HOWTO: bike from downtown Durham to West Point on the Eno with a two year old
Background: I like to bike. I’ve got a two year old. I bought a Burley trailer in which I can haul said two year old. This has opened up some interesting possibilities.
I’ve wanted to take the kid to West Point on the Eno for a while now. If you’re not familiar with it, this is a Durham city park (adjacent to the massive Eno River State Park) which provides some nice open spaces and access to shallow water on the river. There’s a festival every year on the 4th of July. It’s pretty cool.
Durham’s a bit schizophrenic on the cycling front; we have a major bike artery in the Tobacco Trail, and we have some greenways, but we’ve also got large chunks of the city with no bike lanes at all. Over the past few years I’ve seen more “sharrows” popping up – basically just signs painted on the road, which I guess somebody thinks help in some way. I’m unconvinced.
When I’m riding around town by myself, I really don’t mind any of this. I’ll ride on most of the roads in Durham without much concern, even the ones that kind of suck to ride on. But there’s something about having a helpless kid strapped into a little trailer behind me that makes me a bit more cautious. Greenways start to look pretty attractive.
Luckily, quite a few of Durham’s parks are directly adjacent to greenways. The ATT gets you to Elmira Park, Forest Hills Park, and Solite Park (of the three, I’m partial to Forest Hills). Ellerbe gets you to Duke Park (mostly), Northgate Park, and Rock Quarry Park (in addition to the Museum of Life and Sciences; not a park, but a good place to take a kid anyway). Another leg of Ellerbe is in some sort of limbo presently.
Which brings me to the topic: nothing gets you to West Point on the Eno. Nada. And the stretch of Roxboro St. around the park entrance is a five-lane pain in the ass, which doesn’t even have sidewalks or shoulders. On Durham’s cycle map it’s one of few locations coded as:
DIFFICULT CONNECTION: higher speeds and/or volumes, combined with narrow lanes or other problems for cyclists.
Well, we decided to give it a go this weekend anyway.
First thing’s first: packing up. Two year olds hate sitting still, but riding in the ’09 Burley Honey Bee (Craigslist special) isn’t exactly the same thing as sitting still, and we’ve done thirty minute stints without problems. We stock the bags with:
- Lunch for the kid (1X PBJ, 1X cookie)
- Diaper bag stuff
- Little camera (E-PM1)
- Change of shoes
In addition, we toss in the main compartment:
- 1x Tiny Elmo. Always gotta have a Tiny Elmo.
- Water. With THREE ice. Crucial.
This is a long enough ride that I want to wear my SPD cleated MTB shoes, hence the extra shoes for walking listed above. My bike of choice is my 2004 Cannondale Touring bike, which also happens to be my commuter. It’s got several minor defects which I’ve been too cheap to fix, but nothing that should leave me stranded. Running Conti Touring Plus 700x32s, which I feel are pretty good do-it-all workhorse tires.
The wife is riding a 2008-ish Trek Hybrid (rather than her racing bike). Couple of reasons for this: bigger tires for nasty roads (Ellerbe has some shit pavement, and the park itself has gravel), but maybe more importantly is the fact that it’s hella slow. This way she won’t totally leave me in the dust as I’m dragging the kid uphill.
So, all set. Ready to rock.
The first part of the route takes us from downtown to the Ellerbe trail, which is the primary North/South corridor. These are roads with no bike lanes, but they’ve got reasonable shoulders and slow moving traffic, so there’s no issue here. I decide to wear one headphone so I can make use of Google’s voice navigation for cycling on my phone (sweet, by the way), but I start fighting it immediately since it doesn’t want us to use the Trinity Avenue Ellerbe trail entrance as planned. Google Robot Chick proceeds to nag me for the next mile or so until she finally decides to approve of my route.
Here’s Ellerbe’s entrance on Trinity Ave:
This part of the trail is a bit sketchy. There has been some crime in the nearby area, and at one point the greenway runs directly behind a pretty shady looking apartment complex. It’s also not exactly the most scenic part of the ride, passing by an electric substation and some fields of gnarly weeds to the side.
Things improve though, and the trail starts feeling a bit safer and more attractive. The pace is slow by necessity as there are several cross streets which have the right of way. The trail dead-ends into Club Blvd – there’s a nearby spur that goes to Duke Park, but that’s not where we’re headed.
At this point, you can ride on the oversized sidewalk along Club and under I-85 for about a half mile, until the trail picks back up at Northgate Park. We choose to do that rather than ride on the road, and it’s workable, but the crosswalk to continue on the “trail” doesn’t get signal protection from turns (the light has no dedicated left turn lamp and the ped x-ing green corresponds with the main signal green) meaning you need to keep your eyes open for turning vehicles.
It’s here that the greenway gets a lot more green, and the number of cross streets is much reduced. On the down side, the roots get a lot more root-ier, and the ride can get really rough – so we have to take it easy to keep the kid from bouncing around. Once clear of Northgate, the trail takes you past some AM radio towers (one of which was notably used by a historic black / gospel station before becoming a Spanish language station a couple years ago), runs near the old brontosaurus, and crosses a road near the entrance to the Museum of Life and Science before eventually ending at the National Guard complex on Stadium Dr.
Now this is another example of sidewalk-posing-as-trail-on-the-map; it looks like Ellerbe goes all the way to Whipporwill Park and beyond, but that’s a lie. In reality, this is the end of the greenway – it’s roads the rest of the way out.
So, we head west on Stadium, across Duke St, and I follow Google’s suggestion to turn north through a neighborhood on Birmingham Ave. Just going by the Durham maps, it looks like Broad St. is the route of choice going north/south around here, but if you look closely you see that it’s the dreaded sharrows and not a real bike lane. With the kiddie trailer, I’ll take a cut through a low traffic neighborhood over those things any day.
At this point, the game is basically “avoid Roxboro St. as long as possible.” To that end there are several side streets through neighborhoods which can be employed, and for the most part they’re fine to ride on; a bit rough at times, some cross streets where you lose right of way, but the traffic volume is quite low and you don’t have to fight traffic.
Roxboro is inevitable, though. Our route takes us on Holt School Road, but when presented with a chance to get back on Roxboro shortly thereafter we decide to cut deeper into the neighborhood and follow the sharrows listed on the map instead. In hindsight, I regret that; you go substantially out of your way to only avoid a small stretch of Roxboro, and the eventual intersection with Roxboro St. when taking this route features very poor visibility and a very difficult left turn with no lights:
A better option from my perspective is to take a right onto Wellington Dr. once you pass Holt School, and turn left onto Roxboro at that point; still suboptimal, but the intersection isn’t quite so awful.
Roxboro, I ain’t gonna lie, is not a fun road to ride on. But luckily, you’re not on it terribly long. On the way to the park, you have the option of doing what Durham’s map seems to suggest, which is bailing out to the right and riding through a neighborhood which dumps you directly across from the park entrance (at a light, thankfully). We opt to do this, mainly because otherwise you need to turn left across Roxboro to the park entrance, which can mean a sticky double lane switch from far right to center lane on this busy road. Better to cut through the neighborhood, which gives you the option of behaving like a pedestrian at the intersection if that’s your preference.
So, you’re there! Almost – you need to navigate the park road now. It’s paved initially, but quickly yields to rather loose gravel, so our beefier tires do come in handy here. Doing this with skinny slick tires wouldn’t be especially fun. We take the bikes all the way down to the river, rather than ditch them at the parking lot – I’m not totally sure bikes are supposed to go into the park, but I saw no sign indicating this was disallowed specifically.
We haven’t been to the park in a while, and after a false start on the hiking trails (note – not the best for two year olds) we come back around to the shallow water which is absolutely perfect for the kid to play in. After a solid 45 minutes in the trailer, she’s understandably eager to start moving again, and convincing her to get her out of the river proves to be the most difficult part of the excursion. I’d really recommend this activity for young children.
The trip back is much the same, but notably you’ll want to stay on Roxboro rather than cutting through the neighborhood across from the entrance (you’d get an ugly left turn onto Roxboro if you try that). Also, the light at the intersection of Stadium and Duke seems to use pressure plates; it never turns green for us until we get out and hit the ped xing button.
All in all, it’s a decent enough little ride! I’d love to see some effort put into connecting the greenways with West Point on the Eno, though. This is a really great park and it would be nice to get there by bike without having to fight traffic.