Thursday, September 10, 2015

Don't Go to Kentucky on a Bike. Ever.

Today was a day for very strong feelings.  You know those feelings that make you want to pull someone out of the cab of their vehicle and orally extract their spine?  Those feelings.  Before I get to those, I'm going to breathe and think happy thoughts.  It's difficult really.  Once you've tasted fear, the follow on anger, and then spend hours planning for the demise of an entire state's bicycle tourism industry, its quite a process to take yourself back to those happy thoughts.

Happy thought.  I had an excellent ride from Santa Claus, Indiana to Clarksville, Indiana on my first day back on the bike.  Despite the inclusion of some state routes, the traffic on Labor Day was low and the drivers were great.  The Corydon Ridge Road was a treasure of low stress and beautiful to boot.  It was a scorcher, so took a nap in a park / barn / shelter with a pile of ice on my chest.  Explanation.  A Labor Day picnic had just wrapped up and they left a cooler worth of ice on the lawn near the shelter.  As you may have ascertained from my previous post, my tire had acquired a bit of attitude.  I noticed the tire flaw after my brain reached operational temperatures.

Found some excellent graffiti art in Louisville.
Louisville, KY was a successful pit-stop for a tire.  I grabbed a top notch Schwalbe Marathon Supreme from Parkside Bikes along with a couple of backup spokes.  In Santa Claus, my dad hooked me up with the Stein Mini Cassette Tool so I can change rear wheel spokes on the fly without heavy shop tools.  That is a key tour tool.  I caught dinner at a trendy downtown breakfast joint, Wild Eggs, over priced but tasty.  On my way out of town, I wandered around and found all sorts of interesting bicycle infrastructure improvements.  Louisville has earned it's Bronze Bicycle Friendly status.  The locals I talked to said there have been massive improvements in the last five years.

A wide bike lane (not parking) with a striped buffer.
There were bike lanes next to parallel parked cars with a marked "door zone" to keep folks out of it.  I recommended a similar treatment to Hartford's DPW for the new Wethersfield Ave. bike lanes, but... It takes a while to bring the barge around.  Note the reference to barges.  I've been riding along the Ohio River.  Lots of barges.  Barges and steam boats are super neat.  While leaving Louisville, on the Indiana side, I caught the Howard Steam Boat Museum in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  A required visit for someone on a bicycle ride starting in Hartford, Connecticut - home to Mark Twain.

And a bike lane on a one way street with a painted buffer to denote the "door zone"!
Of note, the Louisville Norton Hospital (take notes Hartford Hospital) had a street level cafe, bike parking near entrances, bike lanes, and "Sharrows" in their area.  It totally makes sense for an urban health care campus, surrounded by dense residential districts, to pay some mind to creating outward facing aspects of their business.  Everybody wins, more feet on the street, more money in the business, and you create a neighborhood that a percentage of your employees will be interested to live in.  First - let's make the Bone and Joint Institute less of a sterile, suburban-style medical office building.  Second - add standard sidewalk mounted bike parking in convenient areas around the other Hartford Hospital buildings.

Downtown hospital with a coffee shop, outdoor seating, and a bike rack!
Going from Madison, Indiana to Cincinnati, Ohio I happened to overlap with another bike tourist, Conner.  We suffered the slings and arrows of Kentucky as a pair.   We got an early start and it was a beautiful ride until the gravel trucks showed up.
Conner's rig.  A fully loaded Surly Cross Check
And now back to the less productive, but more gratifying portion of this article.  Why you shouldn't ride a bike in Kentucky (aside from Louisville).  
  • The Kentucky DOT has a pretty awful standard for putting tiny shoulders on state highways, and then putting rumble strips on the 12" of available shoulder.  If a cyclist doesn't want to vibrate to pieces, they are riding in the traffic lane.  Not the most fun with 55 mph trucks and a lot of blind corners.
  • It looks like the state of Kentucky doesn't have a three foot passing law.  The League of American Bicyclists ranks them at 49th for bike friendliness.  The only state worse was Alabama!  Ha.  Good company.
  • Gravel trucks.  We were purposefully close called by four or five of these wonderful vehicles.  They were talking via CB radio and sadistically entertained themselves by risking our lives.  
  • More "Get off the road!" hollering in one day riding in Kentucky that three weeks combined cross country riding.
  • Folks may call the sheriff on you for simply riding a bike.  It happened to us.  The sheriff drove by, stopped, waved us over and said someone had called us in.  His review noted that we were riding perfectly legally and he wished us a good day and safe riding.
  • Rolling coal.  It happens in Kentucky.  Yup.  You thought it was just a redneck internet meme.
  • And Confederate flags - I hate those things.  They are an indicator of an either insensitive or under educated resident.  There are a lot of these in Kentucky.
Cincy - Finally getting out of Kentucky.  A most welcome view.

For further reading enjoyment.  My open letter to the Kentucky DOT.


I'm doing a cross country bicycle tour, and blogging about it.  Kentucky by far has been the worst state for my safety.  Riding from Madison, Indiana to Florence, Kentucky was awful.  We rode primarily along routes 42 and 127, since the region is rather hilly and there weren't alternate routes.  

  • Is it a design standard to put very narrow shoulders on the side of state routes, and then put a rumble strip on the entire narrow shoulder?  That makes the shoulder useless for cyclists.
  • Does Kentucky have a 3 foot passing law?  Many states do, and couple that with an education campaign.
  • I stopped into Louisville for a short visit.  They seem to be getting it right for Complete Streets and safe street design, they were recently awarded Bicycle Friendly Community Recognition by the League of American Bicyclists.  On the other hand, the state of Kentucky is ranked 49th.  Wow.  That's awful.

A bit of venting here, but after being purposefully passed within inches by multiple gravel trucks on route 42, I'm particularly irritated by my time spent in your fine state.  The truck drivers were communicating by CB and thought it was sadistically funny to put my life at risk.    For some reason it was particularly the "gravel trucks".  We had no issues with the tractor trailer drivers, who gave us ample room when passing.  Aside from the gravel trucks, a couple of individuals in personal diesel trucks "rolled coal" when passing, at least that's what I think it's called.  A healthy helping of diesel particulate is a great way to win over Kentucky fans.  

While we were stopped at a CVS on Route 127 another gravel truck, these guys are winners, came to a locked up screeching stop and just missed a school bus full of children at the stoplight.  Not sure who the major sand and gravel yards are hiring for drivers, but it seemed to an outsider that the entire fleet of drivers is due for a safety review and training - and firing the bad apples.

Earlier in the day someone called the county sheriff and reported cyclists operating recklessly.  Seriously.  The sheriff came out and noted that we were riding in a perfectly legal and responsible fashion.  I'm a certified bicycle safety instructor and regularly teach classes on how to safely and courteously ride with traffic.  I'm glad the sheriff knew what he was doing, but bothered that residents of Kentucky found it illegal that we were riding bicycles.  Sprinkle in more, "Get off the road!," yells from vehicles in one day than I've gotten in three weeks of riding, and Kentucky has far and away earned it's 2nd to last ranking.

I know it's difficult to work on bicycle and pedestrian design issues within a DOT that seems focused on highways, trucks, and cars - but other states are doing it.  Kentucky is far behind the other states that I've ridden through for both infrastructure design for safety, laws on the books for vulnerable users, and personal interactions for vulnerable road users.  I wasn't surprised to see very few pedestrians or cyclists.  

I'm planning to ride the rest of the Ohio River Valley this week, but will be avoiding the KY side - and spending my money in Ohio.  I'm also composing an article for my blog that shreds Kentucky, highlights the 49th League ranking, and recommends skipping the state entirely when considering vacations or cross country bicycle tours.

Thanks for your consideration of this note.

Tony Cherolis


1 comment:

mara Lee said...

I'm sorry people deliberately blasted diesel smoke in your face!! Stay safe, Tony.