Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Campaign Diary, Chapter 10: Greenway news leads to bicycling flashbacks.

I'm the obsessive sort when I allow myself to be, and the past two years have been all about walking. However, today I got out the elderly bicycle and tooled around Midtown a bit.

When I say elderly ...

 ... that's the very same bike supporting my girth in 2004, along with my friends Bob and Tim, as well as a local horse trolling for apples. We're somewhere in the Ardennes hills of southeastern Belgium, in the process of visiting all the brewing monasteries in Belgium.

We called it the Tour de Trappist, and it was a blast.

The Ohio River Greenway has been back in the news the past couple of days, with work slated to begin on the third of four sections running through New Albany territory (from 8th Street to 18th Street). There is talk of the bridge across Silver Creek finally being started early next year.

It made me think of the forum Valla Ann Bolovschak hosted at The Grand in November of 2005. She'd been appointed New Albany’s recently representative to the Greenway Commission, and was soliciting opinions, suggestions and recommendations as to the future orientation of the project. Since then, we've finished the part from Silver Creek to 18th, and 8th to the Amphitheater.

Ten years ago, I prefaced my blog coverage of the forum with an anecdote about one of my own bicycling experiences in Europe.

Bob (pictured above) and I were bicycling in 2001 through the lovely wooded hillsides of the Franconia region of Germany, near Bamberg, and we stopped to soak up the countryside and look at a map. While doing so, we were overtaken by a group of five elderly men who we’d passed earlier in the day, before we had lost ground to them while pausing for a brief, restorative beer at one of the area’s many brewpubs.

All spoke English and were eager to exchange information about the immaculately signposted, maintained and dedicated bike route. In addition, as the precursor to a pattern we’ve observed so many times since, they were openly amazed to see Americans of any age riding bicycles in Germany.

It turns out that these well-heeled, multilingual and retired gentlemen were engaged in their 45th annual, several-hundred-kilometers-long bike jaunt in celebration of their university graduating class, and in this instance were making the trip from Frankfurt to Kulmbach – carrying light rear panniers loaded with the basics, traveling 25 to 30 mildly strenuous miles a day, then stopping for hearty meals, local beers and a good night’s sleep at an inn or bed and breakfast.

I looked at them, calculated their approximate ages, and thought, “that’s what I want to do when I get to be that old – but why wait until then.”

Even now, fourteen years later, I’m transfixed by the scene of these gracious, nonchalant, ruddy men enjoying a road trip’s worth of bicycling reunion time – and the five of them as utterly flabbergasted to see Americans riding bicycles for recreation as I was by the thought of my parents marking such an occasion by exercising in such a manner.

During the Greenway forum in 2005, it was revealed that in spite of the route's original stated intent as a roadway for automotive traffic, which in the 1990s took the form of a projected multi-million dollar vehicular bridge straight through the Loop Island Wetlands, common sense had at last prevailed, and the likely future form of the Greenway would be strictly limited insofar as motorized vehicles were concerned.

A senior citizen promptly interjected, somewhat indignantly, that to restrict the Greenway in such a fashion as not building it for automobiles would be to shortchange elderly residents (and their grandchildren) by denying them easy access to view from their car windows.

Dan Coffey, then as now the Wizard of Westside, later spoke about the critical need of making it easier for people to get across the levee from downtown to the river, noting that Scribner Place’s original design included a long ramp that would have eliminated the stairs currently required to gain a access to the river. He lamented the difficulty of climbing those stairs.

I kept thinking about the five elderly Germans on their bicycles.

There is no glib conclusion to these ruminations. As they say, it's a free country, and you can do as you please, but I'd rather keep exercising -- whether on foot or with a bike. I'm closer in age to those Germans than I was then, and I want to be like them when I'm 60-something, and beyond.

There's always mobile signboarding, too.

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