Feasibility of Approving Bicycle Infrastructure in Oregon, Idaho and North Carolina

I was planning to discuss the complicated bike connection between where the proposed buffered bike lanes on Loop Road end and the proposed bike lanes on Mooresville Road end. I will still write this post, but wanted to first discuss a more pressing matter that is impacting communities of all sizes across the United States. Anyone who follows the approval process of bicycle infrastructure in the United States knows how controversial this process often becomes, especially in the automobile-centric South. The below map, which I found through Bicycling Magazine, shows the cities in the United States with the most miles of bike lanes and paths in 2009 and cities in the United States with the most miles of protected lanes slated for 2013 and 2014. Depending on your definition of the South, which doesn’t always include Texas, the South is struggling to approve and install bicycle infrastructure. As I know from interning for Charlotte DOT during the summer of 2011, this doesn’t mean the South isn’t trying to install bicycle infrastructure. According to PeopleForBikes’ map, the South has installed protected bike lanes. When will North Carolina join all the states that have protected bike lanes?

US cities with the most miles of bike infrastructure

US cities with the most miles of bike infrastructure

Not surprising to me since I feel much safer biking with bike infrastructure, many of the cities that have the most miles of bike infrastructure also have the most trips made by bike. A few demographic concerns that many academic articles have pointed out are the high percentage of male cyclists and the lack of ethnic diversity among cyclists since a majority of cyclists are white. Due to what I saw while biking in Denmark and the Netherlands, I strongly believe that females are an indicator of how safe a city is for cycling. The higher percentage of females who are biking the safer a city is for cycling. This doesn’t mean that females are weak. The female cyclists that I know are some of the strongest people I know. Instead, I feel it means that females have a different sense of safety than males. This is especially true for females who are taking care of children because they probably don’t feel safe biking with their children on roads with high speed automobile traffic.

US cities with highest bike commute rates

US cities with highest bike commute rates

How do cities go about making their roads safe enough for females and children to bike on them? Providing a safe and convenient network of bicycle infrastructure would be a good starting point. One of the most controversial steps in this process is approving the bicycle infrastructure. Throughout the rest of this post, I will discuss four case studies on how controversial the bicycle infrastructure approval process was in each city. While I am confident there are several more case studies to discuss, my coverage will be on Foster Road in Portland, Oregon; Willamette Street in Eugene, Oregon; Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street in Boise, Idaho; and Newsome Road and Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury, North Carolina. Along with each case study, I will discuss the current debate in Kannapolis about whether to do a road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road.

Portland, OR

Of all the case studies, Foster Road is the only case that resulted in a unanimous vote by city council to approve bicycle infrastructure. According to BikePortland.org, the approved and funded redesign of Foster Road involves the following: “Even though local media outlets like The Oregonian tried to frame it as a “loss” of lanes in order to promote clicks and critics, the new cross-section actually adds a lane. The plan is to re-design the four lanes that exist today and turn it into five lanes: two standard lanes, one center turn lane, and two bike lanes. ” The Mayor of Portland, Charlie Hales, supported the redesign by quoting famed urban planning philosopher Lewis Mumford. Do you think the Mayor of Kannapolis, Darrell Hinnant, will say something similar during the debate over whether to redesign Loop Road?

“We want people to slow down, get out of their car, and notice this is a great neighborhood… You don’t have to speed off to some distant chain store.”
— Charlie Hales, Portland Mayor

Even in bicycle friendly Portland, there was opposition to the redesign of Foster Road. One citizen “referencing a quote by Rex Burkholder in a recent story in the Portland Mercury where he said major commercial arterials need to have better bicycle access to make his trips to the pub and work faster, the woman said, “Don’t we [people who use cars] share that goal of getting to our destinations as efficiently as possible?” “Taking away driving lanes,” she said, “will affect too many drivers.” In fact she added, somewhat ominously, that the time increases would lead to drivers getting frustrated and that, “trying to make up for lost time causes traffic violations and hazards.””

Foster Road in Portland, OR (Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Foster Road in Portland, OR (Photo J. Maus/BikePortland)

Eugene, OR

During my visit to Eugene, I biked along Willamette Street so I could eat at Holy Cow, which is a “family-owned organic food enterprise”. Even though Willamette Street didn’t feel safe, having a place to lock my bike at Holy Cow made up for the poor design of Willamette Street. Holy Cow actually has three staple racks and they were all being used! Including my bike, there were four bikes locked to the three staple racks. Would cyclists still go to Holy Cow if there were no bike racks?

The redesign of Willamette Street involves the following. “The existing four lanes would be replaced by a design with one vehicle travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane and bicycle lanes on both sides of the street.” The below photo shows the current configuration of Willamette Street. Notice how the two cyclists are biking on the sidewalk and there are only automobiles traveling along the street. This is a rare scene in Eugene because I could almost always see another cyclist biking on the street when I was biking on other streets in Eugene. Since Eugene has an established bike culture, which includes residents that live car-free, I was dumbfounded when the Eugene City Council barely passed the redesign of Willamette Street. “With Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy casting a tie-breaking vote, the City Council on Tuesday approved the test of a bike-friendly design for Willamette Street.” This news report provides an unbiased discussion of the controversy surrounding the redesign of Willamette Street. If it is this challenging to approve bicycle infrastructure in Eugene, how challenging will it be to approve the road diet and buffered bike lanes in Kannapolis, NC?

Willamette Street looking north from 32nd Avenue on Tuesday May 27, 2014. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

Willamette Street looking north from 32nd Avenue on Tuesday May 27, 2014. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

Boise, ID

Even though I have never been to Idaho, I did apply for two planning jobs in Idaho. One of these applications resulted in a phone interview. I am sharing this because I want readers to keep in mind that I do not have personal knowledge of Boise, Idaho. In addition, I want readers to recognize that bicycle friendly communities attract people, especially Millennials, to pursue employment in their communities.

Since Ada County Highway District, which manages Boise’s public roads, shared emails it has received and conducted an online survey on how people felt about buffered bike lanes on Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street, I wanted to include Boise. The below map, which I found here, shows where Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street are in Boise. The Ada County Highway District “began offering the online survey May 1, a couple of days after the buffered bike lanes – on Capitol Boulevard, Idaho Street and Main Street – and the new travel configuration showed up Downtown.” “About two-thirds of the roughly 500 emails Ada County Highway District received on the topic were opposed to the new bike lanes Downtown, district spokesman Craig Quintana said. The results of an online survey split almost evenly, with a slim majority showing preference for removing the bike lanes.” I need to ask City of Kannapolis staff to share the email response they have received about the road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road. In addition, I need to ask if City of Kannapolis staff has conducted a survey on how people feel about this project. I feel these two items need to be done before Kannapolis City Council can responsibly vote on the Loop Road project.

After writing the above paragraphs, I recently learned that Ada County Highway District voted to “remove the lanes and “revisit” adding a bike-friendly infrastructure to Boise’s downtown, perhaps in August.” Could Kannapolis City Council decide to remove the buffered bike lanes on Loop Road after they are installed? Given the safety issues I have expressed to City of Kannnapolis staff about the buffered bike lanes, it is possible that this could occur if the safety issues are not resolved before the buffered bike lanes are installed.

Map of the new bike routes through downtown Boise - KELSEY HAWES

Map of the new bike routes through downtown Boise – KELSEY HAWES

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/05/20/3192520/many-want-bike-lanes-gone.html#storylink=cpy

Salisbury, NC

Since most people in North Carolina would probably want a local case study that they can relate to, I have chosen to include Salisbury. I believe Foster Road in Portland, Willamette Street in Eugene, and Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury have the same configuration and proposed redesign. However, Foster Road and Willamette Street appear to have much more automobile traffic than Statesville Boulevard. The below photo, which was taken by the Salisbury Post, shows the current and potentially long-term future of Statesville Boulevard.

Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury, NC (Credit: Salisbury Post)

Statesville Boulevard in Salisbury, NC (Credit: Salisbury Post)

The following is what occurred in Salisbury. “In 2012, city officials considered putting bike lanes on Statesville Boulevard as part of a road diet that would have taken the four-lane thoroughfare down to two lanes, a turn lane and two bike lanes, as recommended in the bike plan. But after complaints from neighbors during a contentious public workshop, the city ditched the bike lanes and had the state repaint the boulevard with four lanes.” Mac Butner, who has lived in Salisbury since 1961, was opposed to the redesign and desired Statesville Boulevard to remain four lanes because he wants “a passing lane both ways.” “You just don’t give that up after all this time.” The below cartoon, which was drawn by Marina Bare, shows the overwhelming amount of complaints from Salisbury residents during a contentious public workshop.

Salisbury Says No to Statesville Blvd Bike Lane (Cartoon by Rowan Free Press)

Salisbury Says No to Statesville Blvd Bike Lane (Cartoon by Marina Bare)

On the other end of the spectrum, Jeff Jones favored the redesign because “fewer vehicle lanes would make the road safer.” “Visually, the way it is set up now, it just encourages speed,” he said. “It’s like a race track.” According to this article, Jeff Jones was in the minority. “A vocal minority of attendees supported turning the boulevard into a three-lane road, including a center turn lane and dedicated bike lanes on both sides.”

I have been attending the public workshops for the proposed road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road. From what I have seen and heard, Kannapolis is not receiving the same amount of opposition Salisbury residents had towards bike lanes on Statesville Boulevard. This doesn’t mean there isn’t opposition to the proposed road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road. Will the outcry that was experienced in Salisbury also occur in Kannapolis with the proposed road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road or is North Carolina ready to accept that the automobile is not the only mode of transportation?

Even though it took widening (I can think of a few roads that could use a diet) of Newsome Road to approve Salisbury’s first bike lanes, Salisbury is proof that North Carolina is ready to accept that the automobile is not the only mode of transportation. “Three years after approving the bicycle master plan, City Council on Tuesday approved Salisbury’s first official bike lanes for a one-mile stretch of Newsome Road.” Kannapolis is looking to do a road diet and buffered bike lanes on Loop Road, which I feel is more challenging than widening Newsome Road to install bike lanes. Will Kannapolis approve the road diet and North Carolina’s first buffered bike lanes on Loop Road?

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