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Plans for Better Bike Lanes Sit on a Shelf

Brent Warren Brent Warren Plans for Better Bike Lanes Sit on a Shelf
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Despite strong ridership and a generally favorable reception from the neighborhood, the city has no current plans to expand its network of on-street, protected bike lanes. For now, the 1.4-mile long Summit Street lane in the University District remains the only one.

Reconfiguring city streets in a way that has the potential to inconvenience drivers or take away parking spaces remains a politically fraught endeavor in Columbus.

It can be easy to forget that, nationally, there remains a strong consensus that making streets safe for biking is one of the most cost-effective ways for cities to decrease car use, expand mobility options for underserved residents, and even boost local businesses.

Since the awarding of the federal Smart City grant in 2016, much of the local transportation conversation has shifted away from low-tech modes like biking or walking, and towards more futuristic technology like autonomous vehicles and the Hyperloop.

Some locals are worried that Columbus is falling behind when compared to some of our peer cities. As Justin Goodwin, an urban planner at MKSK, put it in an opinion piece earlier this year; “I can’t help but have the feeling that Columbus is being surpassed by other cities that are implementing the next generation of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and creating great places to live in doing so.”

Others simply see the appeal of the protected lane on Summit and wish their neighborhood had something similar.

Kevin Lykens, a developer who lives in Victorian Village and has multiple projects currently under construction along the Summit and North Fourth Street corridors in Italian Village, said that he is a big fan of the existing, painted lanes on the two streets.

“I love them there, but I wish it would’ve been the same as the stretch south of Hudson, where you have the sidewalk, then the bike lane, then the car parking lane,” he said. “I know they had their reasons (for not bringing the protected lane all the way down), but we still need to find out some way to slow traffic…it’s very difficult to cross [Fourth and Summit] outside of a cross walk.”

When bike lanes were first proposed for Third and Fourth streets downtown, the plan was for them to be physically separated from car traffic. That changed when engineers determined that putting in protected lanes would require the removal of some on-street parking.

Similar unrealized plans can be found for multiple streets in Columbus.

Broad Street, with four car lanes in each direction traveling through the heart of Downtown, has long been floated as a candidate for either a dedicated transit lane, a protected bike lane, or both. Although some bike-related improvements have been made to small sections of the road — like painted lanes in front of City Hall and on the Scioto Peninsula — the city hasn’t considered any sort of holistic plan for the length of Broad Street Downtown since the Downtown Strategic Plan was released in 2010.

That plan called for two protected lanes, one moving in each direction, complete with trees and landscaping. It was pitched as a chance to make Broad Street “the most sustainable street in the Midwest,” and “an opportunity to restore the grandeur to this once majestic street.”

Even before that, the 2008 Bicentennial Bikeways Plan made the case that both Broad and High streets were in desperate need of bike improvements; “creating a culture of cycling along significant stretches of these streets is an opportunity Columbus will not want to miss,” the plan stated. Although High Street eventually got sharrows — painted arrows meant to encourage bikes and cars to share the lane — Broad Street’s car-centric design remains.

Jeffrey Tumlin is a sustainable transportation consultant who, with his company Nelson Nygaard, was involved with the city’s Connect Columbus plan as well as the NextGen plan from the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). When CU interviewed Tumlin in 2015, he singled out Broad Street as an obvious candidate for a protected lane:

“Just look at Broad Street, it has eight lanes, with an average daily traffic of less than 20,000. When we look at bike projects, if the average daily traffic is less than 10,000 per day per lane, we don’t even bother with analysis, you can just go ahead and repurpose a lane. On pretty much all of your streets, you could eliminate a traffic lane, and nobody is even going to notice. The level of service will still be high – you might have four cars in front of you at the light instead of one, but there will not really be more congestion. That’s a luxury that not many economically-strong cities have.”

Tumlin went on to make a case for a much larger protected network in the city, saying that, “In terms of real estate value and quality of life, there are few more cost-effective ways than investing in bike facilities.”

“Columbus has an amazing interconnected grid extending for miles outside of Downtown,” he added. “You’d have an opportunity to do Vancouver-style neighborhood bikeways, so that all neighborhood streets feel safe for walking and biking, to the extent that any parent would feel safe having their children ride on them…there’s no excuse, no reason not to have that.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a three-part series on biking in Columbus. The first piece looked at the Summit bike lane, the city’s only protected lane. Read on for more about other bike projects in Columbus and the potential impact of scooters and dockless bikes on future infrastructure decisions.

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