Thursday, April 02, 2009

Springfield, where the wind is always in your face

What is it with the wind in Springfield? Twice this week I head out to ride to my office in the morning (it's nearly seven miles, going south, then east, then south, then east, then south, then east). Each morning there is strong wind out of the south. Today it was so bad people were telling me they couldn't hardly stand up in it. But I think to myself, "ah, but this afternoon this wind will be at my back and I'll just coast home). Then, twice this week, when it's time for me to ride home, around 6:30 or 5:30, the wind has shifted, and I get wind out of the south or west.

There are two really bad places on the commute between my home and the campus. These are in the area where a bike must cross Sixth street near the new Walmart near Eleventh Street. There is a stretch of about 300 meters with no sidewalk nor bike lane, so you must ride your bike either on the right, in a right-turn only lane, or else on the left, in a "go straight" lane. I usually ride on the white line between the two lanes and then make a choice about which traffic lane to use based on where the cars are going. If a car is coming up behind me in the "turn right" lane I head over into the "go straight" lane so I'm not blocking it. Today cars came up behind me in both lanes, so I moved to the middle of the "go straight" lane. After all, a bike is a vehicle and has a right to the road, and the traffic light ahead was red, so although I was slowing traffic, the cars would need to stop anyway. But the two cars behind me start honking. I assume these are friendly horn blasts from friends or students saying hello to me, but then when we get to the red light (it didn't turn green until about three seconds after I arrived at the intersection and moved out of the way of the cars that were following me to go straight), the cars behind me pull up and the drivers (of two cars) each swear at me, insult me, and honk their horns again in anger. Huh? Where did they want me to go? There was no sidewalk, no bike lane, and for that short 300 meter length of road the whole time they were behind me the light ahead of us was red anyway. I could have saved them some gas mileage by forcing them to drive slowly as they approached the red light so they didn't have to come to a complete stop and then accelerate from a dead stop to continue when the light turned green, except that they tail-gated me to get the honor of stopping for two seconds before the traffic light changed color.

This problem of a section of road with no sidewalk or bike lane is really crazy at Sixth street near the Walmart because once you get to that traffic light I mentioned there is a wide sidewalk for another 300 meters, and then there is a suddenly a bike lane that you can follow all the way to the UIS campus. Also, if you like to ride on the south outer road of the Interstate until you reach the bike trail that connects Chatham to Springfield, and then take the bike trail into Jerome and Springfield, then the only way to get from this bike trail to the campus is to cross 6th street at this point near the Walmart where there is no bike trail or sidewalk. The same problem exists as you return from campus in the other direction. So, the city of Springfield has these two bike trails, one connecting the UIS campus to... a Walmart, and then ending, and the other a nice interurban trail that connects a road with light traffic to an area just a few hundred meters from the Walmart, but for those few hundred meters that could connect the two systems there is nothing but this very dangerous stretch of road where, as I demonstrated today (for the second time, actually) a cyclist can be verbally abused by car drivers for daring to use traffic lanes.

Anyway, betwen having to ride into the wind in both directions on my two days of bike commuting (with rain in my face on the way home today) and having these car drivers shout at me, I'm really upset at the traffic engineers or planners from the city who created this hazardous road situation. I'll talk to someone in city government about this and see what can be done.

- Eric

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