Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Restoring a Vintage 1983 Schwinn Le Tour

I work at the C&O Bicycle Loan Program at Great Falls Tavern as a volunteer mechanic every Sunday. The bicycle program takes donation bikes. One Sunday I go up to the bicycle shed to look over some new arrivals. Amidst the Wal-Mart and K-Mart bikes I see a vintage Champaign covered Schwinn Le Tour covered with dirt and cobwebs. Under the dirt, this Made-in-America Schwinn road bike is in great condition. I surmise it had been ridden a few years during the bicycle boom, and then stored in a garage. After inspecting the Le Tour, I also see that it has all its original parts. I know a bit of the history behind this bicycle, and I decide it's worth the time to restore the Le Tour to its original condition. Despite Schwinn’s reputation as a purveyor of sturdy children’s bikes, this Schwinn Le Tour was a high quality road bike for its time.

A Short History of the Schwinn Le Tour
The 1983 Schwinn Le Tour was a symbolic turning point for Schwinn. The story starts with the introduction of a made-in-Japan Schwinn Le Tour in 1973. The “Schwinn approved” Le Tour first showed up as a new offering in the company’s 1974 catalog. Schwinn decided to give into the stiff competition from Japan and Europe for producing high quality road bikes. With the exception of the Schwinn Paramount, the company had limited capacity to build high quality frames. The Schwinn Paramount was built in a small section of the Chicago factory up until 1983. After 1983 the Paramount  was made in a small factory in Waterford, Wisconsin.

In the 1970s the Chicago factory was hampered by years of a lack of capital investment in new machinery. As a result in 1973 Schwinn hauled up the white flag and outsourced many of its bicycles to Taiwan and Japan. This included the new Le Tour. For about 5 or 6 years the “Schwinn approved” Le Tour was manufactured by Japanese bicycle makers such as Panasonic or Bridgestone. The reason was that Schwinn’s factory in Chicago had become outmoded and was incapable of producing a large number of high quality crome-moly frames (a strong steel formally called chromium molybdenum) common among its Japanese and European competitors. Eventually Schwinn with the 1989 model returned the manufacture of the Le Tour to a small section in its Chicago factory. In the 1978 catalog the Le Tour is still "Schwinn Approved," which means it was made in Japan or Taiwan. In 1979 the catalog description of the Le Tour refers to a "Made in USA torched brazed lug frame." These Le Tours were likely made in Chicago. However, the factory in Chicago was shuttered in December 1983, so it is doubtful that the 1883 Le Tours were made in Chicago. 

In the early 1980s Schwinn made the decision to start a new factory in Greenville Mississippi. The factory opened in 1981. The 1983 Schwinn Le Tour I found leaning against the bicycle shed no doubt was among the first Le Tours to be produced in that factory. The design and components of the bicycle are very similar to those that had been imported during previous years. This was a period in which Schwinn was attempting to reestablish its manufacturing identity by returning some frame production to the United States. However, the experiment failed and in 1991 the Greenville factory closed. Bankruptcy was soon to follow. With a Chicago head badge, the 1973 Le Tour could have been made in Chicago, but its is quite unlikely. All indications are that the 1983 Le Tour was manufactured in the new Greenville factory and affixed with a Schwinn Chicago head badge.
Head Badge with Schwinn and Made in Chicago written on it.
Shwinn Le Tour Head Badge, 1983
The Frame
The frame is made in the USA from 4130 chrome-moly tubing. To my knowledge this frame is not double-butted (thinner in the middle and thicker on the ends). The frame is fairly light as the bicycle weighs in at 26 pounds. Since I refinished this bike, I have ridden it for about 100 miles. The feel of the bike on the road is is smooth, stable and strong. It is definitely designed as a touring bike that can carry the weight of camping gear. The rear stays and front fork have threaded holes, ready-made settings for attaching racks. The frame of the pictured bike is the largest size made at 25 inches (63.5 centimeters) as measured from center of bottom bracket spindle to top of seat tube. This means that the bike is best sized for someone that is about 6’ 2” (1.88 meters) and above.

On the rear dropout there are some clues as to the date of the bicycle. Stamped on the dropout is the serial number SF303719. According to Schwinn, models made in Japan usually have a J as the first character in the serial number. The Schwinn Le Tour starts with a letter (S=Le Tour and some other models) followed by the production month (F=June) and then the year (3=83). This means the frame was produced in the USA in June of 1983 with no indication of the factory location. For more information on this confusing serial numbering system, see the official publication Schwinn Information Bulletin No. 23.

Picture of Schwinn Le Tour Bicycle leaning against a fence
Full Frame View of Schwinn Le Tour

Sticker on bicycle naming the tubing material (Chrome-Moly)
Chrome-Moly Sticker, Schwinn Le Tour

Yellow sticker on bicycle saying wet rims increase stopping distance
Braking Sticker Common on 1970s and 1980s Bicycles

Schwinn Le Tour sticker on tope tube of bicycle
Top Tube and Schwinn Sticker, 1983 Schwinn Le Tour
The Seat and Seatpost
The seat is in remarkable condition and looks like it has barely been used. It has a plastic undercarriage that is covered with foam and then a cover. The silver and black Schwinn nameplate sits on the back of the black seat. It is very comfortable to ride, although it’s a bit wide. The color of the frame is officially called sandpiper. The original post slides into the seat tube and requires shims to make it fit. The seat clamp acts as the holder for the cable connecting to the center pull brakes and has the Schwinn S imprinted on the seat bolt. Schwinn liked to brand all the parts on their bicycle. A clear signal that Schwinn did not make a component is the designation “Schwinn Approved.”

Schwinn bicycle seat clamp against chain fence.
Seat Clamp with Schwinn S, 1983 Le Tour

Black Bicycle Seat with Schwinn Nameplate on Schwinn Le Tour
Schwinn Approved Padded Seat, 1983 Schwinn Le Tour

The Shifter Group
The derailleur set is Shimano Altus. At the time the Altus was a low- to mid-level derailleur for a road bikes. This particular Altus was sold just before Shimano began to sell indexed shifters in 1985. I have no idea when it was introduced, but it must have been in the 1970s. Today the Altus is still a name in Shimano’s line of derailleurs, but it quite different and is marketed for mountain bikes.

Reara bicycle Derailleur with chain fence backdrop
Shimano Altus Rear Derailleur, Le Tour 1983

Stem mounted bicycle shift levers against black chain link fence.
Altus Stem Shifter, Le Tour 1983
Rear Freewheel and Axle
Both the rear freewheel and hub are made in France. The freewheel is a six speed Maillard Atom 77 and the hub also is Maillard quick release. These parts were fairly common for bicycle constructed in 1973, but they were on their way out being replaced by parts made in Japan. The alloy Araya rims are 27/¼” and are made in Japan.

Shiny bicycle hub with background of grass
Maillard Small Flange Hub, Le Tour 1983

Rear 5 speed freewheel on bicycle with grass in backgound
Rear Atom Freewheel, Le Tour 1983
Shiny Araya rim with Araya name with backdrop of grass
Araya Rim 27/1/4, 1983 Le Tour

Brakes, Handlebars and Stem

The brakes, handlebars and stem are all made in Japan. The brake levers are Schwinn Approved, but I have an identical set of brakes on another bike (without the levers) and they are made by Dia Compe. The quick release mechanism is so that the brakes widen for removal of wheels. The stem and handlebars are made by Sakae in Japan. The handlebars are Sakae Custom Road Champion. These parts were common on good quality bicycles in the early 1970s.

Front view of bicycle handlebars and stem
Sakae Custom Road Champion Handlebars and Stem, Le Tour 1983

Close-up view of quick release brakes on a bicycle
Dia Compe "Schwinn Approved" Brake Levers, Le Tour 1983


This Schwinn Le Tour is a classic road bike ideal for touring and recreation. The model was so popular that Schwinn made many different variations of the basic Le Tour, including such models as Le Tour Luxe, Super Le Tour and others. This bike has a smooth stable ride and takes corners very well. The only irritation on my test rides was the old kick stand kept bouncing up and down over bumps. I solved this problem by simply removing it. However, the bike does have a nice built in platform for a kickstand.

Overall, this is a great bike and a turning point for Schwinn and the bicycle industry. Selling the earlier Japanese Le Tours, Schwinn was acknowledging that the company did not have the capacity to compete with the Japanese manufacturers. In 1983 the company made an attempt to return production to the USA by opening a factory in Greenville, Mississippi. Unfortunately the move was too little and too late. Due to poor business decisions the company declared bankruptcy in 1992 and was eventually sold to the Zell/Chilmark Fund in 1993. Today the company is owned by a branch of Dorel Industries in Canada called Pacific Cycle. Pacific Cycles markets Schwinn, Mongoose and Iron Horse brands of bicycles.

For those interested, I have done similar restoration in the past, and one was my own old 1971 Raleigh Record bicycle. Today I use that bike for riding in my neighborhood and down to the corner store. Due to a stiff back I recently have installed a longer stem and new Shimano brakes and the restored bike rides like new. Because of all the box store bikes on the road, I think the high quality 1970s and 1980s bicycles are better riding than 90 or perhaps even 95 percent of the bikes on the road today. People often shy away from them because of the drop handlebars, skinny tires and lack of suspension. With a few small changes such as a higher stem and thicker tires, these bikes can provide quality transportation at a reasonable price. As evidence, check out any crowded downtown bicycle racks and you’ll always find some of these old timers still providing reliable transport. How many cars do you see today that are older than 40 years and still smoothing rolling down the road?

Note: All pictures in this post by Doug Barnes 2017.

Main Reference: Crown, Judith and Glenn Coleman. 1996. No Hands: The Rise and Fall of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, An American Institution. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Legacy Trail Extension in Sarasota, Florida Will Be Worth over $300 Million

Recently I have completed a study of the costs and benefits of extending a new portion of a $58 million bicycle rails to trails project into downtown Sarasota, Florida. Despite high costs, this project—an extension of the existing Legacy Trail—is conservatively estimated to have just over $307 million benefits for Sarasota County. This is an economic net gain of over $250 million for the county. The conclusion is that this public outlay for bicycle infrastructure should have benefits for Sarasota County that are well worth the investments.

In a previous post I elaborated on the benefits of the development of bicycle trails. To be sure where land acquisition is necessary the cost of the trail extension is high, but having seen the actual benefits of the existing Legacy Trail completed about 10 years ago, the county government is strongly in favor of the trail extension. The issue the county government faces is how to raise the necessary money to pay for the trail extension.

In this post, I will summarize the results of this cost-benefit study of the Legacy Trail Extension into downtown Sarasota. For those interested I am linking the full version of the report that has the title The Value of the Legacy Trail Extension for Sarasota, Florida. All the figures in the tables are discounted dollars, a typical method for comparing future cost and benefits. Later in the post I will provide an update on the progress made to fund the Legacy Trail Extension. But first, I give an overview of the nature of the trail extension followed by an assessment of the value of the new trail.

Description of Legacy Trail Extension
The existing Legacy Trail in Sarasota, Florida is a 10-mile, high-quality pedestrian and bicycle corridor that runs from Venice to suburban Sarasota. This trail has road-quality pavement, rest stops called stations, and local vegetation on each side. It traverses several parks, allowing for easy access for both pedestrians and bicyclists. Recently, the Friends of the Legacy Trail have been promoting the extension of this trail from suburban to downtown Sarasota. Today the trail ends near Culverhouse Nature Park in Sarasota. The railroad tracks are still intact running from Culverhouse Nature Park to downtown Sarasota for a total of more than 7 miles (figure 1).

Man walking on railroad track to be a future Florida bicycle trail
Figure 1. Existing Legacy Trail and Land for Future Extension
Sources: Cardno, Inc., 2014 (left photo); Douglas Barnes, 2016 (right photo).
With the proposed new extension, the entire trail would run over 17 miles from an old restored train station in Venice, Florida all the way to Payne Park in downtown Sarasota (figure 2). The trail extension would also give Sarasota residents access to the North Port connector trail and the Venetian Waterway trail, which runs for about 5 miles on both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway from the train station in Venice (end of the Legacy Trail) to Casperson Beach. The undeveloped railroad corridor is an ideal location for a bicycle and pedestrian trail. The corridor is over 100 feet wide with few street crossings, and it traverses the center of the city of Sarasota.  As a result, it can be developed into a linear recreational greenway trail.

Two maps of Sarasota Florida highlighting bicycle trail
Figure 2. The Legacy Trail and it's Proposed Extension
Source: Friends of the Legacy Trail (existing trail map) and  
Cardno, Inc. 2014 (future trail extension).
The trail is also located in a densely settled area, making it possible for many people to take advantage of new amenities in what is now an unused corridor. The trail extension could be used for commuting, along with recreational purposes, including walking, cycling, rollerblading, among other activities. The trail extension will also offer connections to jobs, shopping and entertainment districts, and safe routes to schools.

The Economics of the Legacy Trail Extension
The Legacy Trail Extension can potentially be the first step in transforming what is now a car-centered downtown Sarasota, where traffic has about reached its limit. This situation is not unique to the city of Sarasota. Due to pressure from cars, cities across the country are giving greater emphasis to alternate forms of transportation, including buses, mass transit, bicycling, and walking. The Legacy Trail Extension is a unique opportunity to turn an undeveloped corridor into a linear park, a pedestrian path, and bicycle trail with few road crossings that runs into downtown Sarasota.

The costs of the trail extension is about 58 million dollars including the purchase price of the land owned by CSX. Given that the extension will be only 7 miles long, this is a rather large investment for a community to support  (figure 3). . Remarkably there is little local opposition to extending the trail. In meeting after meeting, the county board of commissions has voiced unanimous support for the trail extension. However, large investments in local infrastructure also require some assessment of the costs versus the benefits. This post highlights the fact that the benefits of the trail extension are well worth the costs.

The existing Legacy Trail in Sarasota County is a 10-mile, high-quality pedestrian and bicycle corridor that runs from Venice to suburban Sarasota. The undeveloped railroad corridor—over 100 feet wide with few street crossings and traversing the center of Sarasota city—is an ideal location for the Legacy Trail Extension.

As a result, the trail extension can be developed into a linear recreational greenway trail. The trail extension will be used for such recreational purposes as walking, bicycling, and rollerblading, and will also become an active transportation commuting corridor into downtown Sarasota.

People with yellow shirts sitting at a local meeting in auditorium
Figure 3. Local Support for Legacy Trail Extension,
Sarasota County Commissioners Meeting, February 2017
Source: Friends of the Legacy Trail

Benefits of the Trail Extension
The main economic benefits of the Legacy Trail Extension will be an increase in property values surrounding the corridor and an increase in tourism (table 1). The rationale for measuring both increased real estate values and tourism is that the existing Legacy Trail attracts 136,000 riders and pedestrians from inside Sarasota County and 39,000 trail users from outside the county for a total of 175,000 users. The trail extension will result in increased demand in real estate near the trail, which is valued at $252 million over 30 years. Many of the trail users from outside the county are extended-stay tourists who are drawn to the region because of the trail. They rent homes or stay in hotels, dine in restaurants and purchase food in grocery stores, bringing benefits to Sarasota County valued at $55 million. Also, many nearby Florida residents drive to and use the trail, and this will increase spending in local businesses.

The desire to use the trail extension for walking, bicycling, and other recreational purposes will result in increased demand for property surrounding the trail. The attractiveness of living by the greenway corridor extension will result in increased property taxes of about $26 million and tourist taxes by $2 million for the county. Additional benefits will include improved health, a better environment, more recreational opportunities, and reduction in car commuting.

For an expanded view of the table below, I am providing a link to the source image.

Table with 5 columns stating benefits of Legacy Trail in text
The Benefits of the Legacy Trail Extension, Sarasota, Florida
Source: Barnes 2017.  

Ways to Make the Trail Even More Valuable
The benefits of developing the existing rail corridor into a greenway trail could be even higher by investing in the right complementary infrastructure projects surrounding the Legacy Trail Extension. These might include an innovatively designed greenway along the 100-foot wide railroad corridor with attention paid to bicycle and pedestrian friendly connector roads and paths surrounding the trail. With the proper feeders in surrounding neighborhoods, the Legacy Trail Extension could, over time, connect previously cut-off neighborhoods in Sarasota County and transform the city’s downtown into a more pedestrian and bicycle friendly area. This, in turn, would facilitate the creation of new walkup business opportunities.

To conclude, the economic and social benefits of the trail extension without the complementary surrounding infrastructure are already quite high for Sarasota County. Complementing the trail with other bicycle and pedestrian friendly innovations would significantly increase the number of users and, as a result, the overall use and value of the Legacy Trail Extension for Sarasota.

Update on Financing the Trail
Raising the money through a bond referendum for the Legacy Trail Extension could be problematic. Bicyclists often have been accused as not paying their fair share infrastructure costs. The argument goes that they don’t pay gasoline taxes, don’t pay registration fees, aren’t snared by tickets for speeding or shell out no fees for parking. It is asserted that bike lanes, separated cycle tracks and bicycle parking loops are paid for by those driving cars or trucks. In general, the public belief is that the taxes and fees paid for by motorists are supporting bicycle lanes and other infrastructure. The result is that bicyclists are rightly or wrongly perceived as “free riders.”
Using a similar logic, governments would never finance public parks, roads, recreational areas sports stadiums or other social infrastructure that promote local economic development and improvements in the quality of life. Governments do sometimes miss the mark investing in the wrong projects to improve local infrastructure. The bridges to nowhere are often cited as an example of wasteful government spending. However popular this phrase, for the majority of projects it simply means that hard to measure benefits are undercounted by skeptics of public investments.

This perception that cyclists do not pay their fair share for improvements such as bicycle lanes and trails ignores the fact that bicyclists also pay taxes. They ride up to restaurants and other businesses and make purchases subject to sales tax. They pay increases in property taxes due to the increased value of homes that are near bicycle commuter routes or near popular near trails. They pay tourist taxes for staying in hotels or bed and breakfast lodging near popular cycle trails. Bicyclists also pay income and sales taxes which go to service the roads and transportation infrastructure for cars and trucks. The perception that motorists pay all of the freight for building roads is simply untrue.

The problem is that all the costs for extending the Legacy Trail—a trail that will last 30 years or more—come at the beginning of the project. This means that the county government must come up with money over just a few years for a project that will provide extensive benefits for 30 years or more. The Sarasota County Commission's commitment towards working out a solution to finance the trail was discussed in a previous post documenting the previous deal for acquiring the rights to the railroad right of way.

Showing support for the Legacy Trail Extension, in August 2017 the County Commision has come up with a new solution. The county council has allocated $7.9 million from existing budgets to get the project started. They will purchase a 2.7 mile segment of the project. The purchase and development of the remaining 6.3 miles will depend on a public vote on bond funding of $65 million in November 2018. This is a bit of a risk given that public votes for increasing taxes are unpopular. Before the bond referendum it will be necessary for non-governmental organizations that support the trail to actively raise money from other sources to lower the investments necessary by the county. They also must actively make the public case for the benefits of the Legacy Trail Extension for the entire population of Sarasota County.

Regardless of the method of financing, the spending on the Legacy Trail Extension is a good investment for the Sarasota County. Even without a bond, the county will get back about half of its investment in the form of increased taxes resulting from rising property values, tourism and business sales. The conservatively estimated benefits will be close to 6 times the cost of the project, and they include increases in property value, higher numbers of healthy commuters and expanded tourism.


Barnes, Douglas, 2017. The Value of the Legacy Trail Extension for Sarasota, Florida. Report prepared for the Friends of the Legacy Trail, Energy for Development.  Washington, DC.

Cardno, Inc. 2014. Legacy Trail Extension Feasibility Study, Sarasota, Florida. Report prepared for the Sarasota County government and financed by Friends of the Legacy Trail, Sarasota, Florida.

Normand, Roger, 2017. "LT Extension Supporters Celebrate Progress To Payne Park" Friends of Legacy Trail Website, Sarasota, Florida.  

Herald Tribune. 2017. "Smart plan to extend county’s Legacy Trail" Editorial in the Herald Tribune, August 29, 2017.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Bicycle Climbing Lanes: Are They Useful Bicycle Infrastructure or Just Cheap?

Many cities are installing climbing lanes in an attempt to expand bicycle infrastructure. A climbing lane generally is a 5 foot wide painted lane beside a curb or parked cars for bicycles travelling uphill slower than normal traffic. Bicycles moving in the other direction (downhill) will be going faster, so they do not require a special lane. They can keep up with traffic and can share the lane with cars. This at least is the argument. The question is whether or not climbing lanes are useful for bicyclists or are they just a way for cities and municipalities to claim progress for improving bicycle infrastructure without serious investment?

I generally am happy to see climbing lanes because they indicate that cities at least are thinking about bicycle infrastructure issues. Without the lanes, for narrow roads bicyclists just stay in the middle of the lane and slow down traffic or if possible take to a sidewalk. Experienced riders are probably safer without the climbing lanes. Inexperienced riders actually may gain a false sense of security from having such lanes, because in most cases separation from cars is pretty minimal.

I started thinking about climbing lanes after riding my bike towards home on a local street with a climbing lane. During rush hour on this street avoiding car doors and temporarily cars parked in the bike lane is a common problem. In the next section I recount one ride on this street with a climbing lane and the issues that I faced in having a safe transition between neighborhoods.

Experience of Riding in a Climbing Lane
I’m riding up a short hill on Van Ness Street, a three lane road with parked cars on the right, two car lanes and a painted bike lane. The climbing lane is narrow at 5 feet wide, with barely enough room for swinging car doors (figure 1). The traffic lane by the bike lane is also narrow at 9 feet wide. Due to the possibility of swinging car doors I stay on the left side of the climbing lane almost in the traffic lane. Cars in driveways on my right also capture my attention because they look like they are ready to back out.

Bicycle Lane on Street
Figure 1. Climbing Lane on Van Ness Street, Washington, DC
Source is Google Maps. Parking Lane 5'; Bicycle Lane 5'; and Traffic Lane 9'.

I see a car stopped up ahead and see it is going to park.  To do this the car has to back up through the climbing lane. After the cars stops I’m expecting the driver to swing open the car door into my path.  With a small gap in traffic behind me, I first signal with a hand outstretched to my left side and then I move decisively into the center of the car lane. 
I hear a car rush up behind me. The driver honks his horn.  It is not a blaring horn, but rather is a “don’t you know there’s a bike lane” horn.  I shrug and keep in the center of the lane so that the driver can’t squeeze by me (figure 2, area of street that driver passes me).

Bicycle Lane at Street Intersection
Figure 2. Van Ness Street Climber Lane before Intersection, Washington, DC
Source: Google Maps
Just as expected the recently parked car door opens directly into the path of the bicycle lane. After passing the parked car I swing back into the bike lane and use a circular hand signal for the car behind me to pass. He passes me fairly close on my left.

Up ahead the Van Ness Street climbing lane disappears and becomes a combined car and bike lane (sharrows) with no room to pass cars on the right (figure 3). This is 100 feet before a traffic light at the top of the hill. For the second time I move again into the center of the right traffic lane behind four cars waiting at the light.

Symbol of Bicycle in Traffic Lane
Figure 3. Combined Bicycle Lane and Roadway (Sharrows) before Stoplight
Source: Google Maps
Once the light turns green I follow the cars through the intersection. Just past the light, the lane widens to more than 15 feet. Without parked cars on the right this feels almost like an unmarked bicycle lane. Unfortunately up ahead the sidewalk juts out into the roadway to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street (see arrow in figure 4). I have to leave the friendly side of the road with a lane virtually to myself and merge back into traffic for the third time in order to make a right hand turn. I then turn right turn into the calm neighborhood streets.

Traffic on two lane road
Figure 4. Pedestrian Sidewalk Improvement
Forces Bicyclists into Traffic Lane
Source: Google Maps
Once I make the turn I am on lightly traveled suburban streets. With frequent stop signs cars are moving slowly (10 to 20 miles per hour) and I now can enjoy my ride home without the tension of moving in and out of traffic. At slow speeds it is easy to establish eye contact with upcoming drivers and they are courteous, mostly smiling and returning my friendly gestures. No one resents me being in the roadway. Drivers are friendly. I’m now relaxed and enjoy the last leg of my commute home.

Better Options for Climbing Lanes
The reason why I have described all this in detail is that installing the painted bike lanes and bringing sidewalks out into the roadway to make distances shorter for pedestrians no doubt seem like good ideas. Unfortunately when not implemented well the safety improvements actually complicate the life of bicyclists and motorists alike. Motorists feel bicycles should be in the bike lanes or keep to the right side of the road because they do not see the danger obvious to an experienced cyclist. The lanes also lead to a false sense of security for those bicyclysts with less experience.

In the above example, the lanes are effective during all times except rush hour. However, when traffic picks up, several mistakes become apparent for the Van Ness bicycle climber lanes (figure 5). The first is there is no door buffer for the lanes. The second is that the traffic lane is very narrow making it almost impossible for motorist to allow the required 3 feet between for bicyclists. The third is that the lane suddenly ends near the top of the hill and bicyclists must merge into traffic right before an intersection crowded with cars. With no room to pass on the right or with cars stopped in lanes it difficult to merge into the sharrows. Fourth, the pedestrian sidewalk (see figure 4) in the subsequent intersection unnecessarily forces cyclists back into car traffic. As can be seen in figure 5, the configuration of the Van Ness Street bicycle lane (same dimension as in figure) means a bicyclist is constantly in a danger zone in heavy traffic.

Graphic of parked cars, bicycle lane and traffic
Figure 5. Five Foot Bike Lane beside Parked Cars Put Cyclists in Danger Zone
Source: O'Mara 2014. Original from Gutierrez, "Understanding Bicycle Transportation Workshop"
This is not to say I against the climbing lanes. I actually like the thought, but wish the execution was better. I would make several relevant points.
  • At the very least the lanes should be wide enough to accommodate a bicycle and a swinging car door. Most states have standards of 5 feet for climbing lanes and some allow 4 feet which is quite narrow. Recent thought on lane design recommends that the climbing lanes be 6-7 feet wide which would make a big difference. A buffer with strips would be an improvement (figure 6).
  • Parked cars could be removed from the street and the space would be perfect for a nice wide separated bike lane. I’m sure neighbors would squeal at this option.
  • The cars also could be moved to the left of the bike lanes, creating a virtual separated bike lane and a more natural transition to the combination bicycle/motorist lane (sharrows). But again the lane would have to be slightly wider so that bicyclists could avoid swinging car doors and being forced into a curb. This arrangement also would give driveway cars a clearer view of bicyclists. In this situation there must be a way to keep cars from parking or stopping in the bike lanes.
  • Painting the lane a dark green would more clearly defined the lane for both motorists and cyclists and this would be especially important in the transition area to the sharrows.
  • A proper separated bike lane could have been created out the small park space near the intersection to avoid having a combined car and bike lane (sharrows) at the intersection of Nebraska and Van Ness Street. Such a proper separated bike lane bikes would be safe and unencumbered. It could continue through the traffic light until the gateway to the safe neighborhood streets.
  • Sidewalks also are not the answer. The many driveways make them potentially more dangerous than riding in the road. It is illegal to use them in downtown DC, but not in the outlying areas of town.
  • The Van Ness intersection is a gateway to quiet neighborhood streets. These types of intersections are important for connecting neighborhoods. Much more work is required in easing travel between safe neighborhood streets for crossing busy roads in Washington, DC. I am sure it is important in other cities as well.
Graphic of three types of Climbing Lanes for Bicycles
Figure 6. Better Options for Bicycle Climbing Lanes
Source: Department of Transportation, Gov. of Seattle 2013

Most of the options would cost more money than paint on the road, but it also is a more serious effort to keep bicyclists safe through busy streets to safer roads. The point is that the creation of bicycle lanes should make bicyclists safer and not more vulnerable. There are tradeoffs. But inviting more cyclists into the streets with facilities that are not well thought out seems to be self-defeating.

Final Observations
I am glad to have the climbing lanes on Van Ness Street when traffic is light. During non-rush hour I use the lanes because I know I easily can move into the street to avoid car doors or temporarily parked cars. When traffic is heavy depending on the situation I sometimes take my place out the road and shrug when I hear the honking horns. I am with the motorist on this point. I would rather be in a safe bike lane that makes it unnecessary to take a full lane out in traffic. The conundrum is that the bicycle climbing lane on Van Ness Street is useful during light traffic as cyclists have room to maneuver.  Unfortunately, this same road is crowded with cars at rush hour and the cramped lane puts bicyclists in danger.

To conclude, I would rather see the climbing lane behind the parked cars with a physical buffer for swinging car doors along with obstacles to keep cars from parking in the bike lane. This would simplify the transition to the combination bicycle and car lane (sharrows) just before the stoplight. To accomplish while retaining the lane for parked cars, this would require creating more space on the roadway. This would be a more expensive option.  But perhaps it is a necessary one compared to squeezing in a bike lane with so many safety compromises.

Department of Transportation, Government of Seattle. 2013. “Bicycling Solutions for Hilly Cities: Seattle Bicycle Master Plan Update.” Best Practices White Paper #3, Department of Transportation, Seattle, Washington.

O’Mara, Helen. 2014. “Rethinking Bike Lane Design Standards: The Importance of an Operating Concept” Presentation at the Midwestern/Western ITE District Annual Meeting, Rapid City, Iowa; Accompanying paper coauthored with Robert Shanteau, n.d.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Experiencing My First Adult Bicycle Ride in India

To set the scene, I have just been dropped off by the Peace Corps at my new home in Satara, India. Satara is in western India about 150 miles (250 km) from Mumbai (Bombay at the time). To see the experience of arriving at my Peace Corps station the previous day, see my posting "Memories from India and acquiring my first adult bicycle." The year is 1969. For our transportation, the Peace Corps has given my roommate and me brand new made in India, English style roadster bicycles. My roommate and I set out to explore our Peace Corps home in Satara, Maharashtra.

Not too long ago I was apologizing to a Bangladeshi friend for loud chattering children and gossiping adults in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. He looked somewhat surprised. Even though he is a bachelor, he lives in a culture of clamor similar to the first one I had experience in India. He said, “This is not a problem. These are the sounds of life.” I had to agree. The religions in India celebrate life with color, sound and the inevitable joy and pain of living. Sometimes obscured, but giving it order, is a transcendent oneness that underlies it all. It also is something I experienced on my first bicycle ride in India. 


My roommate Bob and I are ready to take our first bicycle ride in Satara, eager to explore our new home town. We get on our bicycles and head off to our first official destination--the police station. This visit is not for the purpose of registering our bicycles, but ourselves as aliens in a new country. The local police keep tabs on the activities of all foreigners.

Traveling towards the city from Ghodke’s Bungalow, I first roll past an elementary school with giggling blue-and-white-uniformed children running around at recess. Then I ride by open fields with grazing water buffalo tended by faded sari-clad older women. Exiting our neighborhood, Bob and I hit the main roads and arrive at a roundabout. A policeman with white gloves is directing traffic standing on a concrete podium. In a conservative town with few foreigners, the traffic officer is clearly startled to see two pale, gangly young adults. He recovers in time to give us a crisp salute, as if recalling British times. I salute back. After exiting the roundabout, I am riding on Satara's main road, drifting on a long downhill grade towards the town center.

Traffic circle with policeman directing traffic with construction and a mountain in the background
Shivaji Circle in Satara, Maharashtra, 1969
Photo by Doug Barnes

People often say, “You never forget how to ride a bike.” Though true, I'm surprised at the feeling of balance and continual movement with no frame of reference. This is the first time I have been on a bicycle since my childhood. Forgotten childhood images flash through my mind. Simple scenes of going to a corner store and riding with my childhood gang mix with the sights and sounds of Satara. It wakes up memories of that long ride with my brother when we drifted down towards our great-grandmother's farmhouse. Coasting down the hill I remember the feel of balancing on two wheels and flying close to the ground.

Riding towards the Police Station
Today my surroundings are nothing like my childhood memories, with men wearing dhotis walking slowly along the road and a cows meandering down the street. Making my way to the Police Station, the visual treats of India are a blur. I feel like I'm seeing the world through a child's eyes, soaking in all the new experiences, pushing all my sense to a higher level.

Road going to downtown Satara India with mountains as a backdrop
View of Road Taken, Satara Maharashtra, 1969
Photo by Doug Barnes

Riding along the streets of Satara it comes to me that there is no better way to become integrated into a new culture. Perhaps this is my new form of breaking away. During this first ride I'm glad that in Satara a bicycle will be my only means of transportation for getting downtown to the bazaars and shops and also to work in India.

Halfway towards the town center I see the police station entrance on the right side of the road. The building is stone, looking like a weighty medieval fortress. With residency forms in hand, Bob and I enter the imposing building not knowing what to expect. Despite our being the only foreigners for miles around, the constables don't appear surprised to see us. As policemen everywhere they make us hurry up and wait.

Eventually, we are shown into a room with shelves overflowing with dusty papers tied together with cotton strings. An officer with a serious but puzzled expression stares up at us. He starts to ask us a long series of matter-of-fact questions: “What is the purpose of your being in India?” “Where are you living?,” “How long do you expect to stay?” Though clearly perplexed as to why we would want to live in a place like Satara, he didn’t go so far as to ask if we were American spies.

We dutifully explained our mission. I say, “We are American Peace Corps volunteers from the U.S.A., and we are working with the Zilla Parishad (local government).

Bob says, "We are living at Ghodke’s Bungalow in Camp Satara and expect to be here for two years.” We alternate response to the matter of fact questions.

Satisfied, the officer asks for our papers. He looks them over to see if they correspond to our answers. Then there is a rite of rubber-stamping so common to India that we first had encountered at the airport customs. "Bam, bam, bam." After rhythmic plunging of stamp to ink and then stamp to forms, Bob and I are officially part of the city of Satara.

The officer looks relieved with the formalities over and he offers us a nice hot cup of Indian tea. I gladly accept, having learned after my month in India that this was an important social gesture, designed to build trust. After the tea is served by someone called a peon (meaning server), there are more informal questions about life in America. Perhaps the officer is trying to catch us off guard, but I take no notice and answer the questions truthfully. The discussion covers a wide variety of topics about life in the United States and how we are enjoying India. I say in my newly acquired clipped Indian English, "I am liking India too much, sahib." This isn't meant as a mocking kind of accent, but rather it is necessary to be understood. Indian English should be thought of as a dialect and not as a foreign accent.

After fifteen minutes of conversation, the social switch turns off. The tea is finished and it is obviously time for us to depart. The officer's bureaucrat personality re-emerges. As we leave, he says cordially, “If you need any assistance, please call on me at any time. I am at your service. Enjoy your stay in Satara.” He bobs his head side to side in a typical Indian gesture.

Experiencing Satara on Bike
Back on our bikes, Bob and I make our way towards the center of the city, soaking in the views of vegetable stands, street vendors, and other typical street scenes of India. My senses are drinking in an overwhelming diversity of sounds, sights, and smells that characterized my new environment. There is a dizzying blur of people, shops, clothing, colors and architecture. I also hear the grumble of bus engines, the ting of bicycle bells, policemen’s whistles, and the ever-present Hindi film music. With some difficulty, my lungs draw in air filled with smells that are sweet, pungent, and foul alike. Cycling swiftly through the clamor I feel as if I am riding through a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds.

As I near the city center riding just behind Bob, I am met with the melodic rise and fall of vegetable and fruit sellers calling out their wares. I am tempted to stop and buy the wonderfully fresh and colorful oranges, bananas, or limes. From the brass and copper shops I hear a distinctive “ting, ting, ting” ring out as craftsmen hammer soft metals into pots and pans. Tea sellers cry out their rhythmic “chaiii, chaiii, chaaiii” to lure customers in for a sweet cup of Indian tea. My bicycle clatters over the ragged road as a bus blasts me with its black diesel fumes followed by a loud “vroom, vroom.”

Man sitting among various types of fruit that he is selling
Fruit Vendor, Satara Maharashtra 1970
Photo by Doug Barnes

More remarkable than the sounds of the city are its colors. This is the dry season so the hillsides are a light brown, but the city landscape is festooned with bright blue temples, a rainbow of saris, and brightly colored stores. My nose also is not idle, smelling the strong spices of Indian cooking waft from passing food stalls, making my stomach rumble in anticipation. I smell sweet farm smells from straw set aside for animals meandering across the city. On the whole, however, the vibrant colors and joyful, distinctive sounds are pleasant. But vying for my attention are other the other smells of India, such as those from open sewers, cow manure, urine and worse.

People walking on a busy street in Satara India
Street Scene in Satara Maharashtra 1970
Photo by Doug Barnes
Behind Bob as I progress slowly down the road. Stopped at an intersection I see a policeman stop a cyclist for a riding on the wrong side of the road. I fear I may be next because I constantly feel like I am on the wrong side of the road since India follows the British tradition of driving on the left side. The policeman’s punishment seems unusual. He lets the air out of the cyclist’s tires. I think that this may have been intended as a warning or just a demonstration of police authority. But without being able to confiscate a license, I surmise that it probably is just a way to make it hard for the cyclist to get back home.

Rajwarda (Palace)
Leaving this drama behind, with Bob I proceed on towards the bazaar near the former palace of the King of Satara. Once India became a secular society after independence, its former royalty was compensated by the Government of India, with many grand residences turned into either private or public buildings. Bob and I park our bicycles in front of the former palace and move around the bazaar, throwing ourselves into its buzz of life. There's nothing like the noise, color and sound of an Asian bazaar.

People inspecting vegetables and fruits along with man selling green beans
Street Market in Front of Rajwada, Satara India 1970
Photo by Doug Barnes
It would take many bicycle rides to Satara for the complexity of new sights, smells, and sounds to harmonize into a beautiful symphony. I appreciated that my first bicycle trip to Satara is something of a sensory assault. The blur of sights, sounds, and smells don't merge together artfully. Overloading my senses it's more like discordant jazz, both pleasing and annoying at the same time.

Bob and I return home thankful for the bicycles that the Peace Corps has given us for work and exploring India.  As we reach Ghodke's Bungalow, we are physically tired from our ride, but exhilarated from our first day cruising around and the colorful and lively streets while experiencing the energy of the bazaars in Satara, India.

See my posting "Memories from India and acquiring my first adult bicycle" for my arrival in Satara, Maharashtra.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Brooks C17 Cambium Bicycle Saddle Review

My bikes are not new, so I usually don’t do product reviews. My oldest bike is a 1971 Raleigh that I use for going to local stores or restaurants. Others are more recent including a 2001 road and a 2008 cross bicycle. Occasionally I do replace old components for new ones, but I prefer writing about bicycling experiences, infrastructure issues and policy rather than equipment. I also just like to ride a good bike without worrying about whether it has the latest or lightest components.

My aversion for doing product reviews recently was softened when I replaced my venerable Brooks Team Professional saddle with a new Brooks Cambium. Released in 2013 this new Brooks Cambium C17 is a newborn in the line of Brooks Saddles. Many of Brooks bicycle saddle designs date from the 19th Century. The B17 was first released in 1888. I purchased my Brooks Professional in 1978. It is still a pleasure to ride (figure 1).

Brooks leather bicycle seat sitting on wood background
Figure 1 Brooks Team Professional Saddle 1979 Model
Photo by Doug Barnes
My old Brooks Team Profession that I have ridden on and off for over 35 years is still in good condition. But with age, my riding position has changed. I ride in a more upright position due to a cranky back and my posterior has less padding than in the past. The old Brooks Team Pro is molded to my backside, but even after years of riding it is still somewhat hard and a bit slippery. If the saddle is not mounted perfectly, you slide up to the nose or back on the rivets. I ride a cross bicycle on the C&O Canal quite often, and the surface is packed dirt with lots of stones. With the Brooks Team Pro riding over many bumps transmits a series of shocks straight up from the path to my bottom. This is not to say that I have given up on this saddle. It will go on my road bicycle, where it will encounter a smoother and more welcoming surface.

Over the years I also had tried many of the plastic and foam saddles, and they were okay, but I never really thought about giving up my Leather Brooks Team Pro for one of them. Then recently I was looking at the Brooks line of saddles and I discovered the Brooks Cambium and it piqued my interest.

The Design of the Brooks Cambium C17

Cambium is actually a term in biology that according to Webster’s Dictionary means “a thin formative layer between the xylem and phloem of most vascular plants that gives rise to new cells and is responsible for secondary growth.” Apparently this is the origin of the rather distinctive name for a saddle that has a vulcanized rubber underside with organic cotton infused on top.

The design of the Brooks Cambium is rather unique. It takes some of the principles from the old leather classics, but then applies a modern twist. The rubber underside of the saddle provides both resilience and stability. Instead of sitting on top of a hard molded plastic base-as is the case with modern plastic and foam bicycle seats-the rubber is stretched between the nose and rear rivets just like the Brooks leather saddles (figure 2). The rubber therefore provides a hammock like feel.

Brooks Cambium Saddle angle view in front of fence
Figure 2 Brooks C17 Cambium Saddle 2017
Photo by Doug Barnes
According to Wired, the concept of the Cambium lines originated from the design company called IDEO. The reason for approaching the company was that through consumer research Brooks had found that people loved the look and design of their leather saddles, but hated the months of break-in required to get the saddles comfortable. IDEO was requested to come up with a seat design that required low maintenance and was comfortable right off the shelf. To quote from the article:
The brief was clear. The new saddle had to be comfy from the start, without sacrificing what it meant to be a Brooks. The answer, IDEO thought, wasn’t just in one material but several. They proposed a “compound material” that could achieve the effect of a well-worn classic saddle through layering. “We looked into molded felt with a thin leather outer, and a lightweight mesh of metal layered with cork and a gel component,” Overthun says. “We just proposed a whole range of different materials.” Instead of rushing into the new endeavor, Brooks spent the next several years exploring the possibilities, interrogating different methods fusing and melding materials to get the desired effect. The final Cambium seats combine a woven layer of organically-grown cotton with a vulcanized natural rubber base to create a flexible “hammock seat.”
The problem with most plastic and foam saddles is that usually you have to try out many different models before arriving at one that is comfortable for your particular shape. In other words, plastic and foam models don’t adjust to your bottom. Instead, your shape has to adjust to the seat which can be quite uncomfortable unless you luck into the right fit. Trying to alleviate this problem, some manufactures use a gel material on the top of the saddle and have systems to measure sit bone width. This means you do sink in, but the gel is rather fluid and moves around making one feel the saddle is squishy. In addition, most people buying seats don’t measure the distance between their sit bones. They just buy something off the shelf or online.

The idea of using rubber with a fused cotton top design was a way to make a unique new bicycle saddle that fits into the tradition of Brooks. The design does sacrifice the classic advantages of Brooks saddles. The main one is that its line of leather saddles shapes to your posterior. The new saddle does not exactly do this, but instead provides a flexible hammock like flexibility to absorb road or trail bumps and irregularities (figure 3). At least this is the theory.

Brooks Cambium Saddle view from Top leaning against fence.
Figure 3 Brooks C17 Cambium Saddle Viewed from Top
Photo by Doug Barnes

The Cambium C17 in Practice

Recently I took my new Cambium for a test ride on the C&O Canal which has packed dirt and stone path. Upon first sitting on the saddle, I miss the feeling that my posterior settles into a “custom” molded leather saddle. However, this lasts only a few minutes as the rubber starts to respond, providing cushioning. This is not to say the rubber base in the saddle molds to your backside. Instead it is more like a taut hammock feel. With the stretched rubber the saddle is firm, but flexes with the contours and bumps in the road. Riding along the Canal my new saddle absorbs the vibrations from the packed dirt (gravel) paths. Despite soaking up shocks from the path, the saddle feels quite firm.

The claim the saddle is comfortable out of the box is true. Once adjusted properly in a level position, the ride is quite pleasant. My longest ride so far is 21 miles on the C&O Canal. The seat handled the rough surface quite well. I also noticed that the side flexibility helps to reduce chafing on the inside of my legs.

This new Cambium definitely has quite a different feel compared to the Brooks leather saddle. In the leather saddle you sink into it so the road vibration spreads across your bottom with just a little give in the saddle itself. With this new Cambium design, I feel more of a flat surface that gives and absorbs shocks well, especially minor ones. The saddle springs back and forth in a variety of ways, all within fractions of a second.

The top also feels less slippery than my Brooks leather saddle. With fatigue, on the leather Brooks saddle I move around a bit on the saddle at the end of a long ride. The Cambium has a textured cotton surface (figure 4), so I feel steadier on the seat. It also seems to breathe fairly well. By the end of the ride I do not feel that it’s making my shorts any more soaked with perspiration than my leather saddle and it’s definitely better than the plastic ones that I have used. Finally, I think it looks nice on the bike.

Figure 4 Rear Rivets and Cotton Top of the Brooks Cambium C17 Saddle
Photo by Doug Barnes
One note of caution is in order. The adjustment of the saddle is quite important for its comfort. Brooks recommends that the saddle be adjusted so that it is level with the ground or has a very slight tip backwards at the nose. This is so that the rider naturally positions on the broader back side and not the nose of the saddle. To achieve this saddle position I have a microadjustable seat post which is also recommended by Brooks. I used a level to make sure this adjustment was correct. In my first test ride with the saddle, I was able to sit on it in a comfortable position, neither sliding forwards or backwards.

The Bottom Line

So far I am quite pleased with the new bicycle saddle, but there are a few negatives to consider. I definitely do have that feeling the saddle adjusts to, but is not molded to, my seat. I am of average weight and I wonder whether the saddle will feel hard to a light rider or have too much sag for a heavier bicyclist. The saddle also is not cheap, retailing for $160. I purchased mine for about $115. Purists may point to the weight of the saddle, but for me trading off weight for comfort seems a good compromise. For the non-purists the seat may feel a bit springy or they may want more cushioning.

For me the saddle doesn’t seem too soft or too hard. I may not have seen much difference between the Cambium C17 and my Brooks leather saddle if I didn’t do quite a bit of riding on packed dirt and loose stones. After several rides of over 20 miles on the C&O Canal I did notice less saddle soreness than Brooks leather saddle. But to be fair, my old Brooks Team Pro is over 30 years old and my bottom is not as resilient as it used to be. Also, getting older means my more upright riding position puts more pressure on both saddle and seat.

As a caveat I have only ridden the Brooks C17 for between 100 and 200 miles. I will put an update in this post when I have put more miles on the saddle.

To sum up, I am impressed with the new design. It is flexible and the rubber stretches as you sit on it. It absorbs the jolts from riding on gravel or irregular pavement quite well. The cotton texture keeps me from sliding backwards or forwards. As a result I stay firm in the seat. My preliminary impression is that this is a great compromise between the Brooks leather saddles and the more common plastic and foam models. It must have taken Brooks quite a while to get the saddle “just right,” not too soft and not too stiff. It is a new take on the principles behind the venerable Brooks leather saddle, with a more modern twist.

I will update this post as I gain more experience riding on this saddle.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Primer on the Value of Bicycle Trails and Greenways

During my early work years I commuted braving the streets of Washington, DC, weaving in and out of buses, cars and taxis. Then in the 1990s the Capital Crescent Trail was completed from Bethesda to Georgetown. This meant that I could avoid traffic for 5 miles from my home to downtown Georgetown before riding the last mile on city streets to the World Bank. Now that I am retired, I ride extensively and both for pleasure and fitness on the Capital Crescent Trail, the C&O Canal towpath in Washington, DC and the Legacy Trail in Venice and Sarasota Florida. My experience over many years--first adventure, then commuting and now riding for pleasure and health--is that these trails provide significant value in terms of safety, convenience and beauty. They also benefit the environment. I would definitely be willing to pay more in taxes for quality pedestrian and bicycle trails, not just for my own use, but also for the vibrancy they add to my community.

I am not alone. People generally think highly of bicycle and pedestrian trails. One survey in Florida finds that 95% of bicyclists and even 85% of non-bicyclists agreed that good facilities add value to their communities (Winters, Hagelin and Avery 2004). There are some good reasons for this. Trails encourage participation in healthy and enjoyable activities such as walking and riding a bike. Greenspace corridors with trails help the environment by providing habitat for local species and reducing water runoff. Tourists are attracted to bicycle byways resulting in local hotel stays and food purchases. If located in urban areas, trails with few road crossing become bicycle highways allowing locals to shed their cars and commute to work on bikes.

Trying to value of the benefits of such trails is difficult because in most cases no admission fees are charged for entering trails. Complicating matter even further, all bicycle trails are not created equal. For instance, the Pinellas Trail that starts in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida is a protected bike lane with no surrounding greenspace. The same trail changes dramatically over the course of the next 40 miles as it heads towards Tarpon Springs. The over 25 year old trail goes through parks and rises over busy highways on dedicated bridges. At points it has two paths, one for bicyclists and one for pedestrians. The Allegheny Passage is a 150 mile trail that runs from downtown Pittsburgh up and over the Allegheny Mountains and down into Cumberland Maryland. It changes from an urban trail to one that passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

The characteristics of the neighborhoods surrounding trails seem to make a big difference in terms their desirability and consequently their value (Nichols and Crompton 2005; Anderson and West 2006). Sometimes it is even necessary to evaluate separate parts of trails to accurately assess their economic and social benefits.

Because bicycles trails don’t charge fees, measuring the monetary value of a trail has to be done in more indirect ways. This isn’t a new issue in economics. There are some established economic techniques to measure the value of public trails (and roads and parks) which don’t charge admission.

Different Ways to Measure Benefits of Trails

Several studies have tackled the issue of how to measure the benefits of bicycle trails. One in particular stands out in providing a nice framework for measuring the benefits of bicycle and pedestrian trails (Lindsey et al. 2004). This study of trails in Indianapolis focuses on real estate values, but also describes other benefits of trails such as improved health, reduction in traffic, improvement in the environment and increased tourism (Table 1).

Not all benefits need to be measured in every single study. In fact, most academic studies concentrate on one or two benefit categories. Benefit consultant reports tend to be more comprehensive examining all the hardest to measure benefits. A good example is an economic report on the Miami Underline Trail that measures the monetary value of construction, park operations, existing real estate value and new development. The report also discussed tourism and environmental benefits, but it does not analyze them in detail.

A good strategy is to concentrate on the main expected benefits of a new trail given its location, quality and characteristics. A trail cutting through a wheat field is unlikely to raise real estate values, but a green corridor going through a residential area probably will have an impact. An urban path may bring more traffic to local businesses and may draw people out of their cars for commuting to work. The characteristics of trails along with their locations greatly impact which category of benefits are most important.

Surveys generally are necessary in order to quantify the benefits of trails. This might include a formal study of real estate prices, a survey of rider and pedestrians using the trail or interviews with local business owners concerning customers that come from the trail.  

Caveats for Measuring Benefits of Trails

Care should be taken when using different techniques for measuring the benefits of trails and greenways. Sometimes the techniques and measures overlap and this can result in double counting of benefits. For instance, the health benefits of trails may be the reason people desire to live near a trail. They want to be close to a trail to facilitate their exercise. Thus, the rise in real estate values may already reflect at least part of the health benefits of a trail.

Some methods for measuring trail benefits are easier than others. A number of data sources are available for measuring increases in real estate prices surrounding trails. This includes tax records and real estate pricing sites. However, modeling of the real estate prices is a bit complicated. To estimate the impact of trails on real estate prices it is necessary to control for such factors as size of home, number of rooms, number of bathrooms, quality of local schools and others variables that can impact price. Also, the price increase must specifically be attributed to the creation or existence of a trail. This can be measured either by examining the value of homes before and after the trail is built or through statistical techniques that control for factors that impact home values.

The increase in tourism generated by trails will result in additional local income. To get the details right, surveys are necessary to estimate spending due to a trail. This would involve estimating the addition number of hotel stays and spending on food. Questions are necessary identifying those who traveled from a distance to ride on the trail. It is not enough to just count trail users because many may be local riders.

The contingent valuation method listed the table is not easy to implement. Contingent valuation surveys show random samples of people different types of scenarios (pictures of before and after a trial such as figure 1). Then the same people are asked how much they would be willing to pay per year or month for the change. This sample also should have different strata for those who live near and distant from the trail or greenway corridor. The benefits can be estimated by the number of people that are represented by the sample.

Man walking on rail corridor that will be future bicycle and pedestrian trail
Future Legacy Trail Extension and Existing Legacy Trail, Sarasota and Venice Florida
Photo by Doug Barnes and Cardno, Inc

The caveats are important, but they are not insurmountable. For each trail situation a good strategy is to identify the key benefits and then delve more deeply into them. For instance, a trail running through a suburban area is likely to have a significant impact on real estate values, but one running by forests or farmland probably will have marginal impact on land prices. A trail running through an already existing state park or forest area is likely to have little environmental impact, but one in an urban area may contribute significantly to reduced water runoff and species preservation.

In later posts I will be dealing more specifically with each of the benefits that can result from trials or greenways. This includes increase in real estate values, health benefits, business and tourism.

As the links become available I will post them here. In the meantime, you can sign up to receive of new post through the link at the bottom of this posts.


Anderson, Soren and Sarah West. 2006 “Open space, residential property values, and spatial context.Regional Science and Urban Economics. 36: 773–789

HR & A, Advisors, Inc. 2015. Creating Value Through Open Space: The Economic Impacts of The Underline. Report prepared for Friends of the Underline, Miami, Florida.

Lindsey G, J. Man, S. Payton, and K. Dickson. 2004. “Property values, recreation values, and urban greenways Journal of Parks and Recreation Administration 22(3):69–90.

Nichols, Sarah and John Crompton. 2005. “The impact of greenways on property values: Evidence from Austin, Texas.Journal of Leisure Research, vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 321-341.

Winters, P, C. Hagelin and J. Avery. 2004. Statewide Survey on Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities. Report Prepared for Florida Department of Transportation Safety Office, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.

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