A proposed bicycle lane at the Bluemont/North Manhattan intersection drew most of the attention during discussion of proposed improvements to Bluemont Avenue at Tuesday’s city commission work session.
In a presentation on traffic flow changes envisioned for Bluemont between 11th and North Manhattan, city engineer Robert Ott proposed adding a bike lane along the east side of the section of North Manhattan that is within Aggieville. Ott said such a lane would allow cyclists to cross Bluemont on the east side of the intersection adjacent to a crosswalk proposed for that side of the intersection.
As it is, cyclists must ride on the street against the flow of traffic, ride in the bicycle lane on the west side of North Manhattan against the flow of other cyclists, or take to the sidewalks. All of those options can violate traffic laws.
Because it was a work session, commissioners took no action on the proposal.
Mike Wesch, a member of the city’s bicycle advisory committee, said the proposed east side bike lane between the sidewalk and the parking stalls would increase safety for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers even though it would cause cyclists to ride against traffic on that portion of Manhattan Avenue, since it is a one-way street going south. He said in Germany, where counter-flow bike lanes were first implemented, the lanes have greatly reduced accidents, increased flow of traffic, and lowered infrastructure costs. He said Germany performed a 15 year study of implementing counter-flow bike lanes.
“What they found in those comparisons, one, was the overall bicycle crashes went down over the entire network, and the reason for this was the bicyclist didn’t have to make those weird and dangerous maneuvers, which are basically required in the current situation,” Wesch said.
The study showed that not only were crashes reduced, but the crashes that did occur were less serious because cyclists could move off the main arterials. Ott said between 24,000 and 26,000 vehicles flow through that intersection daily.
Wesch also noted that the German study showed 60 percent of cyclists ride on the sidewalk rather than dismounting.
Evan Tuttle, executive director of the Aggieville Business Association, said Aggieville business owners did not want the bike lane added on N. Manhattan Avenue, and preferred that a “dismount zone” be posted at either end of the block. He agreed with Commissioner Wynn Butler that there were enough police officers patrolling Aggieville to enforce the no riding zone.
Nathan Bergman, project manager for Bartlett and West, said when they were designing the concept for the bike lane the creation of a no riding zone was considered, but while it would alleviate liability, the behavior would remain.
Tuttle said even the “police are riding bicycles on sidewalks in Aggieville.”
Wesch was not the only advocate for the bike lane. Several others, including Jeff Koenig, owner of Big Poppi Bicycle Co. in Aggieville, chimed in.
“You’re just not going to get around the fact that a lot more people are interested in walking and cycling in this area,” Koenig said. “Mike Wesch has got a mountain of research that says you gotta give each mode its own space.”
He said if the city wants to keep costs down and improve safety, the commission should agree to put the lane in.
He said the commission has been talking about improving infrastructure for the past 15 years, but has done little about it.
“We have horrible infrastructure for a college town,” Koenig said. He acknowledged, however, that “cyclists disobey the law in this town constantly.”
While Commissioner John Matta was initially against the implementation of the bike lane, citing feedback from several business owners in Aggieville, he said he would contact those owners again.