The road to Grimes, Iowa isn’t a road at all. It’s a side path. It extends north from Urbandale, a suburb on the edge of the Des Moines metro area, along Northwest 128th/South James streets. The Urbandale end is quintessential suburbia. Grimes is rapidly suburbanizing small town America. In between there’s corn and Dekalb seeds and not much else.
As far as side paths go, this one isn’t very long. It’s only about 3 miles from Meredith Drive in Urbandale to downtown Grimes. It’s not the length that makes it special. It’s what it signifies. It’s connectivity. It’s an easy way for people in Grimes to get to jobs in Urbandale in the morning and then back home after work in the evening. I wish more people used it. Maybe they will in the not too distant future.
I cycled this route this morning. The wind was blowing steady out of the north at 20 mph as it often does around here, and it was still a piece of cake getting to Grimes. As I pedaled along, I couldn’t help but thinking that this wasn’t all that different than what they have in the Netherlands. I thought I’d Google it to see if I was right.
Yep, just like I thought. It’s no different at all. Sure, they have more of this than we do, but they’ve had a head start. Interestingly enough, our pavement is a little better than theirs, not that it matters. The Dutch are the best in the world when it comes to bicycle infrastructure and they have my undying respect.
But this is really, really cool and here’s why: The road to Grimes isn’t a recreational trail and doesn’t pretend to be. There’s no fancy bicycle-themed signage or benches. There are no curves thrown in to make it “interesting.” It’s as straight as an arrow. It’s a bona fide sidepath built to serve bicycle commuters. Most “bicycle paths” are built for play, not transportation. This one’s different. It’s what lots of cyclists tell me they want.
I want to share a couple of observations from riding this that may not be readily apparent. One, the rural highway here is curbed. That’s extremely rare in these parts. Usually in Iowa, roads like this have loose gravel shoulders. The curb suggests that they’re expecting rapid growth here.
The curb also poses a risk to cyclists. If a motorist tries to squeeze through, there’s nowhere to go. Traffic is often heavy. This is a major commuter route.
The side path makes sense here. It’s well done. There aren’t many driveways or road crossings. I’m afraid that will change with time, but for now it’s great. You can make good time. The buffer between the traffic lane and path isn’t as wide as it might be, but speed limits along this stretch vary from 40 mph in the country to 25 mph in town, so it’s not a huge threat. It felt right on the bike. That’s usually the best indicator of all.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that it was this type of resource that brought Jan and I to Iowa. I’ve been riding a lot of it in the two months we’ve been here and I generally like it. I’d like to see more of it. The very essence of bike friendly is to be able to get from where you are to where you want to be safely. That’s connectivity and this is what it looks like in America’s heartland.