Bike Boulevards

I spent a lot of time last summer on our city’s bike boulevard. It’s a short, bike-friendly stretch of road designed to better connect our downtown with a college and a popular neighborhood to the east. I enjoyed winding my way past the community gardens and through campus into our arts district. And although they’ve faded somewhat, I loved the murals painted at the intersections.

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

I’d estimate I averaged between 6 and 8 trips a week down this boulevard, both during the day and at night, and I always felt safer than on other, more car-oriented streets.

I wasn’t the only one. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune:

“Traffic counts the city conducted in spring 2010, when the boulevard was established, and this spring showed that motorized traffic reduced from 942 vehicles per day to 522 — a 45 percent reduction — and that bicycle traffic measured during peak times more than doubled, from 33 to 71.

The city also measured lower speeds for motorized traffic on the boulevard, with average speeds decreasing from 26 miles per hour in spring 2010 to 24 mph this spring. And residents living near the bike boulevard report liking what they have seen: A city survey revealed overwhelming support for the idea, and an overwhelming majority of respondents agreed the boulevard improves the image of the neighborhood.”

I’m an avid cyclist–I have a trail bike and a commuter bike–and a bike is often my preferred choice of transportation when I’m heading to work, to the market, or even out on a Saturday night.

Imagine my surprise, then, when it dawned on me I hadn’t been on the bike boulevard once this summer.

Why? Because I moved.

Last summer, I literally lived at one end of the bike boulevard and my boyfriend lived at the other. It was our own personal route between each other’s homes. Now that we’ve moved into a house on the other side of downtown, we no longer have easy access to the bike boulevard and, more importantly, it doesn’t go where we need it to.

And that’s the crux of the problem with such limited networks for bike travel. A mile or so of dedicated roadway is wonderful, until you have to go someplace else in town.

Fortunately, the city already has fairly good trail system and is working on creating connections between existing trails. They’re also looking at extending the current bike boulevard–but, unfortunately, not to the extent that it would be useful to everyone in town. In fact, going back and trying to establish a larger network of roads dedicated to bike travel by severely limiting current car traffic seems like it would be both a planning and a public relations nightmare.

So maybe our little bike boulevard can continue to exist for those who live along its route and prefer a bike over a car on a nice summer day. And maybe it can serve as a reminder that there are other models for building roads that include multiple forms of transportation. And maybe it will inspire us, as a city, to do more  to build these connections between well-traveled bike routes and popular destinations.

I’ve become much more accustomed to sharing the road with cars now so I only miss the bike boulevard occasionally. And on Saturday nights we’re still cycling–only this time, we’re on our tandem.