Friday, December 9, 2011

PLEASE HELP! Keep the Blue Ridge Parkway Open to Cyclist

Blue Ridge Parkway: Closed To Cyclists?

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the single most popular road for bicyclists in the Blue Ridge. Cyclists cherish the Parkway’s 469 scenic miles from Shenandoah to the Smokies. Even Lance Armstrong pedaled the high-elevation road during his Tour de France championship training.
Unfortunately, the Blue Ridge Parkway’s newly released draft management plan could limit cycling on the Parkway. The draft plan focuses exclusively on the Parkway being “actively managed as a traditional, self-contained, scenic recreational driving experience.”
The Parkway was formed through legislation in 1936. But a “traditional driving experience” in 1936 is far different than how users would choose to enjoy the Parkway in the 21st century. Motorized vehicles should not be the only way promoted to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway today.
The Draft Plan also states that the Blue Ridge Parkway is applying for National Historic Landmark status, as a way to manage the Parkway under the strain of diminishing National Park budgets. Under this status, any changes within the Parkway will go under intense historic review, which could block trail building, road maintenance, or future improvements for bicycle access. Despite the growing interest in bicycling, Park managers may not be able to accommodate cyclists or other non-motorized and alternative transportation users.
Here are the alternatives listed in the plan:
  • A = no change
  • B = promoting the “driving experience”
  • C = partnership with local economies
None of the alternatives are entirely bicycle-friendly, but B is the least bicycle-friendly of all. The Park has tentatively selected Alternative B, but public comment can change their decision.
The Parkway is overwhelmed and underfunded in trying to meet the needs of almost 20 million annual visitors. But on all counts, this draft plan fails to meet the vision created by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Great Outdoors initiative, which includes a goal of connecting Americans to the outdoors. It further derails Director of the National Park Service Jon Jarvis’s challenge to Park managers to:
  • expand the use of our National Parks for outdoor recreation;
  • connect parks in or near urban areas through public transportation, and pedestrian and bike paths; and,
  • decrease carbon footprint, and showcase the value of renewable energy.
What You Can Do
Submit written comments on the Blue Ridge Parkway Draft Management Plan by December 16, to:
Superintendent Philip A. Francis, Jr.
Blue Ridge Parkway
199 Hemphill Knob Road
Asheville, NC 28803
Or formally submit comments through the on-line system, answering the following questions:
Question 1: What proposals or aspects do you like/dislike about the alternatives in this Draft General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (DGMP/EIS)?
I can  support proposed Option C only if comprehensive changes are made to include and promote bicycling, walking and other non-motorized forms of transportation as an integral part of the Parkway’s mission.
As a cyclist, I cannot support the over-arching goals presented in the Draft Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement.
First, a National Historic Landmark designation is the wrong way to protect the Parkway. This status will create obstacles and bureaucratic red tape, and entomb the Parkway in a virtual time capsule. Instead, we should trust the good judgment and stewardship of future generations to preserve and protect this treasure in perpetuity, while meeting the changing needs of our citizens.
Second, Park managers need to understand that the legislation that created the Parkway as a “driving experience” doesn’t fully meet the needs of today’s Parkway users, or potential users. The Parkway shouldn’t be promoted as a car-only roadway, but should meet the National Park Service’s Call to Action and Secretary Salazar’s vision of Connecting Americans to the Great Outdoors. By promoting and accommodating cycling and other forms of alternative transportation, Parkway managers will provide interactive and lasting experiences with one of America’s most loved treasures.
Finally, the Draft Plan’s alternatives do not address the growing interest in cycling, and fail to acknowledge the benefits that cycling brings to both the Parkway and surrounding communities. The Blue Ridge Parkway is an international cycling destination, and important recreation facility for surrounding communities; vital to their economies, and to provide them with healthy lifestyle opportunities.
Merely allowing cycling on the Parkway is not enough and the message to promote active, healthy use of the facility must be an integral part of the core management plan.

Question 2: Do you have any suggestions for improving the preferred alternative in this DGMP/EIS? If so, what are they?
Parkway management should:
1) halt the National Historic Landmark application process;
2) recognize and promote cycling in the Draft Management Plan as a viable and important aspect of Parkway visitation;
3) modify the  Draft Management Plan as presented and work with cyclists, the surrounding communities and the general public to meet the needs of today’s changing world. The plan should have a goal of building cycling and alternative transportation into the park planning process in order to meet the National Park Service’s Call to Action and Secretary Salazar’s vision for Connecting American’s to the Great Outdoors.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }
Anne Whisnant December 8, 2011 at 8:59 pm
Good article. I will send in my comments — which will be quite similar to those I sent on the draft plan in 2008. I’m a historian who’s worked on the Parkway history for 20 years and published a major book on this in 2006 (Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History). Thinking historically about what was proposed in the draft GMP in 2008, I analyzed the alternatives and recommended adoption of alternative C, with several caveats. I also raised the issue of bicycling and the “entombing” function of the NHL status. Readers who would like to see more of my analysis can read my 2008 blog postings about this here:
Anne Mitchell Whisnant
Chapel Hill, NC
Michael December 9, 2011 at 12:32 am
Let bikers use the parkway! Ban cars because they destroy the beauty and the protection the president wanted when Ike made the roads. Let the people protect the land not destroy it!
Kevin Dobo December 9, 2011 at 2:06 am
I moved to Western North Carolina SPECIFICALLY because I love riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway. So believe me when I say that I am very much opposed to ANY legislation or other actions which may threaten my right and ability to ride the hundreds of miles of this beautiful scenic highway.
That said, I do not understand the panic-inducing language of this article. First of all, it does not even include a link to the proposed draft management plan. The plan link is
Secondly, there is no language WHATSOEVER that threatens cyclists access to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The words “driver experience” are vague at best, and it is much more logical to assume that the people drafting this document didn’t care one way or another about people on bikes instead of in cars because we are a tiny fraction of the total traffic. By nearly all national and state laws, a bike is a vehicle and I can just as easily say I “drive” a bike as I “ride” a bike.
Third, the article instructs us to follow a survey link and copy/paste a bunch of boilerplate language that will do absolutely NOTHING to help the cause of cyclists.
Fourth, if you had bothered to read the document in full, Plan B calls for, and I quote,
“Continue to allow bicycling on the
main parkway road and other parkway
roads, recognizing that bicyclists
would be sharing the road with higher
volumes of motorized traffic,
especially in the more urbanized areas
of the parkway.”
Where does that language suggest the Parkway could be “closed to cyclists?”
Despite all my objections, this is still an opportunity for any cyclist who enjoys riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway to be heard. If nothing else, we can ask for MORE consideration instead of less, or none. If you want to make an impact and be heard, instead of copying the boilerplate, I would suggest that you please find and read the actual plan, and then write, in your OWN WORDS, your thoughts and opinions on this matter.
Adam Penny December 9, 2011 at 2:17 am
I read the documents themselves and they specifically stated, and made a point to say, the parkway would not be closed to cyclists. Where am I missing this “banning of bikes” language?
I did find out, though, that Alternate C is not a good choice (in my opinion) due to the fact that it will give a DOT contract which will be a huge waste of taxpayer’s dollars. A separate multiuse path (bicyclist WITH pedestrians). Similar to Rails to Trails (which is a great idea for old railways, but is a bit of a bad mix of users (moms with babyjoggers, grandparents with little kids running all over, and cyclists averaging at times speeds anywhere from 8-28mph!!)
Choose option “B” in your comments.
Will, I am disappointed with your writings.
Adam Penny December 9, 2011 at 2:19 am
Will, are you employed by a DOT contractor? Plan C only funnels tax dollars that direction when it comes to the bike use issue.
John December 9, 2011 at 3:35 am
By “traditional scenic recreational driving experience” they mean not placing an emphasis on traffic speed nor throughput. So it’s pretty much the opposite of what you claim.
Also, I draw your attention to this section under Plan B on page 444:
“The parkway and other park roads would
continue to be available to bicyclists and
provide an outstanding cycling experience. In
general, the parkway’s limited access, lower
traffic levels, and scenic setting provide for a
quality cycling experience.”
However, options B and C place an emphasis on tearing up and segmenting habitats by ripping multi-use paved paths through the park. I would oppose these and instead ask for improved shoulders where feasible. This would probably be cheaper too.
Chip December 9, 2011 at 9:18 am
Thank you for providing us a summary as well as a way to easily comment on this issue. It took me all of 2 mintues thanks to your assistance.
Scott Erker December 9, 2011 at 9:52 am
Sean Dunlap December 9, 2011 at 11:16 am
Read carefully before acting… you might get what you wish for… maybe!

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