Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Guest Column: With bike lane system, two wheels better than four
By R. Nicholas Gerlich
In her Nov. 9 letter, Karissa Sims derided the city’s new bike lanes as being “silly” and “too far out in the street.” Furthermore, she questioned the expense of installing them because “I haven’t seen a single bike on them.”
Sims’ thinking reflects many misconceptions about bike lanes, which are a recent phenomenon in our city. Many residents probably do not have much experience cycling or driving in such systems, unless they have spent time in Denver, Colo.; Portland, Ore.; or Los Angeles, Calif. These cities have had extensive bike lane and path systems for many years, and motorists and cyclists are comfortable in their use.
I was a member of the Amarillo Hike & Bike Committee a couple of years ago. Our charge was to develop a master plan for cycling facilities in the city. We created a network of bicycle lanes and paths that we are now beginning to see laid across the city. When it is completed, we will have about 90 miles of dedicated cycling facilities.
The lanes Sims criticizes are installed correctly. They are supposed to be adjacent to the lane(s) used by motor vehicles and should only be near the curb when there is a no-parking lane. Compare, for example, the bike lane on Teckla Boulevard just north of 45th Avenue, a section with no streetside parking. The bike lane is between the motor vehicle lane and the curb, as it should be. But on Fulton Drive, the lane is sandwiched between a motor vehicle lane and a curbside parking lane. Again, this is as it should be, because streetside parking is allowed on Fulton.
There is nothing inherently dangerous in riding in such a lane. The Web site BicyclingInfo.org contains a wealth of information about bike paths and lanes and reports a study that shows that ” . . . striped lanes encouraged safer behavior by cyclists. Cyclists using the roads with a striped bike lane were less likely to ride on the sidewalk . . . less likely to ride against the flow of traffic and . . . more likely to obey stop signs and signals.”
Notice that the lanes caused cyclists to ride more safely. This is a direct benefit to motorists as well, because everyone’s behavior is more predictable. A free-for-all ensues without lane markings. The solid and dashed lines function to maintain order.
I have ridden extensively in large cities across the U.S. and can vouch for the integrity of our bike lane system. In fact, Amarillo will be a premier city when its bike lane system is complete. For a city of this size to have 90 miles of dedicated lanes is practically unheard of. We are transitioning from being hopelessly behind the curve to being far ahead of it.
It takes forward thinking to implement such a system. Los Angeles, Portland and Denver have had extensive bicycle facilties for years.
Las Vegas , Nev. , is a recent addition to the ranks of bike-friendly cities. I spent several days there this fall and cycled daily on busy streets with bike lanes without ever leaving the city limits.
Cities like these are helping themselves by encouraging more people to ride their bikes to work and on errands. It’s not just about sports and fitness; the bike is also transportation. High gasoline prices are forcing us to reconsider the motor vehicle as a statement of our economic well-being. Cycling (or walking) are not just for people without the means to drive a car; saving money by using human transport just makes good sense.
The greatest benefit is that our children will be able to cycle more safely to school. The network will link our schools by bike lanes, helping eliminate congestion at schools twice each day. The National Safe Routes to School Partnership aspires to a nation in which children everywhere will be able to ride their bikes to school, thereby establishing healthy lifestyles at an early age. Never mind all the gas we’ll save. Amarillo will be on the cutting edge of this movement when our network is complete.
It will take a little time to ease into our new facilities. People can rethink their transportation options and figure out how they could actually ride to work (and still take along the requisite wardrobe), or go shopping. As with all things new, there is a period of misunderstanding and questioning. To imply that the current lack of usage suggests a failure and waste of money is premature, and flawed. One would not tear up a road that has little or no traffic. Nor should bike lanes be scrapped.
I ride the bike lanes several times a week – every time I cycle to Amarillo. Knowing that I played a small part in designing the network gives me great pride in our city and the leaders who want Amarillo to move forward.
R. Nicholas Gerlich, a member of BikeTexas’ board of directors, is associate professor of marketing at WTAMU. He resides in a rural area west of Canyon.
Copyright Amarillo Globe-News; full article reprinted with permission.