Once upon a time, my friend Bob and I were bicycling through the lovely wooded hillsides of the Franconia region of Germany, 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-mile-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, five 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.
Valla Ann Bolovschak is New Albany’s recently appointed representative to the Greenway Commission, and last night she hosted a forum at the Grand to solicit opinions, suggestions and recommendations as to the future orientation of the Greenway, which in some way, shape or form will someday connect the cities of Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany along the Ohio River.
It was a supremely educational evening for someone who admittedly has come late to the project’s conceptual basis, which was devised some time ago, but now to the casual observer seems somewhat out of touch with reality on the ground in the sense that it certainly must be wildly baseless to spend more than $40 million dollars to build a roadway for cars when most trends point in the direction of greater value derived from the recreational component of pedestrians and cyclists, and the manner that such value will be compounded as new economies evolve.
Naturally, it’s more complicated than all that, with considerations that include the competing aims of three cities, the unavoidable involvement of the Corps of Engineers, the profit motives of two different railroads, and the intriguing location right in the very center of the Greenway’s path of Al Goodman’s Loop Island Wetlands, which apparently was completely ignored when planners first plotted a $10 million dollar bridge to rip through what we now understand is as pristine a wilderness as we’re likely to find alongside the river in the middle of a major metropolitan area.
At roughly the halfway point of the loosely structured discussion, Valla Ann was about to poll those in attendance as to their views of the Greenway’s possible future as a link with a strictly limited role for motorized vehicles when Anna Schmidt, wife of councilman Bill Schmidt, interjected that to restrict the Greenway in such a fashion as not completing it by means of a bridge through the wetlands would be to shortchange elderly residents (and their grandchildren) by denying them easy access.
That’s when I thought of the five elderly Germans on their bicycles.
I thought of them again when Councilman Dan Coffey spoke about the 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 view of the river at the Trinkle Dome – and how hard it is to make that climb.
The whole point of the Greenway should be to reduce the presence of automobiles insofar as possible, increase the presence of walkers and cyclists insofar as possible, and allowing the boat club people to remain where they’ve always been.
The whole point of the Greenway is recreation, and there isn’t any reason for the elderly to be excluded from the Greenway or from the possibility of exercise, which in the end is a fairly healthy phenomenon.
Before you make the mistake of assuming that I’m about to launch one of NA Confidential’s famous tirades against the pronouncements of Coffey, Schmidt or the other councilman in attendance at the forum, Steve Price, then please think again.
I’m not, because they were there, at the forum, in attendance, taking part in the discussion about a project that represents progressivism at its best – yes, with Coffey and Price grandstanding a bit, because it’s in their blood, but for the most part being involved, listening, and showing interest.
The other City Council representatives … where were they?
There is reason for optimism. Reasonable solutions to the shortcomings of the current Greenway plan were offered, and numerous related ideas considered, and all in all, last night’s forum was among the most heavily thoughtful in content that I’ve experienced during the time of my responsiveness to civic issues. It’s much to Valla Ann’s credit that she organized the session, much to the credit of the Grand in hosting it, and much to the credit of the councilmen in attendance, along with city officials Scott Wood and Paul Wheatley.
As for the Chubby Checker quote … well, Ann, maybe I’m just in a good mood tonight, and will let that one pass. Just this once.
See also Greenway Forum Enlightening at the Diggin' in the Dirt blog.