Iowa City looks into new bike lanes


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Several Iowa City bicycle projects are closer to fruition.

A majority of these are lane-reduction or road-diet projects in which the number of lanes on a road is reduced usually from four to three lanes, the center lane becoming a turning lane. The city would add bike lanes on each side of the street.

One such project on South Sycamore Street is in the bidding process.

Additionally, the city’s project includes adding a pedestrian bridge, also accessible to cyclists, on Dubuque Street where it crosses Interstate 80 is under contract.

The Dubuque Street project would connect portions of the Iowa River Corridor Trail on both sides of the interstate.

“We do see more people using their bicycles to commute, so we want those users to feel safe and comfortable just as we would want motorists and pedestrians to feel comfortable,” Iowa City Public Works Director Ron Knoche said.

The number of U.S. workers who regularly commuted by bike increased from around 488,000 in 2000 to about 882,198 in 2013, according to the U.S. Census.

“With our young population, I think this is what people want,” said Kent Ralston, the executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County.

To respond to the national trend, he said, the city and the University of Iowa have contracted architecture engineering consulting firm Shive-Hattery to conduct a traffic model of downtown.

The model will help the city to decide whether a road-diet project would be appropriate in the area on Gilbert, Madison, and Clinton Streets.

Iowa City has received two $500,000 Traffic Safety Improvement Program grants from the Iowa Department of Transportation for the implementation of lane reduction and bike lane projects on First Avenue and Mormon Trek Boulevard.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration website suggests road-diet projects have resulted in lower overall crash rates than four-lane undivided highways do.

The administration also notes that road-diet projects serve as a good opportunity to provide facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Iowa City cyclist Donald Baxter said he agrees that bike lanes are useful for bikers and worthwhile projects so long as drivers do not turn right across bike lanes and police officers enforce this.

“I think all the solutions have pros and cons, but I tend to think bike lanes have more pros,” Baxter said.

Knoche said Iowa City based its decision to look into road-diet projects based on studies saying the lanes are safer.

Paula Balkenende, an Iowa City cycle commuter, bikes to work every day and says she isn’t overly concerned about the availability of bike lanes.

“It’s a great idea, but this time of year, the bike lanes are generally full of dead creatures and sand and salt and whatever’s on the road,” Balkenende said.

She said bike lanes aren’t always ideal but they’re sometimes a good option when cyclists can’t be separated from traffic completely.

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