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Making bike friendly streets a top priority for local governments

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 15, 2009 7:15 AM

Iowa City’s newest bicycle-safety effort looks a little bit like those arrows on the track in Mario Kart 64 — you know, the ones that, when you drive over them, give you a short burst of extra speed. Shared-lane arrows have appeared on several streets in Iowa City and Coralville and are aimed at reminding cyclists and drivers to share the road.

At the cost of a little bit of paint and a little bit of labor, these arrows are just one example of lots of simple things the community can do to make our streets more navigable for both bike and car commuters.

The Johnson County Council of Governments — a planning organization with representation from the county’s local governments — has been developing a Metro Bicycle Master Plan. The group hopes the plan can be used as a guideline for communities in the area to design more biker-compatible infrastructure and policies.

The council’s Regional Trails and Bicycling Committee met Tuesday to discuss bike plans for the area. The group is on the right track with several of its initiatives.

Shared-lane arrows have been put into place on three bike-heavy streets in Iowa City — College Street, Market Street, and Jefferson Street. Additionally, the markings appear on Fifth Street in Coralville, and they will soon be added to 12th Street and Holiday Road.

However, many residents don’t know what the arrows are meant to indicate. Cyclists — including Johnson County Supervisor Terrence Neuzil — have complained that many motorists drive the same way, regardless of the shared-lane arrows. In order for the markings to work, people should take note of them and actively inform others about the markings’ purpose.

If they’re properly understood, shared-lane arrows can be an effectively subtle reminder for cyclists and motorists to acknowledge the existence of the other. Most importantly, they’re a cheap alternative to bike lanes. On most streets, the construction of bike lanes would require widening streets. That would require a significant monetary cost for materials and labor, in addition to closing down streets for days or weeks at a time.

Another cheap and easy way to promote bicycle safety is through proper street maintenance, said Kristopher Ackerson, the Council of Governments’ assistant transportation planner.

Not only do well-kept roadways that help bikers prevent accidents, they can prevent ware damage to cars and trucks. Moreover, rugged streets riddled with pot-holes and cracks are unsightly and generally unpleasant.

The Council of Governments has also made efforts to enhance local communities’ trail systems. On that note, we should be careful to ensure we are taking practical steps. Pathways meant for cyclists and pedestrians can be a useful means of transportation, but they can also be frivolous detours to nowhere.

While out-of-the-way routes are surely enjoyable and good for exercise, they do not solve our city’s transportation woes. Advancing alternative transportation and slimming downtown congestion should take priority over designing scenic trails.

Even for those of us who don’t bike — as sport or as transport — having an infrastructure that encourages numerous modes of transportation is in our collective best interest. Each bike on the road represents one fewer car lining up at a stop sign and one fewer occupied parking spot. Riding a bike causes less pollution than does driving a car, keeping air — mine and yours — a little bit cleaner. And, finally, cyclists are keeping themselves healthy; seeing as we all may soon be paying for each other’s health care, that’s important.

Unfortunately, on the streets of Iowa City, it often seems that bikers and drivers resent one another. The most productive means of getting bicyclists and auto drivers to coexist peacefully isn’t something policymakers or local government officials can solve. Put simply, all travelers need to have mutual respect for one another.


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