A Bicycle-Friendly Railroad Crossing Can Really Brighten One’s Day

Yesterday I rode the sidewalk on Church St between Rice St and Minnesota Ave.  If I need to head in that direction, I pretty much always ride either Rice/Welsby/Nebel/Minnesota or else Whiting/Sherman.  But since my destination was on Church itself, riding on Church made the most sense.

Unfortunately, Church is an extremely unfriendly road to bicycle on due to a high volume of moderate-to-high speed traffic (many exceed the posted speed limit) in relatively narrow lanes.  Only the Strong and Fearless would choose to ride in the roadway.  I fall in the Enthused and Confident category of rider.  (Yes, there are indeed categories of riders.)  This means that on a street like this stretch of Church I’ll choose the sidewalk, which is a legal option for riding a bicycle in Stevens Point.

Thus, I found myself riding the sidewalk on the east side of Church as I approached the railroad tracks crossing just north of Minnesota.  To safely cross any railroad tracks on a bicycle, one needs to line up perpendicular to the tracks to minimize the likelihood that a tire catches in the track groove and causes an unpleasant spill.  At this location where the tracks cross Church, the angle is nowhere near perpendicular.

Sidewalks are typically not very wide.  This means that upon encountering oblique-angled railroad tracks while sidewalk riding, there is usually little room for maneuvering one’s bicycle to cross the tracks perpendicularly.  Depending on the actual configuration, negotiating this sort of hazard can be tricky.

Upon seeing the tracks ahead of me, I instinctively realized my need for caution.  I slowed and was preparing for the awkward-but-necessary zig and zag when I discovered a pleasant surprise.

Last fall, there was major reconstruction on Church, including the portion that crosses these railroad tracks near Minnesota.  Apparently as part of that reconstruction, when the sidewalk crossing of the tracks was rebuilt, a curved sidepath was built rather than continuing the sidewalk in a straight line parallel to Church.  This curved sidepath creates a path that first angles away from Church and then angles back while crossing perpendicular to the tracks.  This piece of bicycle-friendly infrastructure (I bet wonky traffic engineers have a name for it, but I don’t know what to call it) is incredibly helpful for creating a safe route for people on bicycles.

Often when roads are reconstructed, there is practically no consideration for creating good infrastructure for bicycle traffic.  Such lack of consideration would result in extending a sidewalk in a straight line across a dangerous railroad crossing.  So when I encounter infrastructure that plainly indicates that some traffic engineer took the plight of people riding bicycles seriously, I notice.  I can’t say it brought a tear to my eye – it’s just a sidewalk, after all – but it’s nice to know that some traffic engineer understands that when I’m riding my bicycle that I’m traffic too.

So I just want to shout a big Thank You to the traffic engineer who implemented this thoughtful piece of bicycle infrastructure.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s undoubtedly insignificant.  But it helps me feel that someday, the many pieces of traffic infrastructure in and around Stevens Point that were built without any significant consideration for people on bicycles will someday get the attention of other traffic engineers who also understand that bicycles are traffic too.

This is what has to happen to create a truly safe transportation network for all road users, whether they bike, drive, walk, or take transit.  Pushing for this outcome is really the only choice we have.

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