that
impedes traffic is never okay.
3. I have ridden cross country on several interstate highways
(50, 70, 40, etc.). While I prefer to ride in the shoulder, this is not
always safe or feasible. If you ever get out of your car and look, you
would notice that the shoulders are repositories of glass and wire and
nails and lots of other objects that are not friendly to bicycles. From
time to time, we have to edge out into the road, which hopefully we do
safely (probably because we're using mirrors). As a driver, you might
make allowance for this fact by moving over in the .5 seconds that it
takes you to pass a cyclist.
4. Cyclists generally don't think
they have a God-given right to flaunt traffic laws, despite your damning
anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I don't run red lights, but I treat
stop signs like yellow lights. I don't think I deserve this: it is a
cost-benefit analysis that I run when I ride my bicycle every day,
because that is my mode of transport, which dramatically loses its
efficiency if I stop at every stop sign in my fair city. I see stop
signs being run safely every day by biyclists making the same
calculation. It isn't a consipiracy, and just because someone got hit or
hit you, doesn't make it true of cyclists across the board. Or should I
generalize about all drivers because of the two that have hit me by
running red lights? I didn't think so.
5. Honestly, I don't see
that there is a problem with cyclists on park roads, having ridden many
of them myself without incident. If both cyclists and motorists followed
rules and acted considerately, everything would be fine. Do you know
what would increase injuries? Forcing cyclists onto crowded multi-use
paths (MUP) full of pedestrians with small children and pets, often
using walkers or wheelchairs, who have no idea how to safely and
responsibly use a MUP and who are paying more attention to the scenic
grandeur than to their exact position in space. In my considerable
experience, this is where problems happen, and this is why we don't
allow bicyclists on sidewalks. This is why the Golden Gate Bridge has a
bicycle side and a pedestrian side.

[This comment was edited to remove gratuitous remarks. Ed.]