Published in Insider Louisville 12 August 2014
American cities are experiencing a backlash from drivers and pedestrians against bike lanes.
Locally, drivers are complaining about the loss of travel lanes on Breckenridge and Kentucky Streets; pedestrians are complaining about cyclists on the Big Four Bridge; and cyclists are complaining about motorists, pedestrians and TARC buses in the bike lanes.
We have become squabbling siblings in the back seat, “He’s on my side of the car!” Community is not built by isolating segments of society. Community is built by sharing common space peacefully and safely.
The intent behind bike lanes is safety, and road safety is a function of mass and velocity. Remember physics? p=mv? The greater the mass and velocity, the greater the damage when things go wrong on our streets. Our road safety problem is simply one of mass and velocity.
Louisville cannot readily change the mass of vehicles on the road. Louisville, however, can limit the velocity of vehicles traveling surface roads inside the Watterson Expressway. Slower, calmer traffic gives travelers more time to assess, more time to decide, more time to react. Slower, calmer traffic diminishes stress. Slower, calm, safe streets benefit the community of pedestrians, wheelchair users, young children in strollers, joggers, skate boarders, cyclists and motorists.
Drivers are also more likely to embrace slower speeds for the benefit of the broader community than they are to embrace the loss of travel lanes to cyclists.
Reducing the velocity of vehicles traveling surface roads inside the Watterson can be accomplished by eliminating one-way roads, lowering the speed limit inside the Watterson to 20 mph, and increasing speeding fees dramatically.
While D.C. has instituted a $500 fine for motorists who hit a cyclist, Louisville should explore a fine for hitting a pedestrian. Cities are for people. Our common spaces should be dominated by people, not cars, not bicycles.
Rather than calming traffic, current city leadership has chosen to take lanes away from motor vehicles and segregate cyclists in lanes that are not protected by big trees or bollards, are seldom cleared of debris, are covered with winter’s ice, are baked by summer’s sun, traverse treacherous pavement, do not serve destination needs, and pit cyclists against motorists and pedestrians. Louisville needs to get beyond bike lanes. We need to address the real problem in any lane: mass and velocity.
Moving Louisville beyond bike lanes also means embracing public transit. Any lanes designated for one transportation mode alone should be lanes for buses, bus rapid transit, street cars and light rail. This assumes much greater frequency of public transit service than we currently have, which requires a reversal of political leadership.
Currently we are unnecessarily pitting public transit against public events. Annually there are 65 special events requiring bus route detours. When the buses are detoured families have their travel plans sabotaged for the day, employees arrive late to work, miss work entirely, and may even lose jobs over the failure of public transit. This happens every time there is a street event.
Four of the 65 street closing events are multiple day events. On Memorial and Labor Days, for the Mayor’s Hike, Bike & Paddle, 18 different TARC lines are rerouted. This pitting of events vs public transit is totally avoidable. River Road carries no TARC buses. River Road should be explored as Louisville’s event route. It is scenic, paralleled by Interstate-71, accessible by numerous downtown streets as well as Witherspoon, Frankfort Avenue, the Beargrass Greenway, Edith Avenue, Zorn Avenue, Mockingbird Valley Road, all east of downtown.
Great cities do not pit transportation modes against one another. Great cities serve their people with great public transit, with safe streets, and by cultivating a peaceful community.
It is time Louisville move beyond bike lanes.