Lincoln's brand new-ish N Street Protected Bikeway or N Street Cycle Track, if you prefer, was officially opened on Saturday to a fairly large and enthusiastic group from the Lincoln cycling community.
I say new-ish because it might not have been officially opened until Saturday but since it's been in the works since 2005, under construction for about a year and you could actually ride it in it's entirety starting in December it's a misnomer to still call it "new" but, you know, who wants to have an opening ceremony in the dead of winter. Touted as "The Last Mile" (even though it's actually a skosh longer but again just like not having a grand opening in winter, the last mile rolls off the tongue better than the last 1.23408 miles) because it was the last mile needed to connect the Haymarket, Railyard and downtown area with the rest of the 128 mile trail system that intertwines through Lincoln. With all that green paint perhaps they should have called it The Green Mile and then vehemently defended it in court when Stephen King sued the city but I guess they thought better of it.
Flash back to Saturday and much warmer and sunnier times, a group of us rode down from Cycle Works for the opening ceremonies. The grand opening also coincided with Earth Day and you really couldn't have asked for a nicer day for either, as we rode by we could see that the setup for Earth Day was well underway.
Even early on there was already a crowd gathering and it would just continue to get larger up until the symbolic red bicycle stop light was flipped over to green and the riders hit the N Street Cycle Track en route to the Railyard.
What's a grand opening ceremony with out a band and we had some members of the Lincoln High School Band playing tunes for us while we waited.
It was great to see so many different types of cyclists out for the event, they came in all ages, rode all different kinds of bicycles and were of varying degrees of fuzziness.
Once the pomp and circumstance was played out as it always is at such events, it was time for Mayor Beutler to flip the sign from red to green and signal the trail officially opened.
Off we went on the first official ride on the N Street Cycle Track.
Down the same green mile I'd been down at least a dozen times already in an unofficial capacity, as a "veteran" user of the cycle track the appearance of additional yellow candlestick barriers was not lost on me. I can see how the city would have preferred to have not put in these types of devices to make it easier to clear and maintain the trail, it just seemed like perhaps the cycle track was just a bit too new and unknown for vehicle drivers to fully understand what it was yet. I think it was the right call by the city officials, better a few additional barriers than having someone get injured by a motorist who misinterpreted what the cycle track was for and decided to drive down it.
It was kind of nice having the police controlling traffic at the intersections, I don't suppose we could talk them into making that a permanent service like in the days before traffic signals... maybe we could even give them the white gloves and whistles that you still see from time to time on the ole television. I'm sure the poor officer pulling the gig would think it was a crap job but I think it'd be kind of cool to see and a much more personal touch but maybe I'm just becoming a reminiscing old curmudgeon.
Once the leaves fully return to the trees, I think there will be some nice shady spots along the way which will be a nice, if only momentary, reprieve during the dog days of summer. Caught up with this group of riding buddies on the way down to the Railyard, they are an unofficially, official cycling club who calls themselves "Just Sayin". No official dues for the club as it's more just a group of people who like to ride bikes that get together to share in that joy, while wearing some sweet matching jerseys... I didn't get an invite so I guess they were just sayin I wasn't cool enough for the club. It happens...
The route lead us safely into the Railyard and down Canopy Street towards an already gathering crowd, I'm hoping that someday soon the city will figure out how to connect the N Street Cycle Track to the beginning of the Jamaican on 4th and J Street, as it is right now it just sort of continues around the outside of the Railyard mirroring Pinnacle Bank Arena Drive and ends at 8th street. Sure you can get there easy enough by using some of the surface streets but it's such a small distance to cover as far as a connector trail would be concerned that it would make a lot of sense to try to figure it out at least. Baby steps I guess, one thing at a time.
Down in the Railyard there was another band and an even bigger crowd that was continuing to grow as cyclists kept rolling in. Some of them were there to celebrate the grand opening, some to celebrate Earth Day and some I'm sure who just happened to be in the area and were curious about all the bicycles and people milling about. Whatever the reason it was a good sized crowd out on a beautiful Saturday supporting the opening of the N Street Cycle Track, even if they didn't know that's what they were doing.
With the Mayor's ride done for the day it was up to Damon to get the Mayor's borrowed steed back to Cycle Works... by hauling one bicycle and towing another with yet a third Big Dummy. Now that is how it's done, like a boss!
I know some people aren't big fans of the cycle track and some have criticized it because of the timing of the lights or the fact that vehicles have parked or driven in it but it's a learning process, it'll get there if Lincoln gives it a chance to grow and mature. It's the first of it's kind in Nebraska and in my opinion a huge step forward for cycling infrastructure, as it goes so does the hopes of more of these types of cycle tracks in the future. Don't screw it up Lincolnites, the rest of Nebraska is counting on you to embrace it and make it work... the rest of the country is watching and taking notes.