A View From the Bike

It’s summer and I’ve been trying to ride my bike for an hour or so every evening, for a number of reasons: I need exercise and biking spares the joints the way running doesn’t (until I crash), biking helps my body adjust to the heat (since I swelter in a hot little room all day), I see things from my bike that I don’t under any other conditions.

One thing I see are bike lanes, of which Burlington has many (maybe not as many as we need, but we do OK).  The bike lanes are demarcated by a white line and every so often, a stick figure on a bicycle.

(I tried to include a photo of this, but failed to import the photo on a few tries and then imported a huge photo that would have blotted out everything else.  I’m better with simple things, like bikes and – I guess – word pictures.)

To encourage bicycle safety, someone decided the stick figures should wear helmets, but portraying a bicycle helmet on a stick figure is no easy matter and the result (which you’ll have to visit Burlington – or find a friend more adept at computers – to see) looks like a stick figure riding a bike while wearing a chef’s toque.  At first I thought I was riding in a lane reserved for food deliveries.

The Burlington bike path, which runs for 12 miles along the lake (and several more into it, along a causeway), is so crowded that, as Mr. Berra would say, “no one goes there anymore.”  Hey, dog walkers!  Standing to one side of the bike path, while nominally polite, does no good if your dog is on the other side of the path and the leash is stretched between you.  I like animals; it’s their owners I worry about.

Seeking less traffic, I found the South Burlington Recreation Path has not only fewer users, but also nice changes in elevation and scenery.  Within minutes, I pass athletic fields, cornfields, meadows, over a brook, through a patch of woods, past a golf course and into a nearly treeless housing development along the ridge, where the views are best.

Pumping hard, wanting to get through this eerie section and back to the woods, I had my head down, but looked up as I approached an intersection.  The street sign, jammed with letters, seemed to scream at me: FOULSHAMHOLLOW.

With no room on the sign for spaces between words, it was up to my brain to separate the letters; here’s what it spit out: FOUL! SHAM! HOLLOW!

The sign was posted at the end of keyhole street that is not yet on Google Maps (I looked).  (I was going to post a photo of the sign too, but you know…) There’s only one house and several driveway aprons, cable tee vee boxes and patches of overgrown weeds where someone is expecting further construction when and if the economy ever turns around.  The street’s single house was an ugly, too-large habitation with a couple SUVs in the driveway and a mailbox shaped like a golf bag, just what you (or at least I) expect in an ex-urban development.

But what about the name?  Have people become so functionally illiterate that they don’t understand that even the people who lay out their streets are mocking them or is the developer even more clueless?  (I’m ready to believe either scenario.)

The housing crisis that has so vexed the nation for the past four years has not hit northwestern Vermont as hard as other places, in large part because our development regulations – which Republicans and developers consistently describe as “overly burdensome” – went a long way toward saving us from several square miles of Foul Sham Hollows that would have otherwise been built.

It’s probably hopeless to think so, but it would be nice if we could preserve Foul Sham Hollow just as it is, as a lesson for future generations of a foolish road not taken.

© Mark Floegel, 2012

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