Biking in Decatur

This morning I went on a chilly but beautiful fall bike ride along Decatur’s bike path. I think the official name is Steven’s Creek Bikeway, but there are segments that are called something else, or maybe I’m wrong. Whatever it’s name, it’s one of the best things about living in Decatur. I wouldn’t even consider living in a neighborhood that didn’t have access to it, and I’m lucky to live a very short ride away.

Funding is secured and work has begun to expand the trail to Forsyth from Cresthaven Park. This is a 1.5-mile extension. The trail currently ends at Greendell Park, just north of Pershing Road. From my understanding, there will still be a missing link between Greendell and Cresthaven, so cyclists will have to navigate along some winding residential roads and North MacArthur Rd until the segment along Steven’s Creek to Cresthaven is completed. There’s no timeline for that, so it’s probably going to be several years.

But hey, progress is progress. I’m not going to complain. I hope the south side of Decatur is eventually linked as well. At one time, there were plans to build a bike path along Lake Decatur at Nelson Park that would link with Scovill Zoo. That would be an expensive undertaking, since it would require a pedestrian/bike path along the Route 36 Bridge.

I have biked across Lost Bridge Road, and it’s sorta doable until you get to the actual bridge. There the sidewalk turns into a very narrow corridor with unforgiving guard rails on each side. I feel like a pinball in a pinball machine, bouncing off of things. So, instead, I walk the bike across the bridge. Not super enjoyable, but it’s better than swimming with the bike over my shoulder.

City and state planners have really dropped the ball over the years when it comes to pedestrian and bike traffic in Decatur. I think Americans fell in love with their cars in the 1950s, and assumed nobody would ever want to walk or ride a bike again. Us Gen X’ers and Millennials don’t want to live in our cars. We demand walkable communities, healthier living, and connectedness. It’s going to take some time to make that happen.

Is it Safe to Bike in Decatur?

Once the leaves start turning, and they sure seem late this year, I’ll be biking along West Main to Lincoln Square in downtown Decatur. West Main, yes with those controversial bricks, is gorgeous in the fall. I enjoy pedaling by the historic homes and Millikin Homestead. Do I worry about getting shot or robbed? A little. West Main isn’t known for a lot of crime, but it does cross my mind.

So far, my biggest threats when biking in Decatur have been squirrels and walnuts. I’ve about wiped out three times by squirrels darting in front of me. I’m really surprised I haven’t eaten pavement after bouncing off of and over some rogue walnuts. And you also have to watch out for deer.

I remember walking along the trail a few years ago, and while I was taking pictures of the scenery, I turned around and practically bumped into a deer. The deer along the trial don’t have a lot of fear of people, so they might just pop out of the woods and say hi, while you do a somersault over your handlebars.

But that’s the price you pay. You gotta live with risks, or you’ll do nothing in your life.

So far, I have never had any problems with people on the bike path. There’s usually plenty of people around, especially on weekends. You can join along with the Decatur Bike Club to go on group rides for greater safety. You don’t have to belong to the club for many of their rides. Their members have several impromptu evening rides throughout the summer that you can join in on. Look up their Facebook page at Decaturbicycleclub.org or their Facebook page. All skills levels are welcome.

My biggest fear when biking is car traffic. I don’t have to contend with too much traffic from my house before I get to the bike path, but I sure don’t enjoy riding along Ravina Park Road. I know that it’s technically against the law to ride a bike on a sidewalk in Decatur, but I don’t care. I’d rather get a ticket than get run over.

It sure would be great to have a widened sidewalk along Ravina for bikes and pedestrians, similar to what is along West Main from Millikin University to downtown.

And if you think you’re not in good enough shape to ride a bike along the path, consider an electric bike. That’s what I use, and they’re a godsend. Due to health reasons, I can’t ride up crazy hills that easily or safely. With an e-bike, I can still get a workout and enjoy the outdoors without killing myself. Knock on wood.

See you out on the trials!

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