Friday, May 7, 2010

On Yer Bike!

A six-month survey of Syracuse streets has been launched by AARP and F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse. It's aim is to tally the amount of "complete streets" in our city. A "complete street" has safe access for cars, pedestrians (sidewalks), and bicyclists (bike lanes).

Cyclists should be especially happy if the survey results in more/better bicycle lanes. Not many people cycle around this city, but there may be a chicken-and-egg situation behind this—at present, cycling around Syracuse and its near suburbs can be a dangerous and unpleasant experience.

I used to cycle to work occasionally when I live in Solvay and worked in Armory Square. On a nice Friday, when I could dress down and didn't have to worry about messing up work clothes, I'd bike down Milton Ave, then Erie Blvd, then Fayette and into work. The trip took about 40 minutes and was mostly flat expect for a few spots in Solvay—not a bad way to go to work, all things considered. (Although no radio on the bike, so no All Things Considered on the way home!)

BUT ... no bike lanes, so cars either did not share the road fairly, or worse, they simply did not know how to act around a bike. Sometimes a driver thought he or she shouldn't overtake me and instead would drive at my pace behind me till I stopped and "let them pass!" Plus, the roads and sidewalks were often in poor shape, making for a bone-shaking ride, and you were always in danger of a puncture—especially on Fayette in the Near Westside—because of the amazing amount of glass in the gutter!

Yes, more bike lanes might encourage folks to cycle around this town, which, at least off the SU hill, is flat enough that cycling could be an option. (Plus we have some great bike stores in town, including the newly opened Mello Velo!)

But at the same time, there'll need to be a shift in attitude by drivers, many of whom are never taught how to act around cyclists or have very little experience driving near them. In England, driving tests are very strict and lessons are a must, and I remember having to negotiate around cyclists constantly with my instructor patiently teaching me how to do it. Besides, I was a cyclist back then, so felt more inclined to share the road. On the other hand, in Amsterdam, where many folks cycle, it's the cars that have to watch out for the crazy cyclists!

So, bicycle lanes are a start, but driver awareness and education about sharing the road with bikes (and pedestrians) is a must—and, oh, regular street cleaning to mop up glass and nails and other gutter junk would be great too!

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

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