Raleigh poised to become bike-friendly

Cyclists eager for improvements in city they say 'is in terrible shape'

Staff WriterApril 24, 2010 

— After years of feeling shoved to the Capital City's curb, bicyclists are seeing things start to roll their way.

Just this week, the Raleigh City Council endorsed a plan to add separate bike lanes as part of the $9.9 million makeover of Hillsborough Street.

A few blocks away, in downtown Raleigh, a bicycle-share program could be up and running within months.

And if the money materializes, city staff members have a wish list of 25 streets that would get bike lanes or widened shoulders to make things easier on cyclists trying to commute.

It's about time, cycling enthusiasts say.

"The city is in terrible shape," said Will Alphin, a Raleigh resident and bicyclist. "They do have a lot of things on the books, but for whatever reason, they've never gotten funded."

Raleigh doesn't have a spot on the bicycle-friendly community list kept by the nonprofit League of American Bicyclists. Cary, Carrboro, Charlotte and Greensboro all have that honor, and getting on the list is a goal outlined in Raleigh's extensive 2009 Bicycle Plan.

A pedestrian and bicycling committee was formed last year to advise the City Council. And Mayor Charles Meeker declared in December, when he was sworn into his fifth term, that making Raleigh easier to navigate for pedestrians and cyclists is a top goal.

Alphin and other Raleigh cyclists were among those pushing for the Hillsborough Street bike lanes. The council endorsed the project this week, and it now will go to the state Department of Transportation for final approval. The state has jurisdiction over the road.

Bicycle lanes

Two Raleigh streets already have designated bicycle lanes - Ridge and Edwards Mill roads.

A stretch of Glenwood Avenue, between Oberlin Road and St. Mary's, will become the third when bicycle lanes are painted on the resurfaced road in the next few weeks, said Eric Lamb, who manages Raleigh's transportation services.

The city public work's department is waiting to hear about a matching grant that would set aside more than $150,000 to start adding bicycle lanes on existing roads or, in some cases, to widen roads, Lamb said.

Priority roads include Creedmoor, Strickland, Durant and Lassiter Mill in North Raleigh; Fairview Road and Peace, Hargett and Lenoir streets in central and downtown Raleigh, Avent Ferry Road in southwest Raleigh and South State Street in Southeast Raleigh.

Every new road project or road resurfacing in the city also will be examined to see whether adjustments are needed to improve bike travel, Lamb said. Such considerations weren't standard until recently.

It's all a start, though it won't transform Raleigh into a biking mecca overnight.

"Are we going to be Portland when we're done? Probably not," Lamb said, referring to the Oregon city known for its devotion to the pedal and sprocket. "But the bike plan lays out a pretty substantial blueprint for us to grow toward - that's over 300 miles of striped bike lanes."

WolfWheels

Meanwhile, Donald Mertrud is working with the city to put bike-share kiosks in strategic spots around downtown. N.C. State University launched a similar version, called WolfWheels, last month for students and staff.

Mertrud, who owns the Raleigh Rickshaws pedicab business, envisions solar-powered kiosks, where tourists and city residents can rent bicycles for use on streets and greenways. Although the city is consulting with Mertrud on the venture, called City of Spokes, no taxpayer money will go to fund it.

His target audience will be people who live in Raleigh, and he expects to see things improve quickly for cyclists.

"It's all coming down the line," Mertrud said. "It's just a matter of time."

Raleigh's already becoming a great place to bike, said Victor Lytvinenko, who spearheads the Bike First Friday rides, which attract anywhere from 30 to 130 cyclists on the first Friday of each month to tour art galleries in downtown Raleigh.

The ride emerged as a way to be able to gallery hop while avoiding the hassle of walking long distances or parking on a busy Friday night.

Open to anyone, the group meets at 7 p.m. on the first Friday of each month at the N.C. State University bell tower.

"People are wanting to drive less," Lytvinenko said. "It's better for the city, it's better for the environment."

sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622

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