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Nature Nut: To some riders, bike lanes are 'terrifying'

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Bike lanes that crisscross roadways "terrify" some bikers and confuse many drivers. Many bike riders are concerned bike trails are deteriorating, while money is being put into bike lanes which only a few can, or will, access.
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During the years, I have found one way to appreciate the natural environment is to slow down a bit and take in surroundings from the seat of a bike.

Walking, while it allows for closer observations, is slow, does not cover as much ground and certainly was not liked by my knees.

So while I don’t consider myself a biker in the truest sense of the word, I do put in about a thousand biking miles a year, mostly around Rochester on bike trails, sidewalks and occasionally roads, to burn up calories, not gas and money. And even though I disliked the destruction of natural river habitat it caused, I certainly welcomed the addition of the many miles of bike trails that flood control added decades ago.

But, I also am finding as a car driver that city roadways are getting more crowded, and I often feel bike lanes installed in the past decade or so are adding to the problem. What really causes me to question them is what I perceive as a lack of people using them. A few years ago, I went a full year without seeing anyone using designated bike lanes, and my recent observations conclude use has not changed much since.

As a science person, I tend to look to data to make decisions, so last summer I decided to contact local officials to see if there was any real data on bike lane use in Rochester. But all I was given were numbers saying bike ridership was on the increase. There was no real data on bike lane use.

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So, being retired with some free time, I decided to gather some "real" data myself. I selected two sites on nice summer days during late afternoon weekday rush hour, when bike commuting should be at a peak. One was West River Parkway between Elton Hills and 37th Street and the other along West Silver Lake Drive.

For one hour at each site, I sat in my lawn chair and recorded all traffic — cars, walkers, joggers, and bikers — with the following results for the Silver Lake survey: Roadway, 1,003 vehicles; bike trail or sidewalks, 30 joggers, 48 bikers, 54 walkers; bike lane, five bikers. I got similar results on West River Parkway.

While doing the Silver Lake count, one inquisitive passerby asked if I was counting geese. When I told her I was observing bike lane use, she said, "I used to ride to work and tried bike lanes — it’s terrifying, especially when lanes cross."

Another passerby, a mother of two young children, told me she likes to bike with her children to preschool, volunteer activities, grocery store, friends’ houses and errands but would not do that on a bike lane. She is concerned, as I am, bike trails are deteriorating, while money is being put into bike lanes which only a few can, or will, access.

I certainly would like to see more people biking, but I will stay on bike trails and sidewalks whenever possible in favor of competing with three-ton vehicles for roadway space. If there was space to have separate bike lanes with barriers, it would certainly be more appealing, but I can’t see how current increased traffic, and limited roadway space, will allow for that.

Moreover, given that fewer than half of Rochester days would be considered good biking days by most people, I am not sure it will catch on as city leaders seem to be betting.

And, contrary to what some think, bike lanes are controversial in many U.S. cities. Just read the Star Tribune, or Google "bike lane controversies" to find U.S. cities that have even removed bike lanes after incurring significant expense putting them in.

So, I would encourage city leaders to gather real data and give Rochester citizens a chance to weigh in on future bike lane plans. The current plan negatively impacts driving, is "terrifying" for some bikers and confuses many drivers — an accident waiting to happen.

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For now, I will just hope I can enjoy biking on trails and some sidewalks and not be forced to use bike lanes.

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