Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Greenbelt courtesies

In the course of my travels, I've been to many communities that boasted of a bicycle/pedestrian pathway.  I don't claim to be an expert, but I've not seen any that's more glorious than Boise's beloved Greenbelt.

The city's website describes it as follows: The 25-mile ... tree-lined pathway follows the river through the heart of the city and provides scenic views, wildlife habitat and pedestrian access to many of the city's popular riverside parks. The Greenbelt also serves as an alternative transportation route for commuters.

When I was a young pup growing up in Boise - and floating the Boise River - the river had a few parks along the way, notably Municipal, Julia Davis, and the spankin' new Ann Morrison Park.  But for the most part, the river bank was lined with junked rusty equipment, slabs of concrete that had been dumped, drain pipes, and lots of overgrown brush, poison ivy, litter, etc.  It's nice to have that "before-after" perspective - perhaps I appreciate it even more than people who have arrived in the ensuing years.  My hat will forever be off to the visionaries who planned it and made it happen... and to the landowners along the river, who bought into that vision.

I enjoy the Greenbelt year-round.  (Over the last 3 or 4 years, recognizing its value as a transportation route, the Parks Department has been very faithful about keeping it plowed, on the rare snow days.)  Unfortunately, my commute only involves maybe 1/2 mile of those 25 miles, but it's also a fine place to do some recreational riding and sight-seeing.  Particularly when I have my young granddaughters along... there are hazards on the path (keep reading), but I'm generally confident they won't get squished by a motor vehicle.

I probably enjoy the Greenbelt more during the "off months" than during peak season.  The most glorious time, scenery wise, is in the spring and autumn.  But alas, my selfish enjoyment of the Greenbelt diminishes somewhat as the weather gets nice, because the Greenbelt population increases exponentially... and many of the newcomers behave as though they don't know how to share the facility graciously.

I don't know when the "User Courtesies" were first published, but I thought they might be worth reviewing. They can be found on the website that is linked above. Also, neighbor community Garden City has adopted them in their entirety, for the stretch of Greenbelt that they manage. (Just don't ride your bike on the forbidden Riverside Village "nature path"!!)

Here are those Courtesies, along with some commentary and observations I've added, as a long-time user-advocate.  The published material is in italics (and colored - sorry, Clancy!), my comments are not italicized.  I'd be very interested in other peoples' observations, and would dearly love a response from Boise Parks and Recreation.

To insure that all users' rights are protected and to guard against accidents, the Boise Parks & Recreation Department has established the following courtesies and safety guidelines for pedestrians, in-line skaters and cyclists to obey.

- Stay only on designated trails.
- Pedestrians have the right of way at all times. Cyclists and in-line skaters must be aware of pedestrians.

I'd like to see that changed so it reads, "Pedestrians have the right of way at all times. However, all Greenbelt users should be aware of, and respect, other Greenbelt users." Is there some reason that pedestrians don't need to be aware of cyclists and in-line skaters? In fact, the "Tips" section on the same (Boise) web page states, "Stay alert and tuned into your surroundings. Take off headphones and be aware of what's going on around you." Great advice! Reinforce it in the "Courtesies" section!

- All Greenbelt users should stay to the right and use caution under bridges and at blind corners where vision could be impaired.
Routinely violated by all classes of users. Some pedestrians stroll down the left side as if they are practicing some kind of safety technique, while everybody they encounter has to adjust. Others lurch from one side to the other, while staring at their handheld gizmos. Dogs dart from one side to the other... they don't know any better, but the people walking the dogs should. Packs of pedestrians, runners, cyclists, etc., routinely use the entire pathway width.

- Pedestrians should not walk more then two abreast.
See comment immediately above.

- Motorized vehicles and hoofed animals are prohibited. (Maintenance, patrol and handicap vehicles are the exception.)
I'd sure like to see the "authorities" set a better example. I've had rides on the Greenbelt interrupted by golf-cart after golf-cart after golf-cart, all apparently conducting "official business." I've seen police cars driving down the Greenbelt in Garden City! Motor traffic should be kept to an absolute minimum, for both safety and aesthetic reasons!!

- All non-paved sections are restricted to foot traffic only.
I don't believe this is accurate. I'd prefer, "Obey use restrictions as posted on signs - bicycles, dogs, etc." I believe there are areas (I'm thinking of Veteran's Memorial Park, for example) where it's perfectly fine to ride bikes on unpaved stretches. And there are paved places (Maryanne Williams) where cyclists and dogs are not allowed.

- Dogs are allowed only if on a leash - leash not to exceed eight (8) feet.
Routinely violated - dogs running loose, and dogs at the end of a 25-foot spring-operated retractable leash, running all over the place. Some folks obviously feel their beloved pooch is "special" and doesn't need to follow the rules meant for commoner mongrel dogs.

- Dog owners are responsible for sanitary disposal of dog feces.

See previous comment. Nobody would be bothered by a pile of dog poop left by such a "special" dog, right?!?

- Bicyclists and in-line skaters are encouraged not to conduct serious training or to maintain fast speeds. Competitive events for in-line skaters and bicyclists are not allowed because of safety issues and potential accidents.
Amen and amen!! The biggest legitimate bicycle beef that other pathway users have - and the reason for restrictions like the infamous Garden City "nature trail" - is the wankers dressed like Lance or Kristin (the Armstrongs) blasting at 20mph past pedestrians! Get off the freakin' path, you posers!

- Bicyclists and skaters who wish to pass other users along the Greenbelt must notify others that they are passing, either verbally (example: "passing on your left") or by other audible means (bell, horn, etc.). The person wishing to pass is responsible for passing freely and clearly around others, and not hindering approaching users.
I have a slight problem with this. As a citizen who does most of his riding on the streets, I would liken this to honking every time you come up behind somebody, or pass. It implies that the person you're passing isn't astute enough to pay attention. My practice: If I come up behind somebody who's walking in a nice predictable straight line on the proper side of the path, and there's plenty of passing space, I'll slowly and cautiously go on by, maintaining the maximum available distance, and at a respectable rate of speed. If passing will be hazardous, I'll announce my presence beforehand, and hope they're not rockin' out with the earplugs. Consider it a compliment if I don't holler "on your left" before I go by!

- Don't harass or encroach upon the wildlife. Disturbing or collecting any vegetation or natural habitat along the Greenbelt is prohibited.
- Glass beverage containers are not permitted.
- Alcohol is prohibited within 250 feet of the Boise River. Beer/wine is allowed in ... restricted areas by permit...

I'd like to see one more point added... maybe at the very top.
"Keep in mind that the Greenbelt is a transportation corridor, and is often crowded with users.  Please respect other users by not blocking the pathway to chit-chat, repair your bicycle, adjust your load, yap on the phone, send a text, conduct pet or baby admiration sessions, snap a photo, etc. Step to the side, so other people can go by."
(It's so common-sense that you'd think it's no-brainer obvious... but so are a lot of those published rules already in place!)

Okay - I've vented. (But I'm confident much additional venting will be required, over the just-underway "amateur greenbelt season.")

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