The mayor recently delivered his State of the City address, and while the biggest attention was on enforcing curfew laws and installing streetcars, a lot of folks in the media seem to be downplaying what was actually a fairly significant part of the speech. Hizzoner committed to spending $20 million dollars in the next 4 years (pending a bond issue in November) on bikeways! A grand total of 86.3 miles of bike routes and trails, 54 of which are on-street routes and lanes.
Needless to say, I was very happy about this. It’s about time that people in power started listening to us and doing something about the fact that you take your life in your hands every time you get on a bike in this city. But as nice as it will be to have dedicated bike lanes, this is only the first step in making Columbus bike-friendly.
First of all, I couldn’t help but notice that bike lanes certainly didn’t make headlines in the reports on the speech, and in many cases didn’t even make it into the reports on the speech. Maybe that’s because the news outlets don’t think it will be of interest to their audiences, but that’s really the fundamental problem. People don’t realize that this is an issue at all. I’m glad to see that the activist groups in Columbus have clearly finally gotten through to the Mayor’s office, but unless we can get through to the rest of the residents of the city, it won’t really help.
Which brings me to the second issue. One of the major roads here was recently rebuilt, and as part of the rebuilding they included bike lanes. Great idea, right? The problem is that the road is an 8-lane behemoth that may as well be a freeway the way people drive down it. The bike lane is on the right with no physical barrier between it and cars traveling over 50 miles per hour. On top of that, they created bike sensors at the left turn signals so that a bike can actually trip the left turn signal. Except that in order to get to the left turn signal you have to cross 4 lanes of traffic. Even though I’m an experienced and confident rider, I’m not sure even I would feel comfortable with that maneuver.
To be fair, roads like High Street are better suited to bike lanes. Lower speed limits, more traffic lights that slow traffic further, and a narrower road generally. But really this just points at the larger problem we have in Columbus. We are a car town. Everything in this city for the last 30 years has been built to solely accommodate cars. That’s enough of a problem in itself, but the side effects are even worse. The majority of recent developments are so far removed from any services that you need a car to get anywhere. If gas were to go to $10 a gallon tomorrow, at least I’d have alternatives where I’m located. The poor suckers up in Powell and Dublin and Canal Winchester and Dublin would be SOL.
But the other side effect is far more insidious. It’s the idea that cars and the people who drive them own the roads. It’s the idea that leads to people screaming at me while I’m riding, or thinking it’s funny to try to spook me, or pass me so close and fast that the draft almost knocks me off my bike. Frankly, it’s also the attitude that has led to so many car/pedestrian fatalities. I’m worried that people will feel so entitled that when it comes time to put a bike lane down High Street, they’ll just get pissed off that they don’t have a center turning lane anymore and will take it out on the cyclists.
So kudos for putting the plan out there, Mike. But let’s start trying to change attitudes as well.