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Published August 06 2012

With Walaker opposed, Fargo OKs bike lanes

FARGO – City commissioners have approved plans to add on-street bike lanes on several downtown-area roadways, putting an end to a six-month debate over the issue.

Based on recommendations from city traffic engineer Jeremy Gorden, Fargo officials plan to add:

• Shared lane markings on First Avenue South between 10th Street and University Drive.

• Bike lanes on both sides of Fourth Avenue North between Roberts Street and University Drive.

• A buffered bike lane on the left side of 10th Street between Fourth and 17th avenues north.

• A buffered bike lane on the left side of University Drive between Fourth and 19th avenues north.

After a half-hour discussion Monday night, commissioners approved the recommendations by a 4-1 vote, with Mayor Dennis Walaker dissenting.

“There seems to be an extreme disconnect between the bikers and the drivers in our community,” Mayor Dennis Walaker said, adding that he received many emails from residents who weighed in on the topic. “Moving forward at this rate seems to be a bit hasty.”

The rest of the commission recognized Walaker’s concerns but supported the recommendations, coupled with continued efforts to educate residents about bicyclists’ roadway rights.

“It’s the wave of the future,” Commissioner Brad Wimmer said. “The education of ‘share the road’ has to continue.”

Commissioner Mike Williams added: “I’m comfortable with the recommendation, but I agree: Without education, it’s not going to work.”

The approved bike lanes will be added in the next few months as part of construction projects on each roadway this year.

Several months ago, then-Commissioner Dave Piepkorn protested adding bike lanes to major roads near downtown. Piepkorn openly criticized Fargo city staff, including Gorden, for what he deemed poor planning on the issue. Piepkorn lost a re-election bid in June to Melissa Sobolik.

Fargo officials had since further analyzed the issue and concluded on-street bike lanes would be the safest alternative to better connect North Dakota State University with downtown Fargo, as the city’s comprehensive plan calls for.

“Bicyclists are on these streets today; we’re trying to make it safer,” Gorden said Monday.

Adding the bike lanes should cost about $150,000 total, $100,000 of which would be paid by the city, likely through the street rehabilitation fund and street sales tax, Gorden said. That’s a fraction of the total cost of the projects on 10th Street and Fourth Avenue, which together run more than $7.6 million.

NDSU graduate student and avid bicyclist Aaron Feickert has used the routes where the bike lanes will be added and praised the City Commission’s vote Monday as “a great step forward for the city.”

“This is absolutely going to increase safety,” said Feickert, who is a member of The Forum Readers Board. “When you separate bicycles and vehicles, which are going at vastly different speeds, you not only increase safety but you increase visibility.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541