How to Make Your Community Bike-Friendly
Sep 02, 2016 09:43PM
By Melanie Heisinger
Bikers and pedestrians contribute to the vitality of a community—and it’s livability.
around Central PA are investing time and money to make their streets bike- and
pedestrian-friendly. Is yours next?
By Erica L. Shames
When Sue Auman moved from Oregon to Pennsylvania 19 years ago, she was appalled at the disregard for pedestrian safety.
“I couldn’t cross the street with my kids,” she laments. “The walkability/bikeability conversation nationally is gaining momentum and we’re approaching a sea of change. It’s a cultural Pennsylvania mindset that needs to evolve; roads are for everyone.”
The attitude has started to shift in Pennsylvania in favor of streets that are pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly. Last year, State College earned Top-10 ranking as a cycle-friendly city from Walk Score, a company that gathers data about a location’s walkability, bikeability and access to public transit.
This year, the League of American Bicyclists, which annually ranks states based on their bikeability, placed Pennsylvania 12th among all 50 states and identifies six Pennsylvania communities—Reading, State College, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh Franklin and York—as Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC), defined as ones that “welcome cyclists with trails, bike lanes, share the road campaigns, organized rides, Bike to Work Day events and a rich matrix of options that recognize an area’s unique resources.”
Where do we start?
So how does a community achieve bikeability? The path seems to begin with inclusion of bicycle-friendly language in a transportation plan.
Trish Carothers, executive director of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP), is a strong advocate for enhancing bikeability within the 13-county region included in her organization’s purview. Carothers, a member of SEDA-Council of Government’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), has urged the inclusion of bicycle paths in some of the pending roadway projects outlined in the $670 million Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project currently under review by the MPO.
Beyond the MPO’s transportation plan, Auman cites the need for a regional bicycle-centric plan that would make bikeability a priority. Carothers agrees.
“The SGP has proposed to partner with the SECA-COG MPO to consider the need for and possibly developing a bicycle and pedestrian planning committee that could lead efforts to develop a region-wide plan,” said Carothers. “The committee could explore: Who is biking/walking and why? What discourages people from biking/walking? Where are bicycle/pedestrian facility improvements needed?”
Carothers’ efforts also are buttressed by those of Lewisburg’s Walk It Bike It (WIBI) organization. Stalled volunteer efforts to direct a bicycle initiative recently were revived by Auman.
“In our community, there have been numerous efforts over the years to create solutions,” notes Auman. “WIBI works through the Lewisburg Neighborhoods Association, of which Sam Pearson is executive director, which already has walkability and bikeability as a focus. “
Pearson and Auman work hand-in-hand, along with a committee of nearly 50 people, including Carothers, dedicated to the cause. “Sam is strong, she’s incredibly smart and so committed to doing the right thing,” assessed Auman. “I have a lot of experience getting things done, so we make a really great team. We have key people who do a lot—Mike Derman, Meg Martin, Trish Carothers, Evan’s Sheila Packer, and RiverWoods’ Cookie who wants a safe way for senior citizens to walk to Lewisburg.”
Pearson, who rides a bicycle for transportation, outlined WIBI’s three major goals: advocacy, awareness and improvements.
“We need to be doing outreach, advocating and looking at the ordinances, making sure there’s a voice in meetings when decisions that affect mobility are made,” Pearson stressed. Staying on top of decisions made through SEDA-COG’s MPO also is a priority.
Central to the success of the bikeability movement, believes Pearson, is educating the public that more walkers and bikers is good for everyone, even people who don’t walk and bike.
“That’s important because there’s hostility,” she says. “Drivers need to understand that bikers and pedestrians are their friends—that they’re actually contributing to the vitality of the community and ideally to its livability—in terms of reducing traffic and increasing economic vitality and health. There’s even evidence that bicycling makes people happier.”
Some of WIFI’s targeted issues include missing curb cuts, crosswalks, sidewalks and crossings at major intersections like Route 15. “How do we make sure that the powers that be understand these are priorities?” she queried.
Tools are out there
An inherent part of creating bikeable communities is utilizing existing tools like the complete streets model (CompleteStreets.org) that seeks to make thoroughfares safe for everyone. The concept focuses not just on individual roads but on changing the decision-making and design process so all users are routinely considered during the planning, designing, building and operating of all roadways.
Sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic-calming measures and treatments for travelers with disabilities are all considerations for complete streets, and these devices may reduce pedestrian risk by as much as 28 percent, according to Pennsylvania’s Traffic Calming Handbook. Connectivity also is a main idea in complete street design.
In a complete street implementation in San Francisco, for example, automobile through-lanes on Valencia Street were reduced from four to two, adding a center turn lane and two bike lanes.
Following this change, collisions involving pedestrians declined 36 percent, accompanied by an increase in pedestrian traffic and a 140 percent increase in bicycle riders, all without significantly altering automobile traffic capacity.
Overseeing Pennsylvania’s statewide effort toward bikeability is the job of Roy Gothie, PennDOT’s bicycle/pedestrian coordinator. One of his top priorities is updating the statewide pedestrian and bicycling master plan to provide guidance to planning partners, including Rural Planning Organizations, MPOs, counties, townships and municipalities, interested in ramping up bicycling and pedestrian planning.
“Once they identify the network they’d like to see in the future—the next 20 years is the usual timeframe for planning—we’ll be able to use that information to identify needs when we’re developing our projects,” said Gothie. “If we have a road widening or a resurfacing we can identify the appropriate bike- or pedestrian-friendly improvement to put in place.”
Even more compelling is Gothie’s implemented policy statement that directs PennDOT to incorporate bike and pedestrian facilities into everything it does as a matter of everyday business, and supports that with clear language that instructs MPOs to create bike/pedestrian regional plans. “That’s a good way to get the right infrastructure in the right places,” Gothie explains.
What else is in place?
Lebanon Valley Bicycle Coalition (LVBC), a 501c-3 organization founded in 2008 to make the Lebanon Valley region a safer place to bicycle, is active making bicycling improvements while it awaits a regional bike/pedestrian plan from the Lebanon County Planning Department and MPO staff.
“We have worked with developers to have pocket bike lanes at turning lanes into developments and at intersections,” said Pat Krebs, LVBC’s executive director. “’Bikes May Use Full Lane’ signs are installed at a critical location. We worked with Penn-DOT to retrofit an off-roundabout path for walkers and bicyclists. And we intervened when we learned two Route 322 roundabouts at Milton Hershey School were missing bike/ped facilities; fortunately Penn-DOT supported us.”
According to Krebs, more pocket bike lanes are on the way in Lebanon County and LVBC is prepared to pay for a bike/pedestrian planning firm to consult on a section of highway scheduled to be resurfaced to see that bike lanes or other bike-friendly features get incorporated.
“We know that bicycling and walking are important elements for wellness,” stressed Krebs.
Clearly, good news is on the horizon. Neighboring Lancaster County recently began the third update of its bike/pedestrian plan utilizing equal funding from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and PennDOT.
As of 2013, PennDOT’s Act 89 Transportation law (House Bill 1060) has provided for multi-modal investment grants that grow with inflation: more than $2 million is currently budgeted for bike/pedestrian projects. The grants, which can be used for planning purposes, require 30 percent matching funds—a challenge for some communities.
A grant of $900,000, awarded to State College/Centre Region from PennDOT, provided a connection from the Puddintown Road bike path to bike lanes on Orchard Road to reroute cyclists and pedestrians away from motorists for enhanced safety. An additional $5,000 was awarded to the Borough of State College for the creation of bicycle repair stations along shared-use paths.
And, public mood is shifting. “It’s all a question of demonstrating need and interest to municipal leaders on the part of constituents, and that’s increasing,” cites Pearson. “For many years, it’s been a handful of people who have a professional interest in the topic and knowledge of planning, urban design and highway engineering. More and more everyday citizens are saying this is not okay; I want my kids to be able to get across the highway safely.”
The bottom line, agrees Gothie, is roads that are safer for people who walk and bike are safer for everyone. And if you frame the bikeability issue around safety, it’s difficult for anyone to disagree.
“Once you have that conversation underway,” he stresses, “it’s important to have an educated champion in the local government to talk about a vision for how the regularly updated comprehensive or transportation plan can incorporate that goal.”
And public involvement is increasing. Pearson insists people can participate in the effort in a meaningful way without spending a lot of time.
“Come to a WIBI meeting,” she urges. “People are needed for bike and pedestrian counts in the borough. There are lots of ways to get involved.”
Lewisburg Area River Road Holiday Sept. 18
Show your support for walkable and bikeable communities.
Walk, bike, jog or meander along River Road, from Market Street north, as it transforms from a thoroughfare to a car-free river promenade 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 18. More information is at LewisburgNeighborhoods.org.
Walk Score has partnered with Redfin to showcase the top 10 most walkable areas of Philadelphia. Find them here https://www.redfin.com/city/15502/PA/Philadelphia/most-walkable-neighborhoods.