Cyclists say: Give us a lane

Non-motorized citizens of Kalamazoo, you're getting heard. 

What city planner Rebekah Kik says she's been hearing, is that you want protected bike lanes -- especially connecting the west and north/east legs of the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail through downtown.

Spurred by results from citizen feedback on the Imagine Kalamazoo website, as well as from public input at the many non-motorized plan meetings during Kalamazoo Bike Week May 10-17, Kik says a pilot program will happen June 18-21 along Water Street.

That week, traffic cones will create a temporary protected bike lane. Kik will contact local bike shops, bicycling clubs, and other pedal-pumpers to get bikers to try the lane and provide feedback.

"Bring out the bike armies," she says, so the city can ask, "What did you guys love? What did you hate? What needs to be changed?"

The city also hopes to have a June test of a bike lane along West Michigan Avenue, proposed by the Michigan Department of Transportation's Stadium Drive/Michigan Avenue Corridor Study, but the ultimate design for that study is still being planned. "We'll have Water Street as a popup bike lane, and the West Michigan cycle track as a popup lane, too, so you will be able to see how that connectivity will all come together," Kik says.

"I can't say when we would actually get funding to actually do a protected bike lane," she says. But a bike/pedestrian corridor through downtown, as part of the KRVT, has been in the city's non-motorized plan since 1998, as Kik discovered when she became city planner six months ago.

"When I saw that it went all the way back to 1998, I thought, 'No! I had no idea'...." She also thought, "Wow, you guys actually had money in the '90s, early 2000's. This should already be done."

People interacting with the Imagine Kalamazoo site seemed to agree. Protected bike lanes -- a lane separating bikes and motor vehicles with a curb or other barrier --  was the top choice out of 79 interactions, she says. 

Other ideas included improving pedestrian/bike connectivity between neighborhoods and downtown; more bike lanes in neighborhood streets, improving pedestrian access between WMU, Kalamazoo College and downtown; and completing the KRVT with connections to the Portage bike trail system.

Right now, the KRVT's north leg (running up to the Kalamazoo Nature Center and D Avenue) and east leg (ending at Galesburg, with plans to extend to Battle Creek) meet at Harrison Street. The west leg (running to the Kal-Haven Trail and, ultimately, South Haven) ends at North Westnedge, just north of East Kalamazoo Avenue.

There would need to be further connections between Water Street and the KRVT, but that route would lead bikes -- local riders to long-distance bike tourists -- to the many shops, restaurants, brewpubs and entertainment venues of downtown Kalamazoo, as well as Kalamazoo Valley Community College's downtown campus, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and Arcadia Creek Festival Place. 

It's a route that leads to economic benefits, is in-demand, and makes sense in the context of Kalamazoo's over-all traffic flow. "So, now we're finally saying, let's get this solidified, and let's get everyone's input," Kik says. 

Mark Wedel is a Kalamazoo freelance writer and avid bicyclist. 
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