There has been a great discussion about plowing bike paths on the Dane County Bikies listserv over the past week. The topic was raised as people emailed out trail conditions reports. This is necessary because, even though Madison has a pretty good policy about plowing bike trails, riders still can’t be sure the trail they take will be cleared of snow and ice after a storm.
What if that were true for roads? What if you had to listen to the news to find out which roads would be plowed before you left for work? What if people were driving down a road and suddenly it was no longer cleared of snow and even ended in a big impassable pile? That would be pretty inconvenient, wouldn’t it? Well, that is what it is like for winter cyclists, and we still ride.
Here in Milwaukee, there is no policy to clear bike trails and, as a result, most of the trails don’t get plowed, or if they do, it is not until days after a storm. For most year-round cyclists, this means abandoning our pleasant trails away from traffic and hitting the roads. In the winter this requires a fairly assertive person, since you often have to ride out in front of the cars in the wheel track. Even after the roads have been plowed, there is often plow drift at the curb that builds up over winter and effectively narrows the road. This can eventually mean bike lanes disappear entirely.
It seems odd to me that in a city, like Milwaukee, that has almost 1,500 miles of roads 50 ft wide on average that are cleared by plows within 24 hours of a storm, we can’t devote the resources to plow the 116 miles of 10 ft wide trails we have. Milwaukee’s plowing operations are paid for with a snow and ice removal fee that every property owner pays, whether you drive a car or not, so cyclists pay and should get their trails cleared of snow.
This is really a good example of our priorities as a society today. We spend millions of dollars to make it as easy as possible for people to get to work in the most inefficient way possible, and we think it crazy, wasteful or unimportant to spend a relatively small amount of money to help people who want to get to work in a healthy efficient manner.
What happened to the days when people bragged about being tough and self-reliant? When did we become a society of people who demand to be coddled? When did waste become the American way? When did people stop walking ten miles to school in the snow?