This morning I rode with about 40 other bikers from downtown Goshen to the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds to showcase and celebrate the opening of the new Monroe Street bike path. The path goes from Goshen High School to Gate 4 at the fair, which is the gate furthest to the east. As part of the project, the fair board has also installed 10 bike racks along the path near Gate 2, the central entrance to the fair.
The concrete path is 10-feet wide and very smooth. From U.S. 33 to Blackport Drive, it is on the north side of Monroe St. where it crosses the road and proceeds east on the south side to Gate 4 of the fairgrounds. Along the way it crosses the busy Norfolk Southern Railroad main line with its 80 plus trains a day. The railroad insisted that the city install two barriers on each side of the tracks to warn bikers of the approaching tracks. The bike path offers fair goers an attractive way (by biking) to get to the fair and avoid the half-mile long, parking-lot-like line of cars that frequently backs up from the fairgrounds entrance to U.S. 33. The bike path will also improve access to other fair events like the frequent RV rallies and the Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale in September. Many RVers bring bikes with them to the rally, and they now have an off-road link to the city’s trail system because this new trail connects with the Abshire Trail that connects to both the MapleHeart Trail to Elkhart and the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail to Middlebury and Shipshewana.
Not only does the path get bikers to the fair, but it brings them to Gate 2 where the new bike racks are located and where fair rides and attractions are only a few yards away.
This parking area illustrates again the advantage of having people arrive at their destination -- be it business, store or office -- by bicycle: they can park close to their destination rather than parking in a distant parking lot from which they must either walking a long way or, in the case of the fair, take a shuttle to the fair entrance.
I do have a few quibbles with the trail. Riders who cross U.S. 33 on the trail need to activate a “Walk” signal with a button on a pole that is a good five feet from the trail. In other words, you can’ reach it and stay be the trail at the same time.
And there is no sign or information at the crossing telling bikers that will stand there all day waiting for a “Walk” signal, unless the press the Walk button. Many riders will assume that they should cross U.S. 33 when the cars on Monroe get a green arrow, but that isn’t the case. At this intersection, a green arrow for the cars on Monroe St. releases cars to turn right from Monroe onto U.S. 33, right across the cross walk for bikers. I hope that regular uses of the trail will quickly learn the need to push the Walk button.
Another concern I have are the bike racks at the fairgrounds. Bike racks where riders can lock their bikes are essential, if riders are to feel safe in leaving their bikes. But, without consulting anyone in the biking community, the fair board purchased the least desirable, least secure type of bike racks.
A rack that only locks a bike’s wheel makes it easy for thieves to steal the frame. They also can easily bend a wheel, and they don’t work for some bikes without kick stands. The bike racks I would like to see are tall enough that you can lock the bike’s frame, not just the wheel, to the rack.
Finally, where the trail crosses Monroe at Blackport Dr., it is unclear what the flashing lights are supposed to accomplish. Is it to stop or to warn cars?
As a biker, I was confused because I didn’t know what the flashing lights meant. Do I go across the street or not? Will the cars stop? The stop sign in the area between the path and the road and intended for bikers, could also confuse motorists.
I hate to sound critical of this great addition to our city trail system. Overall, I applaud the work of the fair board, city engineer, Mary Cripe, and the park director, Sheri Howland, for the positive results this project will achieve by making access to the fairgrounds so much easier. I celebrate this trail, with its connections to the MapleHeart and the Pumpkinvine, because it means that people from Elkhart, Dunlap and Middlebury can now ride their bikes more safely to the fair off road.
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