21 September 2011

West Blvd Bike Lanes

Sometimes small things in life can be game-changers, as they say. The building of bike lanes along West Boulevard in Columbia, Missouri qualifies for me as a game-changer.

Coming up on a month ago the City of Columbia painted stripes and sharrows along West Boulevard from near the Business Loop south to Stadium Blvd, a span of about two miles. These new bicycle lanes fall off before intersections and start up again after the intersections. The lanes fit because existing travel lanes for cars are wide enough to accommodate 12 feet for cars and four feet or so for bicycles. Not surprisingly, some motor vehicle operators remain unimpressed.

Why is this so great? For starters it slows car traffic making bicycling and walking safer and more pleasant. West Blvd is a minor arterial (I am guessing) that handles a large volume of traffic every day: cars, bikes, pedestrians. Mostly cars though. A significant percentage of the car drivers are moving at a rate of speed above that which is posted. (Imagine that.) The new lanes define a plenty-wide corridor in which cars may travel and - based on my observation - drivers rarely encroach on the newly demarcated four feet nearest the curb. The only drivers in that space are making right turns or are parked in the bicycle lane. The City of Columbia staff and City Council seem unwilling to tackle the bloodbath that would be removing on-street parking. The result is that every few hundred yards or so a bicyclist in the new lanes must weave back into the car travel lane to negotiate around a parked car, SUV, tank, or whatever CO2 spewing device someone is storing there.

The lanes are also great for walking because they create a buffer between the decrepit and occasionally non-existent sidewalk. While the sidewalk is still terrible (cracked, no grass buffer, covered in dried mud) there is now a feeling of safety when I walk our dog Lulu because cars are at least five feet away as opposed to the prior distance of 2-4 feet away. Interestingly, what surprises me most now is the closeness of bicyclists who choose to use their dedicated space. This brings them closer to pedestrians. With no buffer our local pedalers are close. However, I would rather get spooked or hit by a bicycle than a car.

On second thought, I'd rather not get hit by any moving vehicle and just enjoy my walk.

Thanks to the City of Columbia for the new West Blvd bicycle lanes and the new County House Branch Trail (that I have used twice already, but more words and pictures on that later.)

See you in the streets,

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