Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thoughts on One Year of Bicycling in Springfield

Last month, we celebrated one full year of Springfield residency. It's a little shocking to think that it's been over a year since we moved to this area. The occasion has given me a chance to look back on the last year and make some observations on bicycling in Springfield - particularly as compared to bicycling in Columbia.

First of all, a note about my expectations about moving to town: Columbia is very bike-friendly. My assumption was that Springfield would be notably less so. I anticipated regular encounters with careless or inattentive motorists. And more worryingly, I had prepared myself for more frequent encounters with malicious drivers. It's also worth mentioning that our cycling habits in both communities were very similar. In both Columbia and Springfield, we lived in the central area of town with very short commutes to work, and we spent most of our free time downtown.

As far as infrastructure is concerned, it seems like Springfield has fewer bike lanes. However, I'm not totally convinced that this is a negative, as drivers in Springfield seem more accustomed to sharing the road with cyclists. There are definitely more streets and roads in Springfield that I avoid at all costs because they are just plain scary. Glenstone, National, and Battlefield are good examples. These are high-speed roadways with little-to-no additional space for bicyclists to join traffic safely. This is not really all that surprising, as Springfield is over twice the size of Columbia. And these streets are generally pretty easy to avoid.

What I miss most about bicycling in Columbia is the MKT trail, which made getting from downtown to the southwest areas of town (or vice versa) fast, easy, safe, and enjoyable. In Springfield, we have the Ozark Greenways. Like the MKT, the Greenways are great for recreational riding. We've had fun weekend rides on the Frisco Highline and Galloway trails. Where the Greenways fall short is their convenience for commuting. For a while I was using the Jordan Creek Greenway to commute to work, but found that the distance I had to travel out of my way to get on the trail negated the time I saved by skipping a single stop light at Kimbrough. For those living on the south side of town, I'm sure the South Creek Greenway is a convenient commuting option, but we spend very little time on that side of the city. The rest of the Greenways seem to be meant more for recreation than commuting, which is a bummer for commuters like me.

My biggest concern about bicycling in Springfield was the motorists. On this front, I've been pleasantly surprised. While I've had a few incidents involving drivers who had their heads up their asses, this is just part of life, and I've been guilty of inattentiveness while at the wheel myself. On the other hand, I had encounters with malicious drivers - motorists who honked, yelled, threw things, or tried to run me off the road - several times a year during my time in Columbia. But so far, I haven't had a single incident in which a motorist was purposefully dangerous or rude while bicycling in Springfield.

I guess you could say I haven't been impressed with my experiences with bicycling in Springfield, but I definitely haven't been disappointed. And there are some very passionate, smart, and dedicated advocates in Springfield, who are backed by strong organizations like Ozark Greenways, Healthy Living Alliance, SpringBike, and others. Expect bicycling infrastructure and education to continue to evolve, with the Springfield community becoming more and more bicycle-friendly.

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