Lots of Tucsonans would like to ride their bicycles but are too afraid to because they’re not comfortable sharing the road with cars.
That’s the feedback from some city transportation officials, bicycle advocates and probably anyone who has ever seen a car veer into a bike lane and either hit or almost hit a bicyclist.
City officials hope a recently completed set of bike lanes along West St. Mary’s Road near downtown will help bicyclists feel safer and encourage more of them to get out on the road.
The city finished installing “protected” bike lanes last week along St. Mary’s between North Main Avenue and Interstate 10.
Protected bike lanes feature a wider buffer between bike and car lanes, as well as white posts to separate motorized vehicles and bikes.
The new protected lanes are part of a pilot project to evaluate the effectiveness of the lanes, but the city could install similar alignments within the next year.
City officials are looking at other locations downtown, including Stone Avenue near the new public service center, as well as some locations on the Pima County Loop that would connect with nearby neighborhoods.
Officials do not view the protected lanes as a silver bullet for all of Tucson’s bicycle safety issues, but rather as another tool to protect bicyclists and increase ridership.
The lanes on St. Mary’s were part of the second phase of the Regional Transportation Authority’s Downtown Links project, which will ultimately connect Barraza-Aviation Parkway with I-10.
Officials chose St. Mary’s because the route connects west-side neighborhoods with downtown and the University of Arizona.
“These type of facilities will appeal to a broader audience,” said Ann Chanecka, the Tucson Department of Transportation’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
Members of the Living Streets Alliance agree.
“Bike lanes are really good for bicyclists,” said Ian Johnson, a board member for the community group. “But they’re not that great for people who are just citizens and customers, and moms and dads who also happen to ride a bike.”
Protected bicycle lanes are part of a growing trend across the country, as cities such as Memphis, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C., have installed the special lanes on their streets.
Local and national bicycle and transportation groups extol the benefits of separated bike lanes, saying they not only allow bicyclists to feel safer, but also help reduce crashes with motorized vehicles and improve a city’s overall quality of life.
Chanecka cited studies that indicate people would ride bicycles more if they weren’t concerned about cars and other safety hazards.
“There’s a lot of research that shows a lot more people want to ride, but are too scared,” she said.
The Living Streets Alliance has monitored feedback on its website from bicyclists who have used the path so far.
The group hasn’t received many comments yet, but the few who have chimed in support the protected lanes, with some saying they feel “respected” as bicyclists.
Group officials are rooting for the project to be successful, hoping it will lead to similar lanes being installed around the city.
“What we hope is that this pilot will be wildly popular and will be able to show people what the alternatives are, and that this will be something people can get behind,” said Kylie Walzak, program manager for the Living Streets Alliance.