It has been a goal of mine for some time now to cross the Mississippi River by bicycle and I finally had the chance to do it this past Saturday. I was driving back to Iowa from a series of business meetings in Indianapolis. I try to drive on business instead of flying so that I can bring my bike along and do this sort of thing.
I started at Sunset Park in Rock Island Illinois. The original plan was to start in Moline, but I didn’t really like the feel of the area where I had planned to park, It was industrial and not real pretty, so I went with Plan B instead. It turned out to be a good plan. From Sunset Park, the ride into Rock Island is thoroughly enjoyable with stretches on the levee as well as sidepaths lining nearby streets. There’s a lot of variation here. I really got a feel for the city.
I had planned to cross the Arsenal Bridge into Iowa and then back into Illinois since it has a nice wide side path, but when I got there I discovered that it’s a low bridge with a section that swings open for river traffic. When it’s open, you wait. It was open when I arrived and they were trying to squeeze a string of barges that barely fit through the opening. They weren’t making much progress, either, so after a ten minute wait I decided to cross the Centennial Bridge and then come back on the Arsenal Bridge, assuming they’d finished their work by then.
Even though it’s a marked bicycle route, the Centennial Bridge is far from ideal for cycling. It’s high so there’s a fairly significant climb involved. There’s a sidepath, but it’s really more sidewalk than bike route. The traffic lanes are narrow and traffic speeds by pretty quickly. Perhaps the most important consideration is that the high guardrail eliminates any escape route if you’re cycling on the road.
I had to make a decision. Do I take the road or do I take the side path? As a Bike League Certified Cycling Instructor, I usually favor the road but in this case the lack of an escape route really bothered me. The official map published by the Quad Cities Bike Club identifies the side path as the preferred crossing, so that’s what I ended up using. I don’t regret the choice. It was actually pretty enjoyable.
Once I got across, I discovered that I really liked downtown Davenport and would like to come back with my wife. There’s a riverfront ballpark, a ferris wheel, a band shell, lots of park land and all sorts of places to cycle down here.
I eventually made my way back to the Arsenal Bridge. This time I was able to cross without a hitch. I passed back through downtown Rock Island and soon enough I was back to Sunset Park.
If you plan to come here to cycle, you can go a lot further than I did and remain on trails the whole way. On the Illinois side, the trail that starts at Sunset Park is called the Great River Trail and extends all the way to the town of Savanna, some 60 miles distant. There are a few short gaps along the way, but nothing major. If you cross the river, you can ride downstream to Credit Island in Davenport where you’ll find more trails, or upstream to Bettendorf. I definitely plan to come back and explore the area more fully when I have a little more time to do so.