In a recent column entitled “We’ve Become Bike Friendly — but where are the Riders?” Ronni Hannaman, director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, drew attention to the network of bicycle lanes and ridership in Carson City. It’s unclear from Ms. Hannaman’s column whether she’s in favor of or against the addition of bike lanes on our city’s streets, but one thing is clear: The need to help people understand the reasons for bike lanes in our community is great.
Ms. Hannaman brings up an interesting point about cities like Amsterdam in the Netherlands. There are bikes everywhere there, but it wasn’t always so. In the 1960s, Amsterdam was a city ruled by cars, as American cities are today. Amsterdam was plagued by traffic accidents, and activists took action. Through a series of events and progress over the course of many years, the city became the “cycling capital of the world” that it is today. Amsterdam has about a 60-year head start on Carson City concerning bicycle friendliness, so it’s not really fair to compare the two, but it’s not too late to make our own city a safe place for bikes and pedestrians, as well as automobile drivers. Our community’s emphasis on building safe and connected bike infrastructure is a step in the right direction.
In 2014, recognizing the need for safer transportation for all road users, Carson City adopted a Complete Streets policy. Complete Streets isn’t a “bike plan,” but rather a process that considers the needs of travelers, including younger or older people, those with disabilities, and those who travel by transit, bicycle, or on foot, who have oftentimes been overlooked in the transportation planning process. The downtown project most Carson City residents are familiar with is a Complete Streets project, and South Carson Street is also being designed as a Complete Street.
Carson City residents are largely supportive of improvements in bikeability. At a series of public meetings regarding the upcoming redesign of South Carson Street, the public overwhelmingly voted in favor of safe accommodations for bikes and pedestrians. Ninety-eight percent of those in attendance felt bike improvements were needed, and 82 percent said bikeability was of medium to high importance. Carson City residents have repeatedly been supportive of bicycle projects when surveyed, with 64 percent of respondents in a 2015 transportation planning survey indicating a lack of bike lanes was either “somewhat concerning” or “very concerning.”
The fact is, bike lanes and paths weren’t added because transportation officials in Carson City are “recreational bike enthusiasts,” as suggested by Ms. Hannaman. Although many city leaders and staff do ride bikes, Carson City isn’t building bike lanes so city employees can bike around town for fun. Bike lanes provide a critical piece of infrastructure for those who either can’t afford or choose to forego the expenses associated with car ownership, or who for some other reason aren’t able to drive. Bike lanes allow kids a safe option for getting to and from school, and help seniors get around their neighborhoods. Regardless of the way our citizens wish to travel — by car, by bike, on foot, or public transit — all Carson City residents deserve to be able to get safely to work and other destinations all over town. Well-connected bicycle lanes provide an opportunity for anyone, of any age or socioeconomic status, to get around without the need for a car.
In order to answer the question posed in Ms. Hannaman’s title “Where are the riders?” Carson City Public Works staff has begun a Complete Streets monitoring program to count bikes and pedestrians around the city. The program is new, but in time, the data gathered will help transportation professionals and city officials to understand where people are walking and biking, and help to inform future projects and secure grants to improve our transportation network. Anecdotally, it’s hard to imagine anyone could question the need for more and better bike facilities — I seldom travel anywhere in Carson City that I don’t see people riding bikes, not just in the downtown core, but east on Highway 50, on our collector streets, and in our neighborhoods. A visit to any of our community schools during the school year will show kids are riding to school regularly, and although our rate of commuter cycling is low, there’s some evidence more people are choosing to bike as they feel safer.
For decades, the American public has been consumed by car culture and obsessed with the automobile. What has it gotten us? A network of congested roadways we can’t afford to maintain; degrading pavement, heavy traffic, and long commutes; mounting roadway accidents and fatalities; deteriorating health and increasing disease due to lack of exercise; and a profound loss of the sense of community we once enjoyed. Instead of decrying the installation of bike lanes in Carson City, we should be embracing them as an alternative to being stuck in our cars, isolated from our neighbors. Get out and ride through our new downtown corridor, stop and support a local business, and enjoy getting to know your city on two wheels.
Cortney Bloomer is bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at Carson City Public Works.