YES: BIKES BOOST BUSINESS
Minimal traffic, amazing views, and access to historic and natural attractions make the Parkway a world-class bike touring route. We should do everything possible to encourage cycling on this national treasure.
The National Park Service has shut down multiple facilities, like restaurants and campgrounds, for lack of use, so encouraging more cycling on the Parkway seems an obvious way to attract visitors and generate additional revenue at low cost. Bicycle touring is a proven revenue generator. Oregon claims $325 million a year in economic impact from bike tourism. The reasons are obvious. Cyclists are slower, stay longer, and eat more. Not paying for gasoline and other automobile-related expenses, they have more money to spend, and they have high disposable income to start with. They tread lightly on the infrastructure.
Bikes mean business, and the Parkway is an ideal route. But do we need bike lanes? It’s not as simple as you might think. Some say only dedicated paths will do. Others say cars and cyclists can share the road as is. Bike lanes fall somewhere in between. Although painted lanes provide no physical barrier, they’re a constant reminder to share the road. They also reduce vehicle speeds, further increasing safety.
Motorists might complain that they will be inconvenienced by slower speeds and narrower lanes, but even if bike lanes reduce speeds somewhat, the net effect would be greater safety and a little more opportunity for motorists to take in the sights, which is the purpose of the Parkway after all. Traffic engineers might argue that bike lanes would not be the ideal treatment for the Parkway. Some prefer sharrows; others say signage is enough. In my mind, designating a few feet of roadway for bikes is a nonintrusive and cost-effective way to encourage more cycling on the Parkway.
NO: DON’T MESS WITH SUCCESS
As an avid cyclist, I’m an advocate for anything that encourages drivers and cars to share the road.
But the Blue Ridge Parkway is a different entity, and I feel bike lanes are unnecessary. Part of the Parkway’s charm is that it is a narrow, exquisitely designed 469-mile country road that travels through some of the most beautiful spots in the Southeast. The National Park Service does a great job at using the landscape to bolster the scenery. Instead of a shoulder, you can often find a carefully maintained and manicured stretch of grass. By leaving things alone, this experience will be maintained.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time riding the Parkway, and cannot remember a time when I’ve wished for a bike lane. Sure, there are occasions when cars will bunch up behind me, wanting to pass. When I am climbing, they get around me pretty easily, as I am usually able to keep to the far right of the lane. When descending, I maintain a high-enough speed to not hinder traffic. If necessary, I can always pull off to one of the many overlooks to let them pass.
There are not many situations where a bike lane would benefit the rider or the car. After laboring to ride up a thousand feet or more, the reward is an exhilarating descent. When descending on the Parkway, the rider needs the entire lane to maneuver around the bends and twists of the road. As you soar along the ridges of the mountain, you are enveloped in breathtaking views, lush greenery, and craggy rock structures below and above you. You see peaks and domes always in the distance, with a cool, breezy wind in your face. It would be nearly impossible to keep confined to a bike lane on such a descent, and if you did, it would take away from the experience.
I’m in favor of anything that makes the Parkway more bike-friendly, but adding bike lanes would be drastic, expensive, unnecessary, and in many areas, logistically impossible. Instead, I would suggest that the National Park Service embrace the cycling community, encourage and support more cycling events, and educate motorists to be wary of those of us on two wheels. The Blue Ridge Parkway is an American treasure, a terrific way to allow for people to engage with nature. Let’s keep it that way.
Aaron West races and lives in South Carolina, and writes about cycling for his blog SteepClimbs.com.