While fixing bicycles at his shop, Bike Works, Tony Cousins often has customers ask how to get around town using only bike lanes. Cousins said it’s difficult to do, because so many of the bike lanes around town aren’t connected.
“I often hear comments from people that say they would commute to work more if they had an infrastructure of bike lanes to use,” he said. “A lot of people say they won’t do it because there’s no bike lane on their route.”
When Gainesville city officials announced a project to temporarily reduce Northwest Eighth Avenue from four to two lanes between Northwest 23rd and add bike lanes, Cousins said he saw it as a positive step.
The project began Aug. 4 and costs about $12,000.
The trial period is meant to see how the lane changes will affect traffic flow and safety. The city is monitoring driver, cyclist and pedestrian activity and will examine results once the trial concludes in late November to determine whether the change should be permanent.
Ben Tobias, Gainesville Police Department spokesman, said police are interested in seeing how the trial plays out, but he was not aware of any reports of incidents involving bicycles in the trial area. It is still too early in the trial period, he said, to make any definitive statements on whether speeding has been limited or if traffic has been affected.
John Sabin, 73, has lived on Northwest 23rd Street for 23 years, close to where the trial is located. Sabin said he hasn’t noticed a difference in traffic, but he is glad there are now bike lanes to keep cyclists off sidewalks.
“My wife and I walk a good deal,” he said, “and walking on the sidewalk along Eighth Avenue is dangerous. Bikes go by at dangerous speeds, especially down the hill.”
Sabin, a former cyclist, said he would be more supportive of adding bike lanes if more cyclists followed the rules of the road. He said he often witnesses cases in which the cyclists and motorists are unaware of the correct procedures and laws.
“If they decide to make it permanent, I won’t object,” he said. “None of this will make any difference unless the bicyclists pay attention to the rules.”
Some cyclists support the new bike lanes but think the city could do more.
Cousins said he wishes the city was willing to introduce more bike lanes every time a road is repaved.
“It would be nice if we didn’t have to always go to battle to convince them each time that something is necessary,” he said.
Curtis McLeod, 58, a construction superintendent for the UF College of Engineering, said he believes the city commissioners have already made up their minds to proceed with the changes permanently. He said he believes they want to reduce automobile use and increase cycling.
“They believe we should be riding bicycles everywhere we go,” he said. “And that’s not
going to happen.”
While McLeod said he has no problem with bicyclists, he doesn’t believe lanes of motor traffic should be removed to make room for bike lanes. He said he believes when the city reduces roads from four lanes to two, similar to what they did on Main Street, it’s wasting taxpayers’ money and creating bottlenecks.
“In my opinion, they need to leave the roads alone,” he said. “Leave the roads open to four lanes of traffic.”
Roger Pierce, 65, chief of staff for the Gainesville Cycling Club, said his experience biking in major cities in Florida has made him believe Gainesville has better bike lanes, especially its paved shoulders. Despite being one of the best cities in the state for cyclists, Pierce said it needs to fill many gaps in bike lane infrastructure.
He said he was happy to see the addition of a bike lane on Eighth Avenue, but thinks the change should be permanent.
Pierce said he didn’t believe the complaints from motorists who claimed the trial would cause traffic congestion, calling their arguments “baloney.” He said the traffic going east has to go to one lane anyway, so it won’t create any new traffic.
The trial period has made the road safer because traffic has been slower, Pierce said. Drivers heading east are no longer able to speed in an attempt to merge ahead of them.
“It’s literally a race,” he said. “That’s no longer the case.”
Cousins said as a cycling city, Gainesville compares “fairly well” to other cities around North Central Florida due to the large and active cycling community.
“We have a loud voice,” he said. “If we weren’t so proactive, I think a lot less would get done.”
He compared Gainesville to his recent visit to Boulder, Colo., a city in which he said the bike lanes are “in a different league.” In Boulder, motorists are aware of the laws and very tolerant of bicycles.
“If we could be like Boulder, it would be incredible,” he said. “From my experience, I’d say we’re about halfway between as good as it gets and as bad as it gets.”
Chip Skinner, marketing and communications supervisor for Regional Transit System, said the department would not comment on any complaints or comments from residents until after the trial ends so as not to influence public opinion. Data about traffic congestion will be released after being compiled and presented to the Gainesville City Commission around Thanksgiving.