Why can’t we just get along?

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The Big Dam Bridge - Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
The Big Dam Bridge – Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism

On a beautiful, sunny October morning in 2006, my wife and I were sitting on our bikes somewhere around the 5th or 6th row of a large group of bicycle riders waiting with much anticipation to be released for an historic ride. At the western most point of Murray Park, near the dam, we were lined up ready to try something that no one had officially done before. We were to be the first group to cross, not just ride, the Big Dam Bridge, the longest bicycle and pedestrian bridge built specifically for that purpose anywhere in the United States. As the word was given to start we manged to carefully stay in formation riding from Little Rock on what seemed a very narrow bridge high above the Arkansas River,  to safely arrive on the North Little Rock side. A major piece of the Arkansas River trail was officially opened.

Once we got to the North Little Rock side there were festivities including a 5 K run across the bridge and back again. Caught up in the energy of the moment we decided to take part in the run. One problem, we were wearing bike shoes. Our running shoes were back in the car on the other side of the river so I took my first convenience ride across the bridge to get our shoes. I zipped across and had no problem making it back to Cooks Landing in time for the start of the race.

Soon we were running on the bridge, another first on a glorious day for those with the outdoors in their hearts. So many people were running across at the same time, the bridge felt as though it was vibrating, keeping time with the runners’ feet.

A lot of water has passed under that wondrous bridge since then. They now have stations for getting dog waste pickup bags at the entrances to the bridge. A centerline has been added creating lanes in hopes that the mass of people who use it will be a little more organized in their trips across.  Numerous races have crossed the bridge including the annual Big Dam Bridge 100 bicycle race. There is no way to know how many times I have crossed that bridge since. I’ve crossed it during nighttime bike rides with a small dedicated group of winter riders. I’ve crossed it as a part of  races both on bike and on foot. I’ve welcomed in the New Year from the top with my family and a thermos of Hot Chocolate.

My daughter said yes to the man she would marry on that bridge and we later returned to take their engagement photos during a beautiful sunset with Pinnacle Mountain as the backdrop. A lot of good times. Over the years I have learned the rules of the bridge. Important rules about people, space, movement and courtesy.

All the tools you need to be allowed on the Big Dam Bridge forever.
All the tools you need to be allowed on the Big Dam Bridge forever.

Recently I have seen stories about banning dog walking on the bridge because some people are inconsiderate and don’t clean up after their dogs on the bridge. Of course, I’ve seen people be inconsiderate in many ways on the bridge. Cyclists who ride at unsafe speeds, children allowed to run without guidance, dog walkers who attach their dogs to leashes that can span the width of the bridge, basically people who can’t abide by the rules invoked by common decency when a lot of people are in a confined space.

When I take visiting friends and family to the bridge I make sure they understand those rules. Walk to the right, leave space so others can pass easily, remember, you are in a high traffic area, don’t dart from one railing to the other without first looking to make sure you aren’t stepping in front of someone. Listen up for people trying to get your attention like cyclists, runners or faster walkers who may need to get around you. When a cyclist yells, “on your left,” they are not yelling at you they are giving you the courtesy of a warning both for your safety and theirs. No matter how slow a cyclist or runner is going, if you suddenly turn into them both of you stand a chance of injury. If you are a cyclist or runner, make sure you have a method of warning people you plan to pass and use it.

Those are the rules as I know them. They are not posted anywhere that I know of. There is no test before you step onto the bridge but they exist for those who know the bridge and know how to share it with others.

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Letter to the Editor - Arkansas Times
Letter to the Editor – Arkansas Times

Last week a letter to the editor was published in both the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Arkansas Times by William G. Carlyle of North Little Rock. It was a very angry letter. He seemed to be telling me and my friends who were the first to cross the bridge on that October day in 2006 that we are no longer welcome on the bridge, his bridge. He seems to not just hate cyclists but also their choice of attire stating, “Pedaling around the banks of the Arkansas River at 15 mph in that ridiculous uniform does not qualify them for the Tour de France.” I agree with Mr. Carlyle. I’ve traveled the Arkansas River Trail and Big Dam Bridge by bike for years, not once do I remember thinking that I would ever be in the Tour de France. What I wear is what makes me comfortable on the bike for what is sometimes hours of constant pedaling. It’s my workout and those are my workout clothes. I agree Mr. Carlyle, the clothing and bike do not make me a professional cyclist anymore than a paint brush and a canvas make someone a Picasso or a helmet and pads qualifies the wearer to a chance to compete in the Super Bowl. These are just the accoutrements of someone who enjoys those pastimes.

I don’t agree with anyone being banned from the Big Dam Bridge. We all have a right to be there, it truly belongs to us all. If we can’t learn to get along in that microcosm of society, what hope is there for us? I’ve lived in Little Rock for almost 15 years after having lived all over the country and having traveled the world. I settled here. I like it here. I’ve raised a family here. The people of Arkansas are wonderful and are some of the nicest I’ve ever met. It’s unfortunate that the only times I’ve seen real hatred directed at me was when I was on a bike. But I still hope we can change that.

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7 Responses

  1. W.G. Carlyle is showing tremendous amount of ignorance and selfishness. Maybe he was just released from mental-meditative institution. If not, he needs to be on a lot of medications.
    He is NOT aware that the trails and the bridge were built for cyclists and others and NOT just him.
    He is NOT aware that all the cycling gear including helmets, etc. is required for safety and visibility.

  2. As a cyclist I can understand some of Mr. Carlyle’s frustrations. Some cyclists think they are very cool with their $3000 bike, expensive jerseys, helmet and sunglasses and some have superior, macho attitudes (yes the women too) and act like they are superior to runners and walkers or those less mobile. Some cyclists whiz by pedestrians too fast and too close and without warning. Some cyclists hog the road side by side instead of single file making it difficult for cars to easily pass. Some cyclists fail to alert pedestrians when they pass and this can scare someone walking or running if they don’t hear a cyclist passing until they see them out of the corner of their eye. Mr Carlyle is probably of age when bicycling was someone on a Schwinn 10-speed and a sun hat so give him some benefit of the doubt. Let’s take up a collection for a hybrid cruiser for this old guy and get him on the bike, he will undoubtedly have a change of heart. Oh and he can even skip the spandex suit!

    1. Yes, as in any group of human beings, be they walkers, drivers, horseback riders, playground kids or cyclists, there are always a few who feel they are above the others but if we applied the logic of banning all cyclists from roads or trails because some break the rules we would have to apply the same logic to drivers. On average I see two or three drivers run lights every day on my commute to work. Add in the 30% to 40% who feel the speed limits don’t apply to them and pretty soon we’d be banning cars from roads. I had the opportunity to be in the room with several who feel the way Mr. Carlyle feels last night. The amount of anger is ridiculous. Some people act like cyclists are the new Hells Angels here to lay their town to waste. In fact, they are your neighbors, mowing their lawns, taking their kids to school, working at their jobs.

      1. Obviously you missed my point Joe. My point was some cyclists may in fact be responsible for giving the other 99% a bad reputation among these bike haters. Mr Carlyle walks the BDB and to my knowledge cars and bad drivers aren’t creating issues for him there so it is either some of the cyclists creating an issue for him or partly his biases or experiences that is creating his perception. It’s often helpful to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand their biases when they differ from yours. Until the root causes of these bike haters are revealed the large divide between the cyclists and haters cannot be bridged.

  3. I realize this is old, but I still want to respond. I would be opposed to banning bicycles from the trail, but cyclists shouldn’t be allowed to consider it a racetrack, either. And yet, many of them do. I love bicycling, but my elderly parents shouldn’t be afraid of walking the trail, out of fear that they’ll get hit by a bicycle. Sadly, this is the case for many elderly people, and the cyclists who wiz by too close and fast to walkers, should be ashamed of themselves.

  4. Dillard’s needs take into consideration and understand that the path under Cantrell bridge this is not a safe place for a road and should be used for people who ride a bike, especially my type of bike. the Dillard’s route is a real maze and an accident looking to happen. I use the route under the Cantrell bridge and go up the Episcopal sidewalk for safety to reach my bike group that meets at Clinton and the Big Dam Bridge and Tour De Rock bike events which are usually early in the mornings and Shift Modern Cyclery. Taking the Dillard’s route would be hard to navigate that early in the morning even with bike lights. The sidewalks on Dillard’s route are too narrow and curve in and out.
    I take the Arkansas River Trail that leads, under the Cantrell bridge and along the Episcopal sidewalk a lot and it is very inconvenient and unsafe for bikers. It is my understanding that Dillard’s has some land that could make this bike trail safer for people who use this route under the Cantrell bridge and along the Episcopal sidewalk, but they have refused to give it up. Dillard’s is not cooperating and is making things very difficult. In conclusion, it is up to the city and businesses like Dillard’s to fix this mess.

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