Friday, January 12, 2018

Connecting Lizard Mound and Sandy Knoll

I mentioned on Wednesday that Bike Friendly West Bend’s plan for a network of city bike routes has taken too many political hits lately to be realistic in the short term. But that plan is only one of the group’s initiatives. BFWB wants to advocate for better cycling throughout Washington County, not just in West Bend, and to that end it is partnering with the county’s Planning & Parks Department on a countywide route plan.

As Wisconsin counties go, Washington County isn’t very big. With a total area of 436 square miles, it’s the 5th-smallest county in the state. But we have great road density. The county’s highway department maintains 1,100 lane miles, and municipalities like the City of West Bend maintain hundreds more within their corporate limits. Some of those roads aren’t suitable for bike routes, but overall it’s an embarrassment of riches. What criteria should the county use to determine which roads are part of the bike route network? How should it balance the equally valid demands of transportation and recreation? I won’t try to sort that out today, but I can assure you the routes will develop over many years in piecemeal fashion. A complex series of seemingly unrelated road and trail construction projects eventually will mature into the completed network.

That long timeline can be discouraging, but every great journey begins with a single step, right? So, here’s an idea: let’s connect Lizard Mound and Sandy Knoll county parks to each other and to nearby residential neighborhoods in the Town of Trenton. (The suggestion to use new trails to link existing county parks got 95% approval from county residents who responded to survey published in 2014.) Lizard Mound features Native American effigy mounds—it’s a cool place, but it’s underutilized because it can be accessed only from County Highway A. That means nobody is going there on foot or by bicycle. Sandy Knoll is one of the county’s most popular properties, a good place for picnics, swimming, and hiking. The parks are just half a mile apart “as the crow flies,” but 3.5 miles apart by the shortest on-street route.

The map above shows how to tie everything together in a way that I think will increase attendance at Lizard Mound but I know will benefit residents near Sandy Knoll. The blue line is a 2,300-foot-long section of Wallace Lake Road that connects Eastwood Trail, a quiet residential street, to the park road entrance for Sandy Knoll. I see dog walkers and people on bikes along that section all the time. There’s no sidewalk and no paved shoulder. Let’s make an off-road path there, or at least make wide shoulders on the road itself. Then let’s connect Eastwood Trail, Jubilee Court, and Forest View Drive with a new 1,500-foot-long path in the power line corridor shown above in purple. A lot of kids live in those neighbors and they don’t have a proper park. This plan gives them a safe route to Sandy Knoll.

Making the connection from Sandy Knoll to Lizard Mound could be fairly simple too. There’s an existing farmer’s path (shown above in orange) that links Lizard Mound to Newark Drive. Public access to that path could be gained by acquisition … say, a 100-foot-wide corridor with the path at its center, not unlike the Eisenbahn State Trail. But at the moment there’s no reason to think the County Board would spend money to acquire new park property. The best solution could be an easement: simply get permission from the farmer. In either case, preserve access to the corridor for farming and improve the path to make it easy to traverse by bicycle or by farm vehicles. Then it becomes a great deal for the farmer, who will have easier access to adjacent cropland and no maintenance to perform on the path. With that piece in place, all that remains is to link the farmer’s path to Sandy Knoll.

The red line on the map shows a 2,500-foot segment of Newark Drive, ideal for a new off-road path or wider paved shoulder. As drawn, the line connects the farmer’s path to a now-closed vehicle entrance to Sandy Knoll. That entrance already is popular with cyclists. But there’s another way to make this link. It’s just 550 feet from the farmer’s path to the intersection of Newark Drive and Trenton Road, the northwest corner of Sandy Knoll. At that corner you will find an unpaved trail currently used by hikers and snowmobiles. Eliminate the ridiculous rule that keeps bicycles off Sandy Knoll’s trails and you’ve got nothing more to build.

From Forest View Drive to the parking lot at Lizard Mound, this is a 3-mile-long system, roughly half of which already exists. It would take only a modest effort to make all the links. Trenton residents would benefit immediately from better access between the neighborhoods and to Sandy Knoll, and in the long term this system could be part of an even greater network of bicycle routes across the entire county.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Notes For The New Year

Last night at City Hall, Bike Friendly West Bend held its first meeting since its proposal for a citywide bike route system died before the Common Council on December 18. BFWB suffered another setback when the route plan failed to gain inclusion on the upcoming advisory referendum on street maintenance, so Tuesday’s meeting was a somewhat downbeat affair. BFWB refuses to abandon the route plan, which it sees as the cornerstone of its advocacy efforts, but in 2018 it will focus on other goals. The group will continue its partnerships with the city, local businesses, and Moraine Park Technical College to design, fabricate, and install more bike racks around town. It also will be instrumental in the implementation of the Cycling Without Age program. And there might be a role for BFWB to play in breaking a legal deadlock that is holding up several enhancements to the southern terminus of the Eisenbahn State Trail at Rusco Drive. Stay tuned.

Ridge Run Park and Lac Lawrann Conservancy are closed to the public through Sunday, January 14, to allow bowhunters an opportunity to thin out the deer population. LLC is always off-limits to bicycles—for no good reason, if you ask me—but neighboring Royal Oaks Park is not. I’m leaving this note here to suggest you not ride in Royal Oaks right now. There’s no clear boundary line separating it from LLC, and I wouldn’t count on the hunters to know where one ends and the other begins. Better safe than sorry.

Some Washington County parks now charge admission for motor vehicles. You still can visit for free if you leave the car at home and enter the park by bicycle instead. Note that municipal parks operated by the City of West Bend, the City of Hartford, the Village of Kewaskum, and other such entities are not affected; the new fees are applicable only at certain county-run parks.

The Wisconsin Cycling Association released its 2018 road calendar this week, surprising me with a new road race in Fredonia on August 4. I’ve never done a WCA road event—almost all of them are criteriums—so the prospect of a road race in the heart of Cheesehead Roubaix territory is intriguing. It’s going to be a BELGIANWERKX production, and that could mean a couple of those gravel roads will be part of the course. Should be fun!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Out Of Hibernation

We reached 40° today, our first day above freezing since December 22 and our first 40° day since December 19. Good enough for me: I did my first bike ride of the new year. It was only 18 miles around town on my mountain bike, but I was happy for the opportunity. And there should be more opportunities this week. Tuesday and Wednesday will be around 40° and should feel even warmer than today because the winds will be lighter. Thursday holds some promise too—the temperature will approach 50° at noon—but then a cold front will arrive with a chance for rain and flurries.

I’m dealing with some lower back pain right now. Hopefully, today’s ride won’t be my only ride this week.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A New Tool For Park And Trail Maintenance

Washington County’s Planning & Parks Department announced yesterday that it has a new website for maintenance issues. The website includes a form for park and trail users to fill out and submit. It also keeps a history of submitted issues. But the really cool feature is the map. A user can click anywhere to direct Planning & Parks to a precise location. That’s better than trying to describe “a tree down across the trail … you know, by the weird rock on the left, just before you come up the little hill.”

Planning & Parks expects you to use the tool to report issues at its park, of course, but the mapping feature works everywhere. Let’s say I want to report an issue with one of the bridges in Riverside Park, a City of West Bend property. I can use the tool to produce a picture like this:

Submitting the form to Washington County wouldn’t make sense, but I can email a screen shot to the city’s Parks, Recreation & Forestry staff, who then will know exactly which of Riverside’s four bridges needs attention.

For Washington County park properties, zooming in reveals the details of all the official trails. It would be great to extend that feature to municipal parks across the county and to rebrand the website as a collaborative notification tool. That gets complicated, I know—multiple jurisdictions, plus trails that are maintained by private groups rather than by local governments—but it would be hugely useful. As things stand, the new tool is a good start.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: A Statistical Review

As 2017 began, my mileage goal was a modest 3,378. That was the number I needed for 60,000 lifetime miles, and I reached it easily. But as 5,000 came into view, I decided to go for it. That meant riding on some pretty cold days after the cyclocross season ended, days that I would have skipped otherwise. I will remember 2017 as another good year on the bike despite coming up short of that 5,000-mile goal. If only the weather had not been so cold lately: below 32° since December 22, and below zero for much of that time! I finished the year with 4,933 miles, the 6th highest total in my 14-year cycling career.

Here’s the breakdown by month:

120 January
285 February (PR)
158 March
439 April
516 May
615 June
727 July
694 August
583 September
425 October
260 November
111 December

If March had been even close to normal, then I would have wrapped up a 5,000-mile season before December arrived. Oh, well. And it should go without saying, but all of those miles are real miles. I would count miles around an indoor velodrome if I had that option, but I don’t count “miles” on a stationary trainer.

I did 21 races in 2017: 11 on the mountain bike (6 WORS, 4 WEMS, 1 unsanctioned short track race), 9 on the cyclocross bike (7 WCA, 2 HICX), and 1 on the road bike (Race The Lake). I won’t count my 9 practice cyclocross races at Royal Oaks Park in August and September, but those efforts were every bit as hard as some of the sanctioned races in which I competed.

While my 2018 competition goals are still forming, I can say that I won’t be as heavily involved in mountain bike racing as I was in 2017. Right now the only WORS event on my calendar is the short track race at the WORS Cup. That’s July 8. I should be good for 3-5 WEMS races. On August 26 I will be at Race The Lake for the third straight year. It might be my only road race again in 2018. Cyclocross will be the focus, and it could be months before I know that schedule.

I plan to spend more time on the road bike in 2018, and that should result in a higher mileage total. My goal is 5,000 miles. I have averaged 5,177 miles over the last 7 seasons, so that seems like a reasonable level. And I want to return to my roots as a cyclist by taking a series of long rec trail rides. I missed the Wild Goose State Trail this year. I also have unfinished business with the Wiouwash State Trail. I would like to see the Mascoutin Valley, Ahnapee, and Devil’s River state trails for the first time ever, and I would like to return to the Glacial Drumlin State Trail for the first time since 2009.

It’s hard to predict the future, but I expect to race a little less in 2018 and to spend a little less money on cycling. There are a couple of significant home improvements on my To Do list—expensive and time-consuming tasks that I will try to complete before July. With them behind me, the second half of 2018 will belong to bike racing!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The 2018 WEMS Schedule

This is definitely a work in progress and even some of the dates that appear to be set are subject to change, but this afternoon the Wisconsin Endurance Mountain Bike Series announced its 2018 schedule:

04/28 - The Wild Ride Buzzard Buster @ Hatfield
05/05 - Southern Kettles Classic @ La Grange (John Muir Trails)
05/12 - 9 Hours Of Alpine Valley @ Elkhorn
05/19 - Stump Farm 100 @ Suamico
06/09 - Romp In The Swamp Epic @ Wausau
??/?? - 9 Hours Of Silver Lake @ Salem
07/14 - RASTA Rock ‘n’ Root @ Rhinelander
08/18 - Hundred-Down In The Underdown @ Gleason
09/08 - Northern Kettles Fall Epic @ New Fane
09/15 - Jack Lake @ Salem
10/06 - GEARS Greenbush Grinder (WEMS Championship) @ Greenbush

It’s great to see plans for an 11-race season from a series that was in danger of losing Greenbush and dropping to just 8 races in 2016. And for me it’s great to see two dates at Kenosha County’s Silver Lake Park in Salem, a new venue in 2017 that I found to my liking. Count me in for both as long as the September date doesn’t conflict with an important cyclocross race. That weekend belonged to Jingle Cross this year, a race against which the Wisconsin Cycling Association doesn’t compete. But for 2018 Jingle Cross likely will move to the last weekend in September. That means the UCI World Cup race at Trek headquarters in Waterloo probably will fall on the weekend of September 22-23, and that means there could be a WCA race on September 15. (This year’s Jingle Cross and Waterloo races were held in uncharacteristic heat, unpopular with the top European pros. Don’t be surprised if next year’s dates get moved back in an effort to find cooler weather.)

As for the rest of the WEMS schedule, I might be in for Alpine Valley and Stump Farm again. Those races plus the two at Silver Lake plus the can’t-miss Northern Kettles Fall Epic at New Fane would give me the five results I need to have a respectable finish in the season-long points competition. But again my Friday night work schedule will make traveling to the more distance races an impossibility. That’s OK. I gave a lot of attention to mountain biking this year. In 2018 my focus will be cyclocross.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

West Bend Bike Route Proposal Fails

Bike Friendly West Bend suffered a resounding defeat at last night’s meeting of the Common Council. The advocacy group hoped to get approval for its Orange Loop, the first of four proposed bike routes in the city. Alderman Roger Kist made a motion to approve but there was no second, so the proposal died without a vote. Aldermen Adam Williquette and Chris Jenkins spoke in opposition to the plan on financial grounds. BFWB was prepared to cover much of the installation cost—estimated at almost $24,000—but not the ongoing maintenance of about $5,500 per year. As a point of policy, BFWB believes ongoing maintenance for on-street bike routes is properly a function of general street maintenance.

Implementing all four routes—expected to take 5 years or more—would require almost $100,000 initially and more than $23,000 per year in ongoing maintenance. All of the costs were presented on Monday, so maybe “sticker shock” played a factor as the Council contemplated the total price tag for the BFWB plan.

Whatever the case, the future of bike routes in West Bend is very much in doubt. But early this morning, BFWB signaled that it wouldn’t go away quietly. The group will ask the city to make the bike route plan part of a larger street maintenance referendum, to be conducted in early 2018. The Common Council has authorized a referendum in response to widespread criticism of the current condition of city streets. Asking that the entire electorate be given a chance to vote on bike routes is an interesting maneuver by BFWB. Strong public support would be hard for the aldermen to ignore, while strong public opposition would simply leave the topic where it stands today. It’s a nothing-to-lose moment for BFWB … and probably the last chance for the group to realize its primary objective without a major shift in the composition of the Common Council.