Bicyclists give the pop up bike lane a trial

Bike riders try out a lane just for them and offer their opinions regarding the experience.
Bicyclists rolled into an ice cream social/survey event at Arcadia Festival Place for the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail pop-up bike lane Saturday, June 20. They'd pedaled the trial route for Kalamazoo's first protected bike lane, and were eager to comment.

Kalamazoo city planner Rebekah Kik was there to hear what bikers had to say.

A frequent opinion she heard was, a lane down Ransom Street would be the quickest way to get from the west leg of the KRVT and the north-east legs. But that route would also avoid most downtown businesses, the Kalamazoo Mall, KVCC, and Arcadia.

Kik has a few goals with the lane -- to fill in the KRVT's gap, to provide bikers downtown access, and to provide downtown businesses access to bikers.

The trial lane, as marked with temporary cones June 18-21, ran from Westnedge Avenue to Eleanor and Water Streets, thorough KVCC's Arcadia Commons, back along Water, to Porter and Willard Streets.

"It's not a cut-through," she says. If bikers want to avoid downtown, they can use Ransom. "But if you want to go a little slower, take your time, enjoy the ride, then you're going to come down Water Street."

The surveys had yet to be analyzed (online survey) and the route is not set in stone, but the lane will happen, Kik says.  In spring of 2016 "we want shovels in the ground.... Hopefully by fall you'll be riding on the lane."

It will be the first protected lane in Kalamazoo, designed with barriers to keep bikes safe from motor vehicles.

The estimated cost is about $1.2 million, Kik says. The city will pay $200,000 for design and engineering costs, a Michigan Department of Transportation TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) fund grant will provide $800,000, and private funding through the Parks Foundation will provide the rest.

Money isn't being taken from "road funding, or anything like that. It's specifically money set aside for trail ways and bikeways," Kik says. She'd like motorists to know, "We're not even getting into that pothole money."

There are many styles of bike-rider. Those going long-distance on the trails that connect South Haven to, as of now, Galesburg, and eventually to Battle Creek, might want a more direct connection. But, Kik says, "We want kids, we want families, we want novice riders to feel good about this."

A protected lane "would be a huge amenity for anyone to access the downtown, whether you're commuting, whether recreational.... I'd love to be able to commute to work and feel safe," she says

Larry Stehouwer, of the Friends of the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail, agrees that "its purpose is to connect downtown, so it's not the express route.... It has some of my favorite spots -- coffee shops, MacKenzies' Bakery and so on."

He, along with Friends board member Toni Thompson, have been planning and advocating a Kalamazoo trail-way linking local communities since 1991.

Thompson is happy to see results of decades of planning. She says, "It is something that needs to happen for our community, so people can find a safe path to go through the community, and bring them into the community so they can enjoy what we have to offer."

Closing the Kalamazoo gap is part of a long-term plan of trails spanning Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, Thompson says.

This year around 200,000 bikers and walkers will use the 22 miles of KRVT, she says. "What does this tell us? This is what people want," Thompson says.

Writer: Mark Wedel, Second Wave Media
Source: On assignment on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail

Other bike related stories in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave:

Cyclists say: Give us a lane

Kalamazoo River Valley Trail to grow by 5 more miles

Community support sought to fund trail extension
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