09 July 2007

Rockford's Perryville Path: If you build it, will they come?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Rockford... First of all, what the hell are you doing in Rockford? Second, I happened to be on the GITAP and figured I may as well make the most of it, but after reading some infuriating opinion pieces in the Rockford Register Star I concluded that Rockfordians must be a bunch of stupidly stubborn ultra-conservative windbags who'd sooner put a nuclear reactor in everyone's back yard than give up the American Way. This conclusion was no doubt heavily influenced by my prior prejudiced opinion of Rockford as a laboratory for what happens when relentless urban decay slams head-on into backwards rural sentiment.

What I had not counted on was suburban sprawl. I had counted even less on suburban sprawl done right. Imagine, then, my utter surprise when I encountered the Perryville Path--and all the thoughts I'd had about Rockford shattered into dust.

The Perryville Path isn't what I'd call a proper trail but is an off-street ped path connecting other area trails and running parallel to a busy suburban four-lane divided highway flanked by subdivs, shopping plazas, and business parks. Well done! I don't know much about this path's history, but I somehow doubt that it magically appeared overnight. I'm going to guess that it was built in conjunction with a reconstruction project for the road; I can't imagine how such a path could be built otherwise. But I could be wrong--again.

This picture doesn't have an obvious subject, I know. But look carefully to the right of the sign entreating you to try Arby's new popcorn chicken. See the bike rack? I noticed several businesses that had wised up to the potential of the Perryville Path's proximity and set out bike racks to lure new customers. A business with a bike rack gets mine, as I always say since two days ago.

Now this particular shopping plaza did not have a bike rack, at least not one that I could see (which is as good as not having one), but that didn't stop me from patronizing Bad Ass Coffee anyway. I mean, come on, I had to patronize a place called "Bad Ass Coffee," right? And I'll give them points for trying--the helpful (and cute) guy at the counter let me in through the employee entrance after I'd finally wrangled Avenger to a spot that was was completely visible from the seating area but didn't block the front door.

I don't know if this is a prairie restoration project or if someone just forgot to cut the grass, but I won't complain about pretty flowers. Well, I will complain about these particular pretty flowers: they refused to show up in this picture. There were some pinky-purplish ones and some greenish-yellow ones here that I'd hoped to be able to identify later, but they vanished from the photo.

Here's something curious, though: For all that the Perryville Path has reportedly done to make the Rockford area more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, I didn't see a single person who wasn't another GITAP rider taking advantage this amazing path. On the contrary, I saw quite a few motorists trying to turn full-speed across the crosswalks who looked quite surprised (and somewhat annoyed) to learn of a path being there at all. The Perryville Path has obviously been carefully planned and nicely paved, but no one else was there to take advantage of it. The bike racks all stood empty. The local bike shop, Rockford Bicycle Co., was open to a booming business--as evidenced by the number of vehicles in the parking lot. It's been built. Why don't they come?

Now, perhaps my being in Loves Park on a rainy Thursday morning instead of a sunny Saturday afternoon made all the difference. But if that's indeed the case, it still speaks volumes about how people utilize the Perryville Path on a normal weekday--which is to say, not at all. Off-street bike paths are certainly fun for a weekend jaunt to the park or the coffee shop, but it seems it hasn't yet occurred to anyone in the Rockford area to integrate them into a daily commute.

But I could be wrong again.


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