Bike Lanes on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Back in mid-May, in the days before my latest Assault on Mount Mitchell, I heard from my old friends at Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine. They wanted me to contribute to a piece about whether bike lanes should be built on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

That article came out just this past week. You can read it here.

When they first approached me, they believed that I would be in favor of bike lanes. If you read my body of work, it makes perfect sense. I’ve long been a strong advocate of giving cyclists an unimpeded place to ride. I said yes, and I agreed to write the response in favor of bike lanes.

The deadline was very short, just a couple days, and I was in the midst of a busy week preparing for Mitchell. I wrote my 500 words with the best argument I could muster, but my writing was half-hearted. I wasn’t feeling it. Since time was an issue, I turned it in anyway.

The editor, possibly sensing the weakness of my argument, asked a good question. She wanted me to recall in the article a time where I thought a bike lane could be useful.

I racked my brain, looked at a few Parkway photos, and couldn’t come up with anything. As I thought about it further, I realized that bike lanes on the Parkway are a terrible idea. There had never been a time where I wished for a bike lane, and I probably never would.

The first mini-climb of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Where would you put the bike lane?

Since the pro bike lanes article was already out there, I turned in the revision. It was still half-hearted, but I’m of the opinion that either side of a debate can be argued. This one just didn’t align with my true philosophy.

I freed up a little time, and went ahead and wrote the same argument from the other side. This time I had passion in my writing, and put together a solid argument. The editor at BRO loved it. The only problem was that they already had someone else writing that perspective, and didn’t need one from me.

Doh!

A few days passed until I heard from them again. I had put them in a tough position, and I wondered whether my piece might get tossed aside.

They came back and really wanted to use my argument against bike lanes. I was relieved. I felt so strongly about the topic that I was questioning whether I wanted to have my name on an argument taking the other position.

Since the limit was only 400-500 words, I had to keep it short, and they even did a little bit of editing. I could have gone further. One thing that I didn’t get to include was the political aspect. In today’s budget-tightening climate, there’s no way the Park Service would get the millions of dollars of funding to add bike lanes. If they did get the funding, I would much rather they use it on areas where cars and bicycles interact more, such as in big cities. The Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville is a great example of where this has benefited all parties, while also boosting the local economy.

What do you think? Do you agree that bike lanes are not necessary on the Parkway?

We don't need no stinking bike lanes!

We don’t need no stinking bike lanes!


13 responses to “Bike Lanes on the Blue Ridge Parkway

  • Douglas

    Bike lanes on the parkway would be nice but if the construction of them took away any of the beauty of the place I then might not think so much of it. Most times I am sure a bike lane is unnecessary but at certain times of the year they would really be nice to have.

    I do not have a strong opinion one way or another at this time. I would really need to think more about this subject.

    • aaronwest

      That was the clincher of me changing my argument. After looking at pictures of the parkway, I just couldn’t see maintaining the natural beauty with an eyesore of a bike lane there. They’ve managed to build the road while complementing the natural beauty, but a bike lane might be too much.

  • Tom

    Hey, Aaron. I agree with your position. I ride the Parkway around Asheville fairly regularly and I don’t think bike lanes would add much in the way of safety. I’d say that they would most likely cause bikes to be even more invisible to motorists than they already are, decreasing safety.

    I was thinking about this question yesterday as I rode up to Craggy Gardens and observing motorist/ cyclist interaction with an eye on how to improve safety. It seems to me there is one thing that would increase safety more than any other is for motorists to simply be a little more patient and wait to pass until they can see far enough ahead to ensure there isn’t anyone coming the other way. The majority of the cars and motorcycles on the road were very courteous and patient but there were a few times that really made me cringe.

    • aaronwest

      I have also noticed that motorists seem to be more courteous on the parkway, but like you said, not all of them.

      Good point that making bike lanes would make us more invisible. If they could only have bike lanes on part of the parkway, that could spoil motorists to not be wary of us on other parts. I think there are enough cyclists on the parkway that most motorists know to expect us. That’s especially the case on populated areas for bikes and cars, like near Asheville.

  • Stanley

    Distracted drivers can still hit people on bikes! There should be more bike-ways separate from traffic that actually go somewhere.

    • aaronwest

      Agreed. There is no universal solution to distracted drivers, but I would hope that those on the parkway are less distracted than those who are texting in traffic.

      I agree completely with your second sentence. That’s one thing I loved about my trip to Colorado. There were bike lanes everywhere, and they were not just on the side of congested highways, but also paths that actually went somewhere scenic (like Vail Pass. I’d love to see more of that in the southeast.

  • bgddyjim

    As decent as most motorists are in your neck of the woods I find it hard to believe they’d be necessary. As far as cities go, I wish they put bike lanes on all non-residential roads.

  • Marco Pantani

    Bike lanes are a good idea on the part of the parkway that is used by cars as a freeway to speed and get around Asheville. But once outside that area there is no need.

    • aaronwest

      If there were ever a good argument for them, I agree that Asheville area would be the best, and probably not along the climbs to Pisgah or Craggy (closed now). Even then, I think they can accomplish the same thing with signage and active police presence to give tickets.

  • mike mikula

    We drove our car 20 miles north on the BRP from Roanoke Saturday afternoon July 5th. Traffic was surprisingly light, especially for being so close to a city on a holiday weekend. We did not see many bicyclists either. I would not feel nervous bicycling on a 2-lane road with no shoulder, with that small amount of traffic. If our experience is typical, I would agree that bike lanes are not necessary on the BRP.

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