Why runners and cyclists should embrace the two way streets in Lexington.

The news story that I have heard a couple times already today is the decision by the city of Lexington to begin the process of implementing two ways streets downtown.

Kentucky.com post – Lexington moving to convert downtown to two-way traffic

I have been outspoken as I get on the topic of city issues with Lexington’s lack of pedestrian friendly decisions. But, I’m a realist and also understand that the majority of citizens in Lexington could care less about how safe and friendly the streets are for cyclists, runners and/or walkers. We have a city that has a poor infrastructure to support great commuting, outside the circle especially, and a population that has almost zero desire to make commuting a common experience – I get all of these issues.

So, this blog post is targeted at my friends that do enjoy using a little caloric expenditure to move around the city and not just pushing the gas pedal to roll 60mph in at 35mph school zone.

One of the major problems that I see is that when you want to change an environment, people can often make really bad decisions with good intentions. In the last city election process I witnessed this when I was invited to a candidate fund raiser. Knowing that I can get opinionated, I was keeping to myself, but then I was personally asked about what I was interested in. When I mentioned pedestrian issues and active community environment concepts, the candidate went on about all the progress that was happening here. When I pointed out that I thought that “change” and “improvements” made to be bike friendly were actually dangerous and stupid, I realized that it wasn’t sinking in. “How could I not like the changes?”

So here are my initial thoughts on why moving the downtown to two-way streets is good for us interested in cycling, running and walking:

1. It slows traffic down. The biggest danger to pedestrians is not having “enough space” on the side of the road or visibility by drivers, it is the high speeds the vehicles travel. As a commuter I have several possible routes to take to get inside the circle, Tates Creek, GreenTree/Chinoe or Alumni.

The obvious choice is the GreenTree/Chinoe option because the traffic speeds on Tates Creek and Alumni are incredibly high. The morning traffic down Tates Creek at 6:30am is often 50mph plus and at 7:30am is either 0mph or 55mph. This brings me to one of Lexington’s stupid ideas, painting bike lanes on Tates Creek. They add zero to a cyclists safety and I argue that because the majority of the lane is drainage, it is less safe.

Back to downtown: The implementation of two-way streets will necessarily slow traffic speeds down, thus increasing overall safety for those not in cars.

2. It will get rid of previously poor decisions. My hope and prayer is that by making the streets two-way we can finally get rid of the “floating bike lane”. This is one of the most insanely stupid ideas in the history of “bike friendly” ideas.

The safety of a cyclist is not a result of not having our own designated space on the roads. In fact, I argue that we could get rid of 90% of all bike lanes painted in Lexington and significantly increase bike safety. The biggest issue is always pedestrian / vehicle interaction. This interaction is a two-way street! (pardon the pun, there).

It requires a vehicle understanding how to approach and handle the cyclists or runner on the road, but it also requires the cyclist/runner to understand their responsibilities too.

The idea of the floating bike lane makes that already difficult interaction even more confusing. To this day I hear individuals that work downtown, drive downtown and that don’t cycle that zero concept of how the floating bike lane works.

My little rant at fellow cyclists: I am fairly tired of seeing individuals that ride bikes fly through stop signs, ride down the center of traffic and generally disregard your responsibility to understand how to properly navigate a bike. It makes the entire idea of having a community that actively supports pedestrian rights difficult. If you are wanting to ride your bike without stopping, we have hundreds of miles in central Kentucky to ride outside of town. If you don’t like the country roads, go ride the Legacy Trail. Just stop being the example for drivers “to hate cyclists”.

3. The success of a pedestrian safe downtown will make it easier to promote similar desires in our suburbs. Let’s face a difficult reality, the infrastructure and design of Lexington is a major hurdle to overcome. We have a downtown that is shut down to the outside world by New Circle with very few veins of entry from our suburbs. I believe this makes a city wide pedestrian plan a difficult project, but not impossible.

When working with the Active Community Environments group for our county in Teller County, Colorado we brought in Dan Burden to discuss what our rural county could do to improve. The ideas he had for us there do not pertain to Lexington, but his discussion on how he was helping San Diego, I think do.

He discussed how they were taking San Diego and trying to make 36 separate walkable and pedestrian livable communities. He discussed the difficulties the infrastructure there posed for them to make it happen. Here in Lexington, I feel we have a similar opportunity. I realize that downtown is the focus, but when that is successful could we not look at our other “communities” and begin to implement similar concepts?

When Nikki and I made a decision to buy a home in Lexington, we decided on our location for a few reasons:

1. Proximity to grocery store. Hartland Kroger is a couple blocks away. A very walkable experience.

2. Proximity to edge of town. We do love to cycle and we can be out on Delong and Walnut Hill within 5 minutes.

3. Affordability. The idea of buying a home within the Kenewick neighborhood, where Fitness Plus sits, is an ideal situation. It was (is) also an economic impracticality.

In general, our little community we have over here is as walkable as any area within Lexington.

My concept of the future is that Lexington has a collection of 20 to 30 walkable communities, that are then interconnected through one or two pedestrian pathways. It is a completely “pie in the sky” vision, but I believe it is achievable.

But, an important first step is creating a community that values walkable and bikeable initiatives. With so much political effort being spent on making downtown a vibrant pedestrian and economic destination, my fear is that it fails.

If it fails, then I can only anticipate that our suburbs remain a place to sleep at night, park our cars and build additional shopping centers that no matter what your proximity, remain highly pedestrian unfriendly (when’s the last time you thought about riding to Fayette Mall?)

Take away message.

For those of us who have two feet and like to use them, the two-way streets downtown is one move in the right direction. It is a move that can correct some seriously stupid decisions that have been recently made.

For those individuals that want to pull out of their driveway, drive 60mph to within 100 feet of their office door, work all day, then drive 60mph the other direction – the two-way streets might slow you down (but I doubt slow your commute down all that much… just the speeds you achieve while moving).