Ann Arbor bike lane project behind schedule

Torehan Sharman/Daily
A newly installed bike lane on South University is part of the City of Ann Arbor's efforts to make streets in Ann Arbor more bike friendly. Buy this photo

For the Daily
Published October 3, 2010

In order to maintain its place among the 15 most bicycle-friendly city in America, Ann Arbor is adding about 10 miles of bike lanes and improving 24 miles of the existing bike lanes around town.

The new bike lanes are part of a comprehensive non-motorized transportation plan adopted by the city in 2007. The goal is to improve transportation accessibility for Ann Arbor cyclists and pedestrians.

Federal and local funds amounting to nearly $300,000 have been used to improve the city’s bike-lane system, with the most significant changes taking place along Catherine Street, North University Avenue, Ashley Street and First Street. Other areas receiving updates include South University Avenue, Hill Street, East Hoover Avenue and Geddes Avenue.

Though a major portion of the project was scheduled to be completed in September, many of the lanes are still unfinished. According to Ann Arbor Transportation Program Manager Eli Cooper, the installation of bike lanes is a complex process.

“There are very specific requirements,” Cooper said. “There are literally tens, if not hundreds of signs that need to go up as a result of this project.”

Installing proper construction signs can be a challenge depending on where they need to be placed. It can take a construction crew anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour to install a sign if it needs to drill through concrete.

“As travelers, we don’t realize the difference between putting up a sign in a lawn area as opposed to erecting a sign in an area that has a sidewalk,” Cooper said.

The weather can also present difficulties when installing bike lanes. In order for the white paint used to mark bike lanes to adhere to the street, the pavement must be above a certain temperature. If the pavement is the wrong temperature, the thick lines and “sharrow” — which stands for “shared road” — emblem may not survive harsh weather conditions.

A sharrow is a traffic symbol painted on pavement, which shows a white bicycle picture with two chevron arrows above the bicycle. The sharrow indicates the location in the road where a cyclist should ride to ensure his or her safety.

Sharrows are placed in areas where the road isn’t wide enough for a standard bike lane, but bicycle traffic is still heavy. They can be found in downtown Ann Arbor and in low-speed areas throughout the city, particularly where curbside vehicles are parked. The symbol serves as a reminder that the roadway needs to be shared appropriately, Cooper said.

“It’s a comprehensive approach to creating a visual environment where the motorist should be aware that they need to be driving slowly,” Cooper said. “We want cyclists to feel welcome in the street, and we want motorists to be alert that cyclists are likely to be present.”

Safe cycling is a critical element to the development of the new bike lanes. As a cyclist himself, Cooper said he is aware of the dangers that a cyclist is likely to encounter.

“I know the different feeling and perception I have of being safe when I’m in a segregated bike lane, as opposed to when I’m riding in mixed traffic,” he said.

Despite the proper signage and security measures, bike safety can only be ensured by the individual, Cooper added.

“I firmly believe that I do have rights as a cyclist, but it is really important to defend myself and be absolutely aware of what’s going on around me,” Cooper said. “Each cyclist has a responsibility to themselves and their health and well being.”

LSA junior Kayla Paulson, who rides her bicycle to class, said she would like to see more bike lanes installed around campus — adding that bike lanes make it safer for cyclists like herself.

“The bikes aren’t really watching for the cars, and the cars aren’t really watching for bikes,” Paulson said.

Safe and suitable transportation is valued not only by the city but also by the University, according to Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations.

“We’re prepared to cooperate as best as we can with the city in providing amenities and support for alternative transportation,” Kosteva said. “We work with the city in trying to incorporate all modes of transportation in our own projects.”

As the city and the University continue to accommodate residents and students by providing an even more efficient bike-lane system, officials are hopeful that the number of cyclists will grow.

“We’re not putting stripes on the street just to put stripes on the street,” Cooper said. “We have a goal, and our goal is to see the level of cycling increase to be among the leading communities nationally.”