One word: Greenways

On this morning’s ride at Umstead with Alan and Tim, the conversation ranged, as it will on a good ride, from “Avatar,” to dinosaur dung  to, of course, biking. Alan and Tim are strong riders, and you might expect their end of the discussion to focus on training, technique, gear. And there was some of that. But what really got Tim going was a 25-mile Carolina Tarwheels group ride he’d done on Raleigh’s greenways.

“The greenway is such a remarkable thing to have,” he said. “People ride it for recreation, the can use it to commute to work. It’s really amazing.”

That’s it! I thought. If I had better balance on a bike I would have slapped my forehead.

Monday, I handed in a 49,868-word manuscript on backpacking in North Carolina. The book dominated the past 15 months of my life, between weeklong excursions to scout trips and long hours at the computer deciphering GPS data, researching and writing. With Monday’s handoff came a flush of relief — and a feeling of “What next?”

Map the state’s greenways, of course!

Ten years ago, the greenways in North Carolina were bits and pieces of neighborhood asphalt, a mile here, a mile there. Good for taking a short stroll, experimenting with rollerblading, teaching the kids to ride a bike. Today, those pieces of elbow macaroni are  joining to form long strands of spaghetti that are making it possible to take the greenway more and more places. More people are taking the greenway to work, more people are using it for serious recreation and exercise (as evidenced by the Tarwheel’s greenway ride). Hit your local greenway just about any time, but especially on weekends, and you’ll see just how popular these longer versions have become.

American Tobacco Trail in Wake County.

Now, just about anyone can navigate a piece of itty macaroni. A long strand of spaghetti, though, especially a strand attached to other long strands, requires navigational assistance. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be heading out with my GPS mounted to the handlebars of my old Trek 820 to begin providing that navigational assistance. The plan is to have a dedicated greenways page on this site where you can find maps and pertinent information on any greenway in the state.

It’s a big job. I need your help.

  • Tell me what you want to know about a greenway before you head out. Do you want to know what other greenways link to it? Are you interested in bike routes that may hook up with the greenway? What kind of amenities are you interested along the way? Is the surface — asphalt, crushed gravel, concrete — important?
  • What do use the greenway for? Are you a runner or a walker? Is it important that every mile or half mile be marked? Are you a biker, and if so do you use the greenway to commute to work, to ride with the kids, to get a good workout? Rollerblader? Trikker? Unicyclist? Identify yourself.
  • What’s your favorite greenway? I live in the Triangle and am familiar with the local paths. I have less exposure in Charlotte, the Triad, Wilmington, Asheville and elsewhere. Clue me in to the greenways I need to hit. (Eventually, I plan to get to all of them; this will help set priorities.)
  • What concerns do you have about your local greenway system? I’ll get the ball rolling on this one: The over-riding complaint I hear is that the greenways are not well-marked. You come to a fork: Which is the main path and which is a connector to a local neighborhood? Sometimes a greenway reaches a road and it’s not clear where — or if — the greenway continues from there.
  • Would you like to be alerted of changes to your greenway system? An email when construction begins on a new stretch of trail? An email when a new trail opens — and I mean when it’s actually ready to use, not three months later when the mayor can work a “grand opening” into his schedule.
  • Anything else you can think of?

My plan is to start getting information up as soon as possible — early to mid-February at the latest. It may not be a graphic work of art at first; I’ll refine the appearance as we go along. (If you have thoughts on presentation — on maps, graphics, whatever — let me know those as well.) The goal is to provide a comprehensive atlas for North Carolina’s greenways posthaste.

Share your thoughts. I’ll need your help.

Photo: The pedestrian bridge over I-440 at the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh.

One word: Greenways? Go here, youngsters.

10 thoughts on “One word: Greenways”

  1. Hey,

    Sounds like an awesome project. I spend a lot of time riding Greenways. I live downtown and commute to work on Durant Road. Ill cut through downtown and link on the Greenway near Lassiter Mill, ride it through shelly lake and end up near Six Forks and Newton, then I road ride the rest of the way.

    I do a ton of Road rides from downtown to Cary so I take the Museum and Meritdeth Greenways for those.

    But I also Ride around the South East Loop.

    Concerns for Now.

    Homeless people living on Greenway near South Wilmington Street. That part is super dangerous.

    My buddy and I found a couple engaging in oral sex on the one near Rock Quarry Road.

    The greenway system breaks and connects a lot between Rock Quarry Road and Crabtree Blvd. Some directions where it breaks (Beverly Drive) would be helpful.

    Biggest road cyclist concern now is how muddy they get after rain. A lot of them get horrible. I don’t know what can be done to fixed that.

    WOrst areas are between S. Wilmingon, Garner Road and Rock Quarry and near North Hills Drive and Allegany (sp)

    1. Hey Dena,

      Thanks much for the input. Sounds like a comment about potential safety concerns would be good to include. Perhaps, too, recommendations about best street routes to take to get to major points of interest (like making the connection from the Crabtree Greenway to downtown). Maintenance (muddy stretches) is an issue. Probably be good to have a section where people could post about current concerns (downed trees, eroded/rough sections, etc.)


  2. I live near the McMullen Creek Greenway in Charlotte, which is 6 miles of mostly asphalt (thus a possible 12-mile out-and-back). Since it’s way out in the burbs, I don’t think it’s a commuter option, but it is well-loved by walkers, runners and cyclists. I prefer it to running in my neighborhood for two reasons: one, no cars and intersections to negotiate and, two, every quarter-mile is marked. Those distance markers keep me going like nothing else. I always know how far I’ve been, how far I have to go, and they just pull me along like a rope around my waist!

    “Pet” peeve: people who walk their dogs off-leash on the greenway. When I encounter this I always politely tell the owners, “I would prefer that your sweet dog be on a leash so that he doesn’t accidentally trip up a runner or a cyclist.” The owners are usually huffy and offended. I would love to know why these owners feel that they should be the exception to this law.

    Enjoying your column with the morning coffee – keep up the good work.

  3. Hi Sharon,

    McMullen Creek — thanks for enlightening me. I’m afraid the only Charlotte greenway I’m familiar with is McAlpine Creek (which I included in “100 Classic Hikes in North Carolina”), but I’m looking forward to coming down and exploring.

    The off-leash issue is especially pesky on greenways because: a) you have various types of users, and 2) greenways follow narrow passages where there isn’t a lot of room for evasive action.

    Thanks for the direction.


  4. My walking club uses the greenways to get in the majority of our training. Our longer days are on the Tobacco Trail, as it is easier on the legs than asphalt or concrete. When you’re out doing 15-20 miles, and its going to take almost 4 hours, you had better take it easy on the legs if you want to remain injury free. Its also nice to avoid vehicle traffic, stay in the shade & mingle with other like minded people in a peaceful & beautiful setting.

  5. You mentioned this project a long time ago… I’ve been waiting! In addition to street and direction signs, I would like to see markers so if there is an emergency, I can tell 911 where I am (within say 1/4 mile) not just “crossing a creek on the greenway from Crabtree to Shelley”. I ride that route fairly often and don’t recall even seeing the greenway name! The greenway around the lake at the Apex Community Park has sections color coded for this purpose.

    Also some greenways are showing up on Google maps. Perhaps a place to start. They are at least a few months out of date

    1. IDing where you are on a trail is a problem. The Apex trail is the best I’ve seen for safety purposes. Cary is starting to implement a sign/map system that will also be good in that regard.

      And yes, I did mention the greenway project awhile back; Had to finish a book before I could get to it. I’ve been out mapping trails for the past week (just got back from doing the ATT south of Massey Chapel Road in Durham). Hope to have the first map or two up next week.

  6. I was working on this around the Raleigh area on the rare occasions that that I have a GPS with me. It’s been kind of neglected, but I see that some other people have chipped in as well:

    Things that interest me when I’m traveling via Greenway is when the Greenway connects with other streets, when it does not, and when you actually have to take to the street to catch the next stretch of Greenway. I tried to include those sections in my maps because sometimes the signage in Raleigh is lacking. Also it’s good to know if the greenway stops being paved at any point. A stretch that gave me trouble for a while is the stretch of the Crabtree Greenway that runs between Yadkin and Lassiter Mill. Now it’s 2nd nature, but for a while I was put off by some troublesome areas with poor/no signs:
    If you don’t leave the trail at one of the two Alleghany exits, you end up on a dirt trail. Great if you’re mountain biking, but otherwise it can be a pain, especially when the weather isn’t dry.
    If you do exit at Alleghany, I don’t think there are any signs to tell you where to go. For that matter, I’m not sure there are signs directing you if you stick to the dirt trail until it dumps you on to Hertford. It took a while before I found that trail along the school that connected Northhampton and Lassiter Mill.
    It took a little longer before I found that if I went down Lassiter Mill, I’d find the rest of the greenway.
    That’s definitely the kind of information I wanted to include on my map, so that other people might go into their trips aware of places where they might lose the trail. I look forward to seeing what you come up with. I love the car-free riding of the greenways, but good maps are what make the greenways actually useful for getting places.

  7. Rob,
    That’s a good map. I’m toying with a Google map base coupled with a Google hybrid. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much of a chance to get out with the GPS on my bike and do some maping (no snow tires on the bike).

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