What Lakewood realized when it earned a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) award from the League of American Bicyclists last fall was how far and yet how much further they want to go with a bike. The groundwork for the award was laid in 2010 when the city wrote its Bicycle Master Plan. The city built the plan by asking bikers of all stripes where they go, and how they would improve connections along the wide avenues and tight-knit residential streets.
“We wanted to be nationally recognized as a bicycle friendly place,” recalls Lakewood Director of Planning, Dru Siley. “We don’t really view bikes as alternative. It’s part of our transportation options in a densely populated, flat city where riding around is pretty easy.”
Easy in theory, but in practice lots of Lakewood residents (who might) don’t bike. In a city where destinations are close to home, its not for lack of opportunity. In the warm weather, school kids and a growing rank of young people moving in are starting to increase the numbers of two wheelers.
Siley says the city initially counted how many bike and surveyed them. For many, it was a question of having a place on the road and a lock on parking at their destination.
So, the city dove into the bike parking issue, offering a bike rack in front of any business willing to chip in $100. In two years, the city invested $7,000 and added 80 new racks.
The next frontier will be creating a bike network, with paint, on the road.
In order to make progress here, bike advocates like Ben Van Lear think Lakewood should set a goal for ‘mode shift’—like the 20% of locals who bike in Bremen, Germany where he visited and biked. Van Lear made his feelings known to Siley and his city councilman, Tom Bullock, that the Lakewood bike plan needs to make a stronger statement on allocating space in the road for bikes.
“If it feels safe, people will use it more,” he says. “The plan expresses very well what the benefits could be to Lakewood for more bicycling, but I thought it was incomplete on the path forward. What are the actual plans?
“The plans are basically bike parking and sharrows," he answers his own question. "And I was concerned it would stop there. But it hasn’t. Working with the city, we do have bike lanes on a mile of Franklin.”
And perhaps more to come.
Siley acknowledges that, with input from Van Lear and others at the fledgling Bike Lakewood advocacy group, the city was able to see clear benefits to adding bike lanes on Madison Avenue which it plans to resurface in 2014.
Breaking the code on getting bike lanes where ODOT forbids them like Madison, a four-laner with on-street parking, led Van Lear to research on how its done elsewhere, like America’s bike capital, Minneapolis.
“I wanted to see how bike lanes work with parked cars,” said Van Lear, a manufacturing engineer with NASA-Glenn where he’s bike commuted from Lakewood since 2008. “I also looked at negative examples.”
He found one study that showed a rise in ‘door-ing’ or car doors opening onto bikers. But the same study found total accidents per rider went down because of the addition of the bike lane, he adds.
“The evidence is building that bike lanes are a good thing,” he says. “It was a pretty easy case to make. There was some concern having them next to parked cars. But there’s really no way around that in cities.”
Siley recounts that initially he was opposed to bike lanes on Madison. His mind was changed when presented with best practices, he said, but also after hearing loud and clear from the bike community.
“As someone who rides, I have always been concerned about being told where to ride,” says Siley, expressing a commonly held sentiment among planners and traffic engineers. “But, I see the benefit of having clearly delineated space. And in order to make the case for bike lanes with our funders, that’s where we found the community engagement piece so valuable. Riders were coming from all corners. It wasn’t along socio-economic lines.”
Lakewood will do a classic road diet on Madison, taking it from four undefined lanes to two general travel plus a center turn lane. Using its own funds, the city will stripe the road in 2015, well after the project is completed, with bike lanes placed between the travel and parked car lanes.
If Madison happens according to plan, Lakewood would break new ground. The first bike lanes on a road with parked cars in the region. Even more impressive, Lakewood will have done it by adhering to a federal standard of 10 ft.-wide car lanes instead of ODOT’s 11-foot standard. It was a practice the city tested on Franklin Avenue in 2013.
Back to the BFC award, both Siley and Van Lear agree that the value is the League’s recommendations on how to improve. Van Lear thinks Lakewood’s priorities should be establishing a priority for which roads will have bike lanes and a dedicated funding stream. Siley thinks the city should focus on a bike-themed event every month. Funding for bike lanes, he says, are coming through their Economic Development department, and a commitment from city council. What worries Van Lear is the absence of a policy like Complete Streets which holds the city to its goals regardless of who holds office.
The bike plan established the city’s intentions, laid the groundwork for dialogue that led to a push for doing things differently, Siley says, citing the bike lanes on Franklin as a direct example of something the plan catalyzed. How does the city plan to deal with the issue of designing roads to fit bike lanes when the state’s DOT guidelines often thwart their best intentions?
“It was an ongoing discussion with ODOT,” he says. “It’s not being imbalanced in how you think about those options. We’re being very mindful of cars and how to keep infrastructure the best possible. On Madison, we’re enhancing transit stops. We’ll have new, public art bus shelters like a Birdtown-themed shelter. (The city) will have 180 miles of sidewalk.”
The expression of what the community values makes the effort on Madison worth it, he said.
“Imagine a brand new road on Madison and what that tells you about what’s important to the community,” Siley said. “Even if you don’t ever ride, you know what matters. It’s about enhancing the experience for everyone using the street.”