Bike champions (or, how bicycle infrastructure can be built faster)
Of all the things that make a place bicycle-friendly, the one I think about every day is infrastructure. I want better bike infrastructure for all the would-be bikers who feel like they’d be putting themselves (or their kids) in unnecessary danger by learning how to bike to work or school using what passes for bike infrastructure right now.
And I want better infrastructure for myself too. Yes, sometimes I feel so very cool sharing the road with cars flying past uncomfortably close—Hey, look at me, I’m Strong & Fearless!—but most times I’d rather just feel Safe & Protected.
Even those of us who have been biking for years can remember the intimidation factor of figuring out how to share the road with 2,000+ pound machines under the control of people who may or may not be paying attention to everyone around them. And all of us can appreciate a good protected bike lane.
Colorado is doing some great things for bikes, but infrastructure is an area where we could definitely improve faster. We are currently rated 2 out of 5 in the Infrastructure and Funding Category of the Bicycle Friendly State rankings, and not a single project in Colorado made the list of America’s Best New Bike Lanes of 2014. I think we’ve gotten a little complacent here because we see some bike infrastructure, and we think the pace it’s being built at is the best that we can do. It is not.
What needs to change?
If there’s one thing I’ve seen in the past couple years, it’s that it does not take a long time to build better bike infrastructure IF you have a champion at the top who is truly dedicated to it, like…
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Goal: Build 100 miles of protected or buffered bike lanes in his first term
How he’s promoting bike infrastructure: Bike infrastructure will attract high-tech companies to Chicago.
Quote that sums up his vision: “By next year I believe the city of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes, and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country. It will help us recruit the type of people that have been leaving for the coast. They will now come to the city of Chicago.”
Memphis Mayor AC Wharton
Goal: Build 55 miles of bike lanes in two years
How he’s promoting bike infrastructure: Bike infrastructure will revitalize Memphis neighborhoods at a low cost.
Quote that sums up his vision: “We wanted to make sure that this was for everybody. When we did the longest stretches of lanes, they were in predominantly black neighborhoods. We wanted to send that message: ‘This was for everybody, in every neighborhood. When you do get ready to bike, it’ll be there.’”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto
Goal: Install five miles of protected bike lanes and create connections between trails and planned protected bike lanes within two years, achieve bicycle mode share of 10 percent, oh, and make Pittsburgh a cycling mecca
How he’s promoting bike infrastructure: Bike infrastructure will revitalize Pittsburgh’s core and attract businesses.
Quote that sums up his vision: “What we’re trying to do right now is not just play a game of catch up with other cities around the country, but actually to become a leader.”
What I’m saying is…
When it comes to bike infrastructure in Colorado, we need to get excited again. We need champions who want to do bike infrastructure better and faster than cities and towns in other states. Because at the rate we’re going, we’re going to get our butts kicked by Pittsburgh…and I’m not talking about the Steelers.
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The Latest Newsview all
- Dec 22, 2022
- by Bicycle Colorado
allen marin -
Well said, Katie. Denver has a natural advantage with younger workers who appreciate the lifestyle this area offers, but we shouldn’t squander that advantage.
Katie Bonomo -
Thank you, Allen. Absolutely, let’s build on that advantage!
beth rowley -
question: is there any impetus towards finishing / interconnecting existing infrastructures and is there any political impetus towards improving vehicle laws / safety? by this I mean a “vulnerable user” type law, and working towards a unified, well aligned and easy to comprehend infrastructure policy.
I live in Boulder and while we have a lot of bike infrastructure, and Boulder is frequently touted as a very bike-friendly community, a lot of the cycling infrastructure is either incomplete (as in, it ends abruptly in a weed patch owing to some dumb right of way conflict that’s been going on for decades) or flat out confusing, like the many, many “shared use” pathways that look like sidewalks, operate like sidewalks, are full of pedestrians like sidewalks, have very few rules or visible enforcement, and worse yet, they confuse / conflate both user and driver perceptions and expectations such that cyclists frequently fail to differentiate between actual illegal to ride on pedestrian sidewalks and these “multi use” affairs. Worse yet, this perceived segregation / special infrastructure leads drivers to feel entitled to push/crowd/harrass or otherwise threaten cyclists to “get out of the road” or “get on the sidewalk”. A great example is Arapahoe east of Foothills, which sets a dangerous precedent with a MUT running on the north side of a large boulevard with heavy side traffic during peak hours, and no bike lanes on the street. This sets up a situation where an eastbound cyclist is forced to ride counterflow with poor visibility, limited sight lines and numerous potential left and right hook encounters. If you attempt to ride in the (very wide) right hand lane (it’s a six lane street without sufficient volume to warrant it and cars have more than enough room to pass or merge over to avoid you), then you get honked at, screamed at and harrassed because “you should be on the bike path!”. Can we please address this driver entitlement and second-class-infrastructure mentality somehow by either changing infrastructure to visibly accommodate and protect cyclists equally along with cars, or else somehow force drivers to cope with our existence? The protected lane on Baseline is a great start, but it’s less than a kilometer long, and I’ve seen plenty of these “living lab” projects go a decade in “research” mode with no further development.
Katie Bonomo -
Thanks for your feedback, Beth.
To your question about interconnecting infrastructure: Gov. Hickenlooper recently spoke to that point in his State of the State speech: “We have asked Ken Gart, our volunteer bike czar, to assist us in launching a Bike Health initiative that will take on a number of large challenges, such as create a publicly available data source to track existing bicycle trails, routes and cyclist feedback; seek funding for new construction for bicycle infrastructure; and create a plan to connect bike routes across communities and around the tallest mountains in Colorado.” So, yes, this is in the works at the state level! Bicycle Colorado is working with Ken on this initiative.
To your question about a “vulnerable user” type law, we are not working on that this year. Our main legislative agenda this year is focused on the Safe Routes to School Bill, but improving safety and holding unsafe drivers accountable are always on our radar. We’ve helped pass several laws that have imposed stiffer penalties on unsafe drivers.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Boulder infrastructure, too. It’s a great reminder for all of us that although some communities are more bike-friendly than others, we all have to keep pushing for better infrastructure so that everyone who wants to ride feels safe getting where they want to go on a bicycle.
Robbie Monsma -
Like you were channeling my own thoughts. Rode MLK from York to 18th st. the other day. Heaven. More SIGNED links between dedicated bike paths definitely are in order. Maps that cover all metro cities in one place, with the links highlighted. One place to get all that plus updated trail closure info. Better directional signage everywhere and all overpasses identified by street name, not just some. I could go on, but know you already have all that in mind. Keep it going, Katie!
Katie Bonomo -
Thank you, Robbie. Great points. Sounds like you’re in Denver? A bit of good news: the public works department is starting to work on distance-, direction- and destination-based bicycle signage. More here: https://www.denvergov.org/BicyclinginDenver/tabid/437709/Default.aspx