By most conventional measures, Eureka Springs, Arkansas is not a bicycle-friendly community.
It doesn’t have any bike routes. None of its streets have bike lanes. I didn’t notice any bike racks in front of businesses. I’m not aware of any bike paths. I doubt the city has a bike/ped plan or coordinator.
And yet, as I rode around the town, it certainly felt like a nice place to ride a bike.
Driving a car in Eureka Springs has always been a bit of a scary experience for me. The streets are extremely narrow and twisty, and there’s an indecipherable rats nest of intersecting roads leading off at odd angles. Throw in a few one-way streets and dead-end roads, along with some incredible hills (the town bills itself as “Little Switzerland”), and it’s hard to get around on four wheels.
But exploring these same streets on a bike is an entirely different experience. Somehow these roads that feel confining in a car are open and inviting on a bike. They’re human scale.
It doesn’t hurt that the speed limit in most of the town is 15 MPH, and, granted, I was there in the “off season”, but still, it wasn’t what I had expected.
Getting around by bike was easier — way easier — than getting around by car.
Now that’s real bicycle friendliness.
Even traffic on Highway 62, the main east-west road through the city, wasn’t bad. It wasn’t exactly welcoming, but it was manageable.
Many of our communities are not pleasant to ride in because the roads are optimized solely for vehicular traffic: wide right-of-ways, multiple lanes, gentle curves, smoothed-out hills, a minimum of intersections. Cities with this type of infrastructure have to make special efforts — often extremely costly and controversial efforts — to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.
In Eureka Springs, even though they’ve probably given no thought to being bicycle friendly, they’ve been forced, through the vagaries of topography, to create a community that’s easy to get around in by bike (or on foot).
Here’s a map of downtown Eureka Springs, just to give you an idea of the layout:
So I guess there’s more than one way to become a bicycle-friendly community.
Unfortunately, outside the city, those same forces produce decidedly bicycle-unfriendly roads, where the restrictive topography of mountains and valleys funnels all traffic to a few arterial “through” roads, with higher speeds, no shoulders, narrow and twisty routes, big hills, and heavy truck traffic the result.
Ah, but lets not dwell on the negatives. Eureka Springs itself is a great place to ride a bike, and many of the secondary and tertiary roads in the area are wonderful as well — very little traffic, most of it at low speeds, and with incredible scenery and challenging terrain. Just don’t expect those “good” roads to lead anywhere…
(By the way, if you ever get a chance to ride a bike in Eureka Springs or the surrounding region, make sure your bike has good brakes. You will need them. That, and a strong pair of climbing legs…)
Post tags: Bicycle Friendly