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Road Use: A Two Way Street

Summer is here and it’s the prime season to pull your bike out of the shed and get riding! Everybody can recall early memories of their childhood when they were being taught to ride a bike or when you taught your children to ride. Now more than ever, cycling is not just for kids. More and more adults are taking to the handlebars and riding their bikes around for pleasure and for transportation. Cycling as a whole is on the rise, and this means more cyclists are sharing the road with cars. Over the last few years you might have noticed some changes to our city roadways, namely the inclusion of new lanes just for bikes or bike symbols painted on the roadway. There are a number of things that can be done to build a safe environment for cyclists to ride in but the three major ones that will be focused on are education, visibility and consistency for both cyclists and operators of automobiles.

Just like any other skill in life, there are a variety of differently types of cyclists each with a different level of comfort. The Iowa Department of Transportation separates cyclists into three different levels: Skilled, Basic and Child/Novice Cyclists. Skilled cyclists are those avid riders who ride regularly (perhaps year-round) and are comfortable riding amongst and around traffic. Basic Cyclists are those average cyclists that may or may not ride semi-regularly but are not entirely comfortable riding amongst traffic. Child (and Novice) cyclists are those riders with little experience and are confined to riding on bike paths far away from traffic.

When people conjure up thoughts of going for a ride it might be after work or on the weekend to get out for a little exercise or a leisurely ride. These are perfect examples of recreational biking, but it’s important to remember that cycling isn’t just a hobby to everybody. There are plenty of people who depend on their bike as their main form of transportation day in and day out. Whether that means they are heading down to the grocery store or to work, they hop on their bike and pedal away. For this reason it’s necessary to connect important locations and major areas throughout town with a connected network of trails to accommodate all road users. Through a connected network of trails cyclists can safely move throughout town. These connections are made through a variety of different types of bicycle facilities which you have undoubtedly seen through your travels around town:

Multi-use Trail/Off-Road Path
This is what many call the ‘Dike’, and it stretches from Lyons to Riverfront and beyond. This type of trail is always separated from the roadway
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 Protected Bike Lane
A protected bike lane is space within the roadway set aside specifically for use by cyclists. There is space between the bike lane and the lane for cars, and it is often called ‘buffer space’. An example of this can be found on 5th Avenue South Downtown.
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Bike Lane
A normal bike lane is space within the roadway set aside for use by cyclists, often separated from the traveled lane by a painted line. This can be found along Springdale Drive.
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Shared Use Lane
This is often referred to as a “Sharrow”, and this is a normal driving lane with a painted bike symbol on the road. This type of facility indicates that this area accommodates both cyclists and automobiles. You might notice this configuration along 5th Avenue South in the 800 Block.
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Visually these roads should appear different, there are more pavement markings and signage calling attention to its designated status as a bike route. Through visual cues like the painted pavement markings and posted signs, drivers are alerted to the possibility of bikes being present. Cyclists are safest when their presence is known and they are highly visible. Being startled, either on a bike or while driving a car is not desirable. By making bike lanes stand out we can increase safety for all road users. Further steps that cyclists should take is fitting their bikes with lights and encouraging the wearing of reflective attire when riding at night.

In addition to providing visibility, these bike facilities provide consistency. Bike lanes provide space that you know is just for you and other cyclists to use and you know that cars can and will expect you to be using it. You can be sure this area will be clear of obstructions like parked cars and tree branches.  Bike lanes will provide a consistent area for auto drivers to expect to see or look for bikes within the road. Drivers will not have to worry about cyclists swerving out around parked cars or entering traffic from unusual areas. Consistency in the roadway will make all users more comfortable.

While these four types of bike facilities are developed for use by cyclists this does not mean that cyclists are confined to ride only where these trails or lanes exist. They can and should ride their bike wherever they feel comfortable. However, all cyclists should remember to obey the rules of the road both when riding on designated trails or lanes and when riding on non-designated city roads. Following all rules of the roads means stopping at stop signs, traffic lights, riding with traffic and signaling turns. As for automobiles its essential to remember to treat cyclists just like any other user of the road, leaving adequate space when following behind them and when passing them maintain a safe and reasonable distance.

Road design, construction and planning must account for all road users and by doing so, it is possible to promote safety across all modes of transportation.  By accommodating both cars and cyclists into our plans means creating a safer, more user friendly environment for all. But safety cannot simply be reached through designs and planning. It is imperative that both cyclists and automobiles take into consideration what they can and should do to promote safety. Cyclists should make themselves as visible as possible and ensure that their ride is consistent, follow all laws of the road and always be aware of what is around you. When driving a car users should continue to be aware signs and pavement markings indicating bike users are around and always be on the lookout for cyclists on unsigned roadways. Roads are used to convey individuals and goods which pertains equally to both cars and bikes. While plans and designs always take into account the safety of its users, ultimately it is the users whose use of the road defines how safe it is.