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Fall 1999

Theme: Trails and the ADA

A Man with a Handcycle

     by Geoffrey Skinner

Palo Alto resident Daniel Bartsch is not your typical trail user. He doesn't often venture into the wilderness on his handcycle-a specially adapted wheelchair--but he probably knows the town trails in Los Altos Hills better than nearly any of the residents. Over a one-year period, he explored every trail he could negotiate. Some trails were easier than others.

Daniel Bartsch on his Handcycle--click for full-size photo
Daniel Bartsch on his Handcycle
Photo by Joan Schwan
     By most standards, the LAH trails are not especially accessible and Daniel notes that he would have been limited to a small number of the trails if he had only used a wheelchair. In one instance, he resorted to climbing half a mile up a steep hill on his knees and pushing his handcycle in front of him (while Daniel needs his wheelchair to cover any distance, he does have limited mobility). Other trails were so steep that he was in danger of flipping over backwards and did so at one point.
     I spent some time talking to Daniel about his experiences on the trails of Los Altos Hills.

     GS: What are the challenges you've had in riding the trails?

     DB: Most of the trails weren't designed with trail users in mind. A lot of them follow lot lines, so they climb and descend really steeply. It would be helpful if the steepness were marked-cross-hatches on the map [which indicate steepness] aren't all that useful.
     Some of the trails just follow along the roads and are also too steep. There's a section along Page Mill that is virtually unused because it is too difficult. The shoulder is wide enough in some of those places that a trail could fit right next to the road if it were graded and surfaced.
     Besides steep trails, some of the problems I've had are [puncture weed] thorns, lack of restrooms, horse manure dust and property owners along the trails who block the right of way. Some of the trails are almost closed because they are overgrown-it doesn't look like anyone maintains them. Sometimes there are vehicles parked on the trails.
     I've had people complain that I shouldn't be on the trails since they're closed to bicycles. I decided for myself that my handcycle isn't the same as a bicycle. I don't think being in a wheelchair gives you the right to tear up the trails, so I don't ride them when they're wet or any time I might erode them. I just try to be careful.

     GS: What about cross-slope?

     DB: They all go up or down! Cross slope isn't even an issue, even though a big cross slope is really dangerous on a wheelchair.

     GS: Do you think the trails should have been built differently?

     DB: Even though most of the trails are steep, I don't advocate cutting into the hillsides. In some places, you'd have to cut a great deal to get a gentler trail.
     Some of the trails don't make sense and seemed to have been built along the property line even where there was an alternative. Maybe no trail should have been built in some places.

     GS: What are your favorite trails?

     DB: I like trails that connect disparate areas best. I especially like the [Artemas] Gintzon Trail [in Byrne Preserve]. It's very nice back in the preserve, although one time there was a parked bulldozer blocking the trail and I had to ask someone to help lift the handcycle around the bulldozer.
     The trails around Hidden Villa are nice and I like the bottom of Page Mill Road before it gets steep. There's a really steep section that would flip my chair, but you can take one of the other trails to make a pleasant loop.

     Note: The trails described by Daniel can be found on our Trail Map of the Southern Peninsula.

     Daniel Bartsch lives and works at Magic, Inc., a nonprofit and residential community in Palo Alto dedicated to applying scientific methods and principles to discover common human purposes and to further them through a variety of service and educational projects. You can learn more about Magic on the web, by e-mail, or by calling (650) 323-7333.

Related Stories

Trails and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Universal Trails Assessment Process
Building Access

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