Monday, December 10, 2012

Marsh Creek Road, Marsh Creek Trail

Last fall and winter when I was in California taking care of my parents, my wife and kids purchased a used Bianchi Volpe for me so that I could keep up with my cycling.  My parents live in Brentwood, California. My challenge, once I had the bike, was to figure out where I could ride it. I found that the East Bay Bicycle Coalition produced a map of bike routes which could be purchased at the Brentwood Bicycle Co. My time was devoted primarily to caring for my parents so free time was scarce.  Given a choice between riding and researching riding, I chose to ride and so I did some exploration on my own before I managed to get to the bike shop.

I grew up and went to college in California, and while an undergraduate, one of my favorite rides was up Mount Diablo, a 3,864 foot mountain with a spectacular view over a wide swath of California, a favorite of cyclists for decades. Thus it is no surprise that I contemplated a ride up this mountain. It turns out that is more difficult to bicycle from Brentwood to Mount Diablo than I originally hoped and thus this ride remains an ambition for another time. However, before I gave up, I asked Google Maps how best to bicycle from where I was in Brentwood to the top of Mount Diablo, and this is what Google suggested:

Google Map's chosen route for bicycling up Mount Diablo

As Google cautions, "Bicycling directions are in beta. Use caution and please report unmapped bike routes, streets that aren't suited for cycling, and other problems...". Their caution is well placed. I had occasions to report two mistakes (which they corrected within a day) but in addition, had other occasions to question their judgement.  Although I never made it to the end of Google's suggested route, my California family, who are very familiar with Mount Diablo, assured me in no uncertain terms that the last part of Google's suggested route was impassible with a bicycle (or perhaps even with a Jeep.)  The part that I did ride, Marsh Creek Road, was absolutely gorgeous and is marked with "Share the Road" signs, but due to its high speed limit (55 mph), twists and turns, and absence of any shoulder I found Marsh Creek Road terrifying, though I did ride it twice. When I finally got to the bike shop, they assured me in all confidence that, although they were out of the map I wanted, I didn't really need it, because the Brentwood area was a wonderful place to cycle, I could just ride any of the roads with confidence.  However, when I asked specifically about Marsh Creek Road, they blanched and urged me on the pain of death to never, ever bicycle on Marsh Creek Road.

On the other hand, Google Maps also alerted me to the Marsh Creek Trail.  Marsh Creek provides drainage to an important region in this part of California and runs along both Marsh Creek Road over its upstream course and Marsh Creek Trail over its downstream course.  Marsh Creek Trail is much like the various bayou trails in Houston that I have posted about and follows Marsh Creek downstream of Marsh Creek Road to its end where it empties into the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta. It is a multi-use hike/bike trail like the Houston bayou trails and is approximately 10 miles long. Like similar trails in Houston, it has both useful connections to other attractive cycling venues as well as infuriating "near misses" where a small amount of development could produce a dramatic enhancement in cycling opportunity.

Marsh Creek Trail can be seen at the right edge of the picture, the creek is in the middle, and towards the left is one of the many charming steel bridges which connect the trail to the surrounding neighborhoods.

A closeup of the creek itself.  It gets larger as it approaches its end and is popular with local fishermen.

As with the Houston bayou trails, Marsh Creek Trail sometimes goes under the roads it crosses, and sometimes crosses the road.

Marsh Creek Trail crossing under a cross street.

Marsh Creek Trail crossing a street.

In places, the trail joins a sidewalk, resulting in a "super sidewalk", the extra width allowing use by both bicycles and pedestrians.  In the picture below, such a super sidewalk splits with the sidewalk going to the left and the trail going to the right. The "super sidewalk" concept is used by some trails in Houston as well, something I will be illustrating in a future post.


My cycling in an admittedly small subsection of California left me with the impression that the cycling opportunities and frustrations in California and Texas are much more similar than different. Some common lessons I have learned from both:
1) Just because something is legal does not mean it is wise.  The State of California may encourage me to bicycle on Marsh Creek Road, but I may have more regard for my own skin that they do.  I have previously posted that the same is true in Texas; there are many roads on which it is legal to cycle, and which many cycling clubs use, whose use I find unwise.
2) Without knowing all the facts about what this would cost, it seems to me that adding wide, paved, smooth shoulders to many rural roads would make a lot of sense.  Besides encouraging cycling with all the benefits thereof, this shoulder makes breakdowns by cars a lot let dangerous.
3) If governments want to really encourage cycling as opposed to simply build projects they can point to, thinking seriously about how a cyclist can get from one place to another and focusing on strategic gaps in infrastructure should be very cost effective.

MAF Test Results

December   3, 2012: MAF Test = 10.3 MPH
December 10, 2012: MAF Test = 10.8 MPH

See last week's post for the definition of a MAF test. I will be reviewing my experience with Dr. Maffetone's aerobic training regimen at the end of one month of training but will list the results at the end of each week's blog as well.

On December 4th, and 5th I measured significantly higher speeds than those above on training rides that were essentially MAF tests.  I think the critical difference may have been how windy it was for each ride. December 3rd was quite windy, and December 10th was even windier, whereas the 4th and the 5th were much calmer. This sensitivity to conditions is an obvious limitation of the MAF test. This could be overcome by doing the MAF test indoors on a trainer if I had one.

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