Bike lane article in LJS

article in LJS

Jaimi Schmidt loves to ride her bicycle downtown for coffee or to meet friends. But blocks before the 22-year-old gets there, she gets off and walks. “It’s scary being a biker downtown,” she said.

Drivers look right through her, she said while walking her bike along 13th Street Wednesday afternoon. “You about have to expect them to be bad drivers.”

If things go as planned, downtown bike lanes could allow riders like Schmidt to pedal with more confidence by the end of August.

“I definitely would love that,” Schmidt said.

Taking the pressure of cyclists is the idea behind bike lanes proposed on 11th Street south from Q to K and 14th Street north from L to R, said David Cary, a transportation planner for the City of Lincoln.

The more cyclists feel comfortable, he said, the more they’ll come downtown. It could mean more shoppers for downtown merchants, safer streets for bike riders and safer sidewalks for pedestrians.

“That is a big reason for doing this — for those who maybe want to bike to downtown and maybe don’t have a place they feel comfortable,” he said.

He’d like to see the 6-foot-wide bike lanes painted and drivers getting used to them before college classes start this fall.

“I’m not sure we can squeeze it in, but that’s the intent,” said Cary, part of a working group of downtown business leaders, property owners, bicycle activists and city staff discussing path designs.

Before striping is scheduled, Lincoln’s City Council must give its approval. A public hearing is set for July 24.

Cary hasn’t heard much negative feedback, but the idea isn’t new. The city transportation plan adopted in 2002 supported the idea, as did the downtown master plan adopted last fall.

“I think that there’s been a range of everything from ‘I think this is a great idea’ to ‘let’s wait and see how it turns out,’” Cary said.

That was the case Thursday, too, the night storm clouds held off long enough to permit 40 people, including Ian Davis, to talk about the plan at an open house.

“This is an excellent start,” said Davis, a philosophy graduate student at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln who collected 1,866 signatures at coffee shops and bike shops in support of the idea.

For a slew of reasons, he said, cycling is a fabulous thing to do.

The one-time bike messenger from Pittsburgh, who commutes to work and to campus, said the city did a good job working out cyclists’ earlier concerns.

“I don’t think that in any way this can be a bad thing,” he said.

Davis has no horror stories about riding downtown in the year he’s lived here and considers Lincoln a nice city for cyclists.

More experienced riders don’t really care if there’s bike lanes because they already feel comfortable riding in traffic, Davis said, but he still thinks lanes serve a purpose.

“I would certainly use them if they were there,” he said.

Bike lanes, if done correctly, will increase cyclists’ safety on the road, he said. In turn, more might stay off the sidewalks downtown, where they’re not legally allowed to ride.

But Davis is quick to start talking about M and N street bike lanes, the next place he’d like to see them.

Cary said additional lanes depend on how things go with the first two.

“The intent is, if this goes over well and things work out fine, that these would be considered on other streets in the future,” he said.

But don’t expect to see a bike lane on O Street, Cary said. Due to high traffic, some streets just aren’t likely candidates.

Carl Yendra used to ride to work downtown, saving money on gas, but he’s all but given up on it since he was hit by a car. He doubts bike lanes will make car drivers any more attentive.

“They’re going to hit you anyway,” he said.

In places where traffic drives slower, he said, a bike lane’s not a bad idea.

Eric Peterson, a bicycle mechanic at Monkey Wrench Cycles on P Street, said cars don’t scare him, but he supports anything that legitimizes cycling, makes bike riders feel safer and gets drivers to notice that bikes have a right to the road.

“I don’t know why it wasn’t done a long time ago,” he said.

Police Officer Charlie Marti, who is assigned to bike patrol, would like to try bike lanes on a limited basis.

“If we need more, they can always add more,” he said. If it doesn’t go over well, they haven’t done every single street, he said.

Marti sees their potential. Bike lanes could funnel bike traffic away from busier, more dangerous areas — if people use them.

And while it’s not a high priority to ticket bike riders on downtown sidewalks, Marti said, it might mean fewer bikes there, too.

“I like the idea even if it’s only for the added safety bonus of alerting motorists to take heed that bicycles are on the road and have a legal right to be there,” he said.

Marti himself was nearly hit along P Street when a driver spotted a parking spot and pulled across his path.

“Motorists that are in search of that almighty parking stall will do almost anything to get it,” he said.

He’s had a few other close calls, mostly with drivers focused on things other than bicycles.

It just takes a little consideration from the motoring public and some due caution exercised by bicyclists to know the best routes to travel.

“I think we can all get along,” he said.

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