NWA Times 21 June 2008
Bicycling in Fayetteville
Our city needs on-street bicycle lanes
I moved to Fayetteville and bought a house in the suburbs in 1964. By 1971, with two children, one car, and two working parents, the demands of suburban living began to weigh on us. One child needed rides to school, the other needed rides to daycare, and my wife and I needed rides to work, not to mention items such as food and entertainment that suburbanites cannot handle without a car. We needed either two cars, or a house near the center of town.
We chose to stick with one car and move to Ila Street, a few blocks from the university physics department where I still work every day despite my "retirement" in 1999. I soon decided to ride a bicycle rather than walk to work. Moving to the middle of town and riding a bicycle were key life-enhancing decisions for me. I've bicycled to work nearly every day since 1971. Despite many longer bicycle trips in Arkansas, Colorado, and Europe, most of my cycling miles have been work commutes.
At 73 I can report that cycling, despite its dangers (if you ride, please always wear a helmet), has been excellent for my health. I've changed residences several times since Ila Street, but have always made it a point to live within easy bike-riding distance of the university. Occasionally, because of an appointment on the outskirts of town, I must drive our family car to work. This has become more common lately as the fatal attraction of the suburbs has taken my family doctor, the hospital, my heart specialist, my dentist, and my eye doctor from the center of town to the fringes. Climbing into a couple of tons of overpowered, polluting steel is not the way I like to start my day.
Cycling in Fayetteville is daunting, because bicycles are mostly forced to mix with cars. The city's wonderful trail system can never develop to the point where cyclists can get where they need to go without getting onto city streets. Cyclists need several strategies for dealing with streets. When I can move rapidly on level or downhill pavement, I claim my legal right to a full lane and ride with the cars in the middle of the lane. This is safer than riding at the right alongside parked cars whose doors can quickly open, and allows me to make left turns when I need to.
When moving uphill in traffic, I usually ride on the sidewalk despite the state law that says I'm not supposed to. Riding either in the middle of the lane while going slowly uphill with impatient cars behind you, or riding on the right side of the lane where the passing cars are a threat and where you can run into an opening car door, are both dangerous. Between risking my neck and breaking the law, the least bad option is to break the law. Most Fayetteville cyclists seem to make the same choice. It's hard to fault them, when there's no other safe place to ride. If you ride on a sidewalk, please be careful at curb cuts and intersections because drivers who do not see you can hit you while turning into a curb cut. On the university campus and on sidewalks, put pedestrians first by riding slowly and carefully.
I've found that the overwhelming majority of drivers are courteous to cyclists. Cyclists should go out of their way to always be courteous to drivers.
In every other country I've visited, the solution to the bicycle-car mixing problem is well marked on-street or on-sidewalk bicycle lanes, separated from traffic. Fayetteville needs a dense network of safe, separated bike lanes. Bicycling cities such as Portland, Corvallis, Eugene, and Bend, OR; Davis, CA; Boulder, CO; and Austin, TX; not to mention most cities in most other nations, have not only off-road multi-use trails but also an extensive network of on-street bicycle lanes. In America, there's been a continuing debate between supporters of bike lanes and those (including some bicyclers) who prefer that cyclists compete with automobiles. In my opinion, this latter group is wrong. Studies such as William Moritz's "Adult Bicyclists in the United States" document that streets with bike lanes have a significantly lower crash rate than streets without bike lanes. Also, a recent New York City study found that fatal bicycle crashes rarely occur in marked bicycle lanes.
People will not bicycle until they feel safe doing it. A city in which only spandex-clad athletes are out on the streets is not a bicycling city. A bicycling city is one in which elderly people feel comfortable pedaling a one-speed bike to the grocery store. The famous bicycling city of Copenhagen, Denmark, where most streets have bike lanes separated from both the street and the sidewalk by a curb on each side, achieved this decades ago in a dense urban environment that already had established roadways. Bicycle planners should consult Copenhagen as a model for the treatment of bike lanes at intersections, alongside parked cars, etc. The city government posts signs around the city proclaiming their intention that 50 percent of all commutes will be made by bicycle by 2015, and that the overwhelming majority of commuters will feel safe doing it.
To contact Fayetteville's bicycling community, go to the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks at www.bconwa.com.
Fayetteville is beginning to discover the beauty of the planet's most elegant and energy-efficient mode of transportation (three times more efficient than fish, which come in second). The next step is on-street bike lanes.