I’ve personally experienced more of the perils of being a pedestrian. If you let me get started, I can begin to sound downright anti-automobile, though I’m not. My point is always that in car vs. pedestrian the pedestrian always loses, so the rules should favor the pedestrians. Unfortunately, not all drivers understand the rules. When walking across Cumberland to the Bijou the other night – with our flashing walking guy giving us the right of way, a woman nearly hit us. I pointed at the signal to walk. She pointed at her green light – she was turning left into our crossing – not understanding that we had the right-of-way.
With cyclists, it’s similar. A couple of years ago Matt Pacetti, co-owner of Suttree’s was banged up pretty badly by a motorist. Just a couple of months ago a friend of mine was hit by a truck while riding her bike. Vertebrae were broken, as was her shoulder. She’s recovering, but it’s been a long journey to get there. She’s still not able to work.
I’ve heard complaints from motorist friends, of course, and I’ve complained about cyclists, as well. There are those who endanger themselves and others by not obeying the rules and that’s scary to a motorist who would prefer not to kill a cyclist and diligently tries to not do so. Most recently I’ve observed a cyclist who repeatedly travels at a ridiculous speed through crowded Market Square, swaying side-to-side between pedestrians. Not cool. Still, a cyclist who doesn’t attend to others endangers himself and irritates us all, while a motorist who doesn’t attend to cyclists can kill them. In an instant.
NPR did a piece on cycling recently. Naturally they pointed out that the U.S. lags far behind Europe in cycling. Women, for some reason, commute to work in smaller numbers than men. The south lags far behind other parts of the country. I doubt Knoxville is that different from most southern cities, though our downtown may be an exception. It’s a challenge to bike to work, though perhaps more people are doing so.
A Bicycles Facility Plan is being developed and a meeting to discuss the issues was held in last night in the East Tennessee History Center. You can see the documents shown here and get additional details about the plan at this site. The plan is a joint effort between the City of Knoxville and the Regional Transportation Planning Organization. The idea is to develop a list of priorities that will guide improvements in biking across the city over the coming years. At the meeting, maps of downtown and other sections of Knoxville displayed current bike paths and participants discussed how to make them more safe for cyclists.
While there are no major changes planned for downtown, several items of interest emerged at the table displaying the downtown map. First, several downtown streets that are currently all or partially one-way, may be changed to allow two-way traffic. This is intended to reduce confusion for people not used to downtown. Bikes would, presumably, share the lanes with motorists. We also talked about the odd turn lane down the center of Gay Street and how it might be utilized by cyclists. Also mentioned was a need for a safer route from downtown to Ijams. More corrals are planned to accommodate downtown cyclists.
I spoke with Kelley Segars, Principal Planner at the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Center whose organization is funding the largest part of the current effort. She said the focus is to look at the 50 mile network inside the city limits to determine the priorities of the cyclists who use those pathways and to determine twenty priority projects for concerted efforts. She also works with young drivers in various school systems to help them see a human face of a cyclist and understand the risk they take when they aren’t watching for non-automotive commuters. She mentioned emphasizing not texting and driving, as a very brief drift from a lane is all it takes for a cyclist to die.
Her department produces a newsletter which will have information going forward about the effort. The newsletter (found at that link) allows for subscribing so you can stay informed. A survey will be coming soon which asks for priorities and it will be found at that site, as well.
So, how are we doing and what’s the point? Well, as to the point, we might note that Knoxville does not have good air. We’ve already had ozone alerts and this is very early in the year for that to happen. Automobiles contribute in a major way to the problem and the more of us who could ride bicycles, the better off we’d be. You have a long commute? I’ve watched a cyclist navigate Pellissippi from some point in Knoxville to Oak Ridge for twenty years or more, so while we couldn’t all do it, many more of us could.
And are we making progress toward being a more bicycle oriented city? I’m not sure, but I will say that I walked a couple blocks down Gay Street after the meeting and saw about a dozen bicycles parked along that stretch. Market Square had nearly two dozen scattered about. So three dozen bikes on a Wednesday night. That seems pretty good, to me. I stopped into the Oliver where a set of four bicycles are available to guests and, according to the person who spoke with me, they are heavily utilized.
And while we’re pondering the impact of cyclists, I’d wager those bikes represented thirty to forty people who were eating and/or drinking downtown, catching a movie and more, so there’s an economic impact as well. And they don’t require blocks of surface parking and/or garages. That’s not insignificant.
One unrelated note: Thank you to each of you who voted in the recent 2014 Metro Pulse Best of Knoxville Poll. For the second year in a row Inside of Knoxville was voted Best Blog in the City. I am humbled and grateful. I look forward to making it even better in the coming year.