Lincoln’s growing bicycle community leads to road updates

Cyclists in downtown Lincoln, Neb., are forced to face the dangers of riding on busy roadways with traffic.

Cyclists in downtown Lincoln, Neb., are forced to face the dangers of riding on busy roadways with traffic.

Story and photos by Haley Whisennand, NewsNetNebraska

Let’s face it. Every year more people ride their bicycles to work. According to the 2012 American Community Survey, bicycle commuting in the United States has increased 52.8 percent since 2005. When cyclists legally ride on the road, sometimes motorists get angry.

Why? These two-wheel commuters aren’t going the same speed as the autos on the street. Motorists are¬†forced to slow down, change lanes or try and squeeze by cyclists. Despite motorists’ beliefs, cyclists dislike riding in traffic just as much. For cyclists though, there is nowhere else to ride.

“Motorists aren’t always aware that bicycles can be on the streets,” Kent McNeill, a spokesperson for Activate Omaha, a healthy living advocate group,¬†told the Omaha World Herald. “A lot of people want better [cycling] facilities.”

The proposed protected bike lane along N Street would stretch from 11th Street to 22nd Street.

The proposed protected bike lane along N Street would stretch from 11th Street to 22nd Street.

This year, several Nebraska cities have been hard at work trying to help motorists and cyclists adapt to the increasing pedal population. Lincoln city officials released plans to create a 16-block protected bike lane along N Street downtown, removing one lane of traffic from the street. A protected bike lane would put the bike route in the lane next to the sidewalk with a median separating it from westbound drivers.

The new plans, although controversial to some motorists who drive along N Street, earned a warm reception from the downtown Lincoln community.

“I’ve tried biking to places nearby instead of driving in the past,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Brooke Ellerman, “but every time, I never really knew where to ride. The sidewalk was a pain and the streets are dangerous. I felt in the way. This new bike lane would help me feel a lot safer riding on the street.”

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The N Street protected bike lane already passed preliminary approvals, including those required to put aside funding for the over $1 million project. Similar projects throughout Nebraska, however, have not been as fortunate.

Plans to build a protected bike lane along South 32nd Avenue in Omaha, Neb., came to a halt in late November due to funding issues. City officials revealed on Nov. 20 that they could not use a federal grant that they planned to use for the project. The city had already approved 20 percent of the project costs to be funded by public funds.

The Nebraska state historic preservation office also helped stop the project’s forward progress, claiming that the new protected bike lane would alter the character of the area, which has been designated a historic district.

Even in the cold winter weather, cyclists hit to the streets to commute from one place to another.

Even in the cold winter weather, cyclists hit to the streets to commute from one place to another.

The Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) created a project called Transportation Enhancement. This projects helps cities and neighborhoods fund upgrades to their local transportation routes, including the creation of bicycle paths and trails.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve funded over $60 million worth of bike-pedestrian infrastructure,” said Randy ElDorado, planning and location studies engineer for NDOR.

If a city or area created a bicycle-pedestrian plan in their local government, NDOR consults and takes into account their objectives before they put into action any road reconstruction projects. The department also created a policy which allows cyclists on rural highways, as long as it is not an interstate or freeway. Within city limits, though, riders are still not permitted on highway roads.

A majority of NDOR’s concern with bicyclists, however, comes from the number of riders that travel through Nebraska. Because where bicyclists can and cannot ride is restricted to city streets and rural highways, the state prepared helpful guides for the through-state cyclists.

“We’ve prepare a state of Nebraska bicycle map that shows information to cyclists so that they can determine what route they want to take through the state,” said Eldorado. “The map shows them information regarding our roadways – if they have shoulders or not, things of that nature.”

Though Eldorado said that the Department of Roads has no immediate plans to create more protected bike lanes in Nebraska, that doesn’t mean that Nebraska’s bicycle infrastructure expansion has stopped. As long as bicycle commuting continues to grow in popularity, the state is prepared to continue considering the rising community and their needs on the streets.

 


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