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Aaron Feickert and Jonathan Kotta, Fargo, Published May 26 2012

Clearing bike lane confusion

As Fargo continues education and discussion about adding bicycle lanes to connect key neighborhoods, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Some city leaders and vocal residents continue to express concern over the safety and cost of adding lanes to routes like 10th Street and University Drive. Though our gut might warn us against putting bicycles alongside traffic, the facts are in favor of it. Both city engineers and the North Dakota Department of Transportation approve of the plan, taking into account the extreme width of the road, the reasonable amount of vehicular traffic, the speed of traffic and other factors.

But they aren’t the only ones. Years of safety research and experience by the Transportation Research Board, Environmental Health, Injury Prevention, the New York City mayor’s office, the city of Minneapolis and a host of other sources agree that bicycle lanes increase safety and reduce accidents. When bicycle lanes are added to roads, vehicles are less likely to exceed the speed limit and are more attentive since cyclists become more visible. Accidents are reduced when cars don’t have to dangerously pass cyclists and traffic is separated by relative speed.

Concerns about the cost of adding bicycle lanes are important to discuss. The total cost to the city of adding bicycle lanes on 10th Street and University Drive is about $32,000. Estimates by city officials give the cost of adding a single downtown parking spot at about $4,000 (and the cost rises to $15,000 for adding a spot in a parking ramp). This tells us that the proposed bicycle lanes run the same cost as adding only eight parking spaces. Consider that every cyclist riding downtown frees up an additional parking spot for someone else, and the bicycle lanes pay for themselves many times over.

The City Commission already unanimously approved a proposed bicycle and pedestrian plan last fall. This plan addressed the desire expressed by residents to increase the friendliness of city streets, paths and sidewalks to nonmotorized traffic, and included these bicycle lanes. Officials who claim that the proposal was “pushed through” are simply wrong. The proceedings were handled openly and over a long period of time before being accepted by every city commissioner.

The current marked bicycle routes from the North Dakota State University main campus to the downtown campus are not safe. Many conditions like street parking, poor intersection visibility, lack of traffic signals and merging traffic put cyclists in unnecessary danger when commuting. Cyclists, especially student commuters, need and want a safe way to connect to downtown.

When deciding how to increase safety and accessibility, it’s easy to claim common sense and decry bicycle lanes as dangerous, but good engineering isn’t based on who is loudest. If you look at the data on safety, cost and accessibility, these lanes benefit everyone.

Also signed by Jenny Eskew, Ph.D.; Jennifer Jones Dees, M.D.; Gary Liguori, Ph.D.; John Struchynski, Eric Loeffler, Steve Wenzel, John Peterson, Garrick Larson and Rennae Gruchalla.

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