If you drive downtown, you may have seen a strange new addition recently.

The city of Tucson and Regional Transportation Authority have just completed a one-block stretch of what’s called a “separated bicycle lane” along the east side of Stone Avenue from about Toole Avenue to Alameda Street.

“It serves a valuable function for that block,” Tucson Bicycle and Pedestrian Program planner Andy Bemis said.

The new lane is a two-way separated bicycle thoroughfare with a sidewalk on the east side and lines of parallel parking to the west.

Bemis said it reestablishes a north-south connection for bicyclists that was lost with construction of the new County Public Service Center Building at 240 N. Stone Ave.

Before that, the most frequent route for riders coming south into downtown was Seventh Avenue, which crosses the railroad tracks.

That route provided an easier passage into downtown when it connected to a pathway leading to Alameda then Sixth Avenue or Stone, where cyclists have to navigate the narrow underpasses.

The new bike lane, Bemis said, more easily connects those southbound travelers to Stone now that the county building stands in the way.

“I ride it frequently,” said Kylie Walzak, program manager and Cyclovia Tucson coordinator with the Living Streets Alliance. “It makes me feel safer.”

Walzak notes she’s now seven months pregnant and likes the secure feeling of having that separation from passing cars.

For now at least, the security the bike lane provides is fleeting, stretching only a few hundred feet. But that could change.

“We would like to extend it another block to Pennington or even Congress,” Bemis said.

Other separated bike lanes are in the plan too.

City officials would like to eventually install more along Church Avenue as well, with single-direction lanes planned for each side of the street.

But the new bike lane does pose some limitations for riders.

Not only is it short, but the south terminus currently plops bikers onto the left lane of a three-lane one-way street lined with parking.

While cyclists can legally ride in a left lane of a one-way street, it does provide a challenge for those who want to veer to the right.

Alameda also is one-way westbound, and cyclists could have trouble getting onto that street.

Bemis said he hopes the issues will be just temporary.

“The intersection treatment (at Stone and Alameda) is not completed at this point,” he said.

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Plans for the area include painting the green bicycle box on the south end of the lane. (Road Runner wrote about the city’s bike boxes in January.)

Bemis said that should facilitate bicycle traffic merging onto Alameda, as the protected section would give riders enough room to transition onto Alameda with the westbound traffic.

Walzak said she hopes the experiment is a success and the city follows through on plans to extend the separated lanes.

Not only did the project add safety for bikes, she notes, but drivers didn’t lose any on-street parking as a result.

Down the road

Pima County will close The Loop trail from Grant Road to Prince Road on Santa Cruz River Park Monday through Friday.

Contractors with Tucson Electric Power will be constructing towers and running power lines at Santa Cruz River Park during this time.

The work requires complete closure of both the east and west banks of The Loop trail from Grant Road to Prince Road.

Signs on The Loop path will notify all potential users of the closure.

Also beginning Monday and running through Friday, May 29, Pima County Department of Transportation contractors will be chip sealing El Camino Del Cerro and Sweetwater Drive.

Work will start on El Camino Del Cerro from Silverbell Road to the west terminus and then begin on Sweetwater Drive from Silverbell to Camino de Oeste.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at roadrunner@tucson.com or 573-4241. On Twitter @pm929