Monday, January 5, 2015

Why we need accurate signage on our pathways and bike routes

"Bike Boulevards" typically use wayfinding signs and/or road markings (Courtesy of NACTO.org)

Delaware’s rate of cycle commuting is lower than the national average. With tens of millions of dollars put into connected cycle pathways and shoulders, I found a mostly safe and easy way to ride my bicycle all the way from Arden, (near our northeastern border with Pennsylvania), to Newark, Delaware as part of my workplace commute. When I’d relate this at the bicycle shop I was working for to customers, most would stare at me with amazement, and ask ‘what route did you take?’ I explained that I was then having to explain the route as being in chunks of bike trail or along more notable landmarks, and that there was no official designation for this route. It simply said ‘bike route,’ and without using a GPS, I’d never have found out where each part went. Additional information regarding the various trails and locations they connect would only serve to encourage cycle-commuting, and would help cyclists relate to other cyclists which trails to visit, if each trail was given a name. I realized then that the only signage I had to go on was inconsistently present, and never once had spotted a destination list of areas the trail led to.

The Pomeroy Trail in Newark, at the Junction of Cleveland Ave
and N. Chapel.  Not only is the intersection not designed for
bicycling, there is also no wayfinding signage whatsoever.

Can you imagine driving your car down the interstate if the state never placed down any roadway signs indicating what the next city is on the road? Imagine if you also had no idea when or if the interstate would just end, effectively leaving you to have to turn around and find an alternate route to the city you are aiming for. This is a what cycle commuting can be like for beginning cyclists who are trying to find a route to and from work without the aid of a GPS. Some of the more major routes do have some small indicators at intersections. These small signs state which way to go to stay on the ‘bike route.’ What is not explained is what the route goes to, or if it’s best to exit the bike route if you are near your destination, or if the right turn will take you further from your destination, if it will duck into a neighborhood for a few blocks before continuing onward, or if it will only dead-end in a mile or two next to an expressway without warning. Sometimes indicators are simply a spray painted arrow indicating which way to go to continue on the trail (where the trail continues towards, it says not; it also says nothing of where the branch-off goes). There needs to be more information posted at each sign.

What if we had consistent signage at every intersection, where branch-offs have neighborhoods labeled with signs for which neighborhoods and businesses they are servicing, along with any other connected trails listed. We could also use a mileage marker to indicate how far each destination is from the trail’s branch-off junction. The main line could then indicate remaining mileage towards its terminus or towards a major city, such as Newark and Wilmington, or proximity to other trails that the trail is headed to. Additionally, new riders would feel safer being guided towards a destination than having to make an educated guess based on the signs.

The advantages of doing this are numerous; cyclists could have some understanding of where they are headed, which can only be a positive. Many cyclists choose to ride on segments of trails that are near their houses, but have no inkling of how far the trail goes, or that the trail might even branch conveniently into a place of work, recreation, or commercial site that they frequent. It is my belief that if we had better signage, more cyclists would become encouraged to travel further along them and aware of where they can travel on their bicycles.

Joel Schwaber lives in North Wilmington. A caring advocate, he operates the Wilmington Bike Recycling co-op. Joel's only goal is to put more people on bikes, at little or no cost. Email Joel at schwabthedeck@gmail.com if you would like to volunteer to help, or donate a bicycle(s). Anne G. of Newark, advocate and co-author, is also pictured.

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