Biking in Iowa is awesome... and confusing!

I've been trying to take a lot of random bike adventures around central Iowa this summer… and the more I bike, the more I'm coming to realize that biking in Iowa is both amazing and confusing as shit.

Where should I be?
One of my biggest concerns about biking here is that there isn't a clear definition of where bikers are supposed to be. If you ride your bike in any urban setting, you know (or learn fast) that bicycles belong on the street. Bicyclists "Share the road" or "GTFO the sidewalk" (depending on whether you're learning from a sign or a pissed off pedestrian).

In Iowa though, things are a bit different because barely anyone commutes by bicycle. Riding bikes is primarily a leisure activity that's done on our amazing trail system. In some areas we're trained to bike on the street, but most of the time I think we're trained to ride on trails… and everything *completely* breaks down when our trails meet the streets.

Most of the time, I'm finding that when they intersect, trails get swallowed up into sidewalks. Sometimes they're normal, pedestrian sidewalks and other times they're huge, trail sized paths that run right alongside the road. Sometimes one side of the road is a small, pedestrian looking walk, while the other side looks like a trail… And a couple times I've even seen the huge trail sized sidewalk flip flop to opposite sides of the street. So if you want to ride on the "trail" you have to zig zag across the road every block or 2.

The inconsistency itself is incredibly confusing, but why are bikers often guided into sidewalks in the first place? Do they belong there in Iowa?

A random, confusing story from a recent ride
I was riding a country trail that eventually merged into one of those giant sidewalks along a 30 MPH suburban street in a newly developed part of town. After merging onto the sidewalk-trail, I was riding and contemplating whether I was *supposed* to be on the slow moving street when, all of a sudden out of nowhere... I had to hit the brakes for a giant John Deere tractor to cross the sidewalk from a suburban field.

Maybe if I was on the street I could've better avoided that ... tractor.

Thanks, Iowa.

To the streets! Maybe?
Anyway, the urban rider in me says to just ride in the street, which I usually do if I have the option… but again people in Iowa DRIVE CARS and seem trained for bikes to be on trails. There are way fewer bicycles on the street and as such, Iowan drivers are simply less aware of them.

Without a doubt, I felt safer biking the streets of Chicago than I do the suburban streets of Iowa. I truly believe this is simply because everyone knows where bikers are supposed to be and are ultimately more aware of each other.

Trail reports
Another confusing thing about biking here is trail closings, whether it be for construction, weather, or whatever else… A few times I've gotten at least halfway through a ride and suddenly came upon a closed trail. Usually this just results in some side adventure, but it can suck if you have to turn around that far into your trip.

Since we're such a trail-strong state, I'd love it if we had better trail condition reporting. This may be as simple as putting up periodic signs reminding people to check or report trail conditions at some website or via SMS.

Biking here is still beautiful
Aside from it being a bit confusing, I also want to stress that I think biking here is also amazing. The trails that span old railways, bridges, become pieces of art, or run along our rivers are just beautiful. The incredibly bike friendly bars and restaurants that dot our trails are also a blast. And don't forget that one huge bike ride across the state we have every year.

Bike culture in Iowa is amazing.

The point
With our incredibly strong bike culture, how can we be better about guiding bikers to where they're supposed to be? How can we keep things safe for bikers, pedestrians, and drivers alike?

How can we use technology to better alert bikers about our trail conditions?

I'd love to chat more about this or help however I can if anyone's interested.

written by 31 year old Derek Brooks

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