Riding a bicycle in a small town is a rite of passage.
But what happens when that small town grows up?
Apex Mayor Lance Olive reminisced about the freedom he enjoyed as a 13-year-old boy riding around on two wheels. The town’s population 40 years ago was maybe a few thousand, he said. Today, it’s more than 50,000 according to U.S. Census estimates.
The Town Council adopted a plan — Bike Apex — Thursday night that may make riding a bicycle in Apex as safe and enjoyable as Olive remembers.
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To make that happen, Apex will be joining others like Raleigh, Durham and Cary that have added bike lanes and extended their greenways. The changes could begin showing up later this year, according to the Apex plan. Right now only about a mile and a half of roads in town have designated bike lanes.
Bike lanes usually are added during maintenance when road lines are repainted and do not bring additional costs. Greenway extensions usually happen as part of larger projects so their costs are rolled into the overall price tag.
Residents want more on-road and off-road bicycling opportunities for transportation, recreation, and health opportunities Apex Planning Director Dianne Khin said in a report.
Biking in fear
Apex’s rapid growth has made riding a bicycle almost anywhere outside of a neighborhood a frightening proposition, a survey found.
More than 1,200 people filled out a survey that town transportation planners included in their study of bicycling in Apex. People want to ride bicycles in town, with 85 percent of respondents saying it was very important to improve bicycling conditions. Almost half (42 percent) said they didn’t feel safe as the main reason for not riding their bicycles more.
From 2007-15, there were 34 bicycle crashes within the Apex town limits and extra-territorial jurisdiction, including one fatality, safety records showed. North Carolina is ranked as one of the least safe states for bicycling (44th), according to U.S. Department of Transportation data.
The changes could help the town improve how it is perceived.
“More bike lanes and better greenways would be good for Apex,” said Zack Howard of the Bicycle Chain shop in Apex. “We sell a lot of kids bikes and bikes to parents so they can ride together. Apex is small compared with other nearby towns but large enough that you can ride your bike to run errands. If we get them, I think it will help biking grow in Apex.”
Apex, which remains relatively compact, remains ideal for bicycling, the plan said. It takes only about 15 minutes to bike the three miles from the center of town to the town limits. They compared Apex with Raleigh, which at its greatest stretches some 20 miles from city limit to city limit.
The plan identified 10 priority projects, led by the Beaver Creek Greenway that will connect downtown Apex to the American Tobacco Trail, which runs 22 miles north to Durham. Bike lanes for Salem Street and Olive Chapel Road also are high on the list.
Apex now has 10 miles of town-maintained greenway, and there are 23 more projects under construction or approved. The new projects will help people get around, protect the environment and create a positive economic impact by supporting local businesses and attracting visitors, the plan said.
It took more than a year to finalize the plan, which was started in 2017. Town workers collected data and analyzed the current conditions where bike lanes and more greenways are proposed.