By Denise Cheeseman
Biking around Iowa City is about to be a lot more accessible.
The Iowa City City Council discussed the bike plan yet again during its work session Tuesday before its regular meeting.
Consultants from two design and planning firms, RDG and Alta, created the plan with the help of the city staff and public feedback collected during the last seven months, Metro assistant transportation planner Sarah Walz told The Daily Iowan. The goal of the plan is to make Iowa City safer and more appealing for current and would-be cyclists.
“We have a lot of people who are comfortable biking, but we have more folks that would like to bike to get to the places they need to go, and so we want to make sure they can do that safely,” Walz said.
To formulate the plan, Walz and the consultants held two public workshops, conducted online surveys, and asked cyclists to map out where they currently bike, where they would like to bike, and which areas are problematic or intimidating, she said.
“The idea is to get people from the places where they are to the places where they need to go on the routes that make most sense,” she said.
Walz said that infrastructure and facility updates will be combined with fun and educational events to reach out to those in the community who may be wary or nervous about taking to the road.
And they certainly have reason to be. According to the Master Bike Plan draft, 138 cycling accidents occurred between 2011 and 2015, with 67 percent resulting in an injury of some kind.
Conditions are usually much safer on roads with designed spaces for bikes, but Walz said, “We have some streets that we have bike lanes either on, or planned, but right now they’re disconnected.”
Cyclists also have to contend with such barriers as the Iowa River, Burlington Street, and Highway 6, she said.
“How do we get people from East Campus to West Campus, or from south of Highway 6 to north of Highway 6, especially kids or people in the industrial area?” she said. “How can we … get them across that highway safer and more efficiently so that they can take advantage of educational opportunities, extracurriculars, economic opportunities?”
The proposed plan includes maps of “community-identified barriers to bicycling,” as well as proposed maps of trails, bike lanes, road signs, and other methods that can be used to connect the existing bike infrastructure.
A seamless bike system allows a bicycle to become a viable transportation option for anyone.
“It can have benefits for people who are economically challenged,” Walz said. “We have issues with kids wanting to participate in afterschool programming and sports, people trying to access jobs, who maybe don’t have regular access to a car or for whom transit it not always an ideal option.”
A significant portion of Iowa City’s population — students — can also benefit from bikes being affordable.
“For many students, instead of driving and worrying about parking, which has a ton of costs, biking is a lot lower cost … it’s a way for students to get off campus instead of being confined to one location,” said Gustave Stewart, University of Iowa Student Government’s vice City Council liaison and bike intern for the Office of Sustainability.
Making biking more accessible to everyone will help the city achieve its goal of having 5.5 percent of the city’s residents commuting via bike and also dovetail with the city’s reduced greenhouse-gas emissions goals, because fewer people will be driving.
City Councilor Kingsley Botchway is excited about the plan, he said, if a little critical.
“If we’re doing it for the 5 percent that is part of the [League of American Bicyclists] Gold Standard, that’s good, but if we’re really talking about reducing carbon emissions and talking about how we can be environmentally friendly, bike friendly, let’s see that number at 20 percent, 50 percent,” he said. “Let’s push for a goal.”