The Annoyance of At-Grade

Uh oh!

The Cedar Valley Nature Trail is closed north of County Home Road for approximately seven miles to accommodate the paving project.  Although this is a great project it does force me to change my preferred lunch time ride.

Normally I head north on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and put ten to fifteen miles on the out route.  The return route is done in reverse for a total of twenty to thirty miles of mixed pavement, gravel, and hardpack.  The real joy is that most of the trail is very separate from traffic with a few at-grade crossings of infrequently traveled county roads.

With the closure I have been heading south to make a ride combining the last portion of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and Cedar River Trail.  This is a great community asset, but the difference in the ride is amazing.  One is very relaxing—the Cedar Valley Nature Trail—and the other is not so—the Cedar River Trail.

Why?  At-grade crossings of major roads.  Where possible, the Cedar River Trail crosses below grade but at several junctures it intersects major roads at-grade.  The crossing at Blairs Ferry Road and the trail portion through downtown are particularly loathsome.  Combined with the joyous smell of auto exhaust it makes for a much different experience.

Granted, portions of the Cedar River Trail are excellent departures from the city in the heart of the city.  The loop around the so-called Cedar Lake is relaxing even as it borders a rail yard and the portion of the trail from Czech Village south is superb.  Plus, even in the belly of an industrial zone that smells like Cinnamon Toast Crunch there are alternative energy surprises:

Having the Cedar Valley Nature Trail closed for a period of time made me realize how fragmented the trails are in Linn County.  There is no easy way to get from the trailhead of the Sac and Fax Trail near Cottage Grover Road to any of the trails through town.  The CEMAR trail is an orphan section waiting to be connected to the nascent trail system downtown.  There are no trails leading to the excellent mountain bike trails at Beverly Park or Squaw Creek Park.  Nothing links to the Grant Wood Trail east of Marion as of yet, although rumors of a plan exist.

A further bit of insanity is how little planning has been done to link the two major area employers—Rockwell Collins and Aegon/TransAmerica—to any of the existing or proposed trails.  There is a small section of former railway that runs parallel to Blairs Ferry Road that is going to be converted to trail and it terminated near the main campus of Rockwell Collins, but this almost appears to be more happenstance than intentional.  Here you have two locations to which thousands of people per day commute and there is no intentional plan to provide cogent non-automobile transportation options.  Lunacy.

Recently, a regional governing body has decided to take a small amount of money earmarked primarily for road construction and apply it toward completing a system of trails.  This is a great idea because there is no system today, although great trails exist and the right of ways for other trails are available.  However, it is my guess that opposition will naturally form against using money for trails because someone has a pothole on their route to or from work.

Here is to hoping that in a few years this fragmented network will resemble a system that can be utilized to string together most excellent rides.

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