Should city invest in bike lanes?

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Aug. 13, 2017 at 9:57 p.m.

Terry Whitehouse, left, and Denise Tomanek ride their bikes down the southbound lane of Moody Street. There is no established bike lane on Moody Street, so bicyclists are forced to ride in the car lane.

Terry Whitehouse, left, and Denise Tomanek ride their bikes down the southbound lane of Moody Street. There is no established bike lane on Moody Street, so bicyclists are forced to ride in the car lane.   Olivia Vanni for The Victoria Advocate

Victoria has no bike lanes.

A group of more than 100 cyclists plan gatherings weekly to ride on back roads, avoiding busy streets for safety.

"For me, an experienced cyclist, I would feel unsafe anytime during the work day," said cyclist Kelly Loesch, 45. "I wouldn't feel as safe being on the road without a bike lane. I do not ride through town or anything."

Bike lanes are designated striped areas on the road for cyclists.

The city does have Lone Tree Hike-and-Bike Trail designated for walking and cycling, but the trail has had multiple injuries and deaths at its crosswalk at North John Stockbauer Drive. Critics say that is because the trail crossing was poorly designed.

Another hike-and-bike trail is planned to be built along Placido Benavides Drive, Assistant City Manager John Kaminski said.

The only time Kaminski can recall when Victoria had a bike lane was more than five years ago. The lane was on Red River Street and led into the park. When Vine Street was rebuilt, the city eliminated the lane and constructed a trail along the road.

Red River Street is being rebuilt in sections with the strip from Laurent to North Ben Jordan streets under construction now. The first section rebuilt was in front of Victoria College, and the next will be from Laurent to Main Street.

City officials discussed bike lanes while planning the Red River Street construction, but the road would need to be reduced from five to three lanes to accommodate them.

The assistant city manager said it doesn't make sense to build a bike lane on one of the sections of Red River while it is under construction because the lane would only be on a segment of the street.

Once all sections of the road are completed, the city could go back and restripe the roads with two lanes and a turning lane to make room for a bike lane, Kaminski said.

That change depends on "whether the council will do that or consider that in the future," he said. "If you're going to provide bike routes, you want to have some continuity where you can get on that bike and get somewhere instead of get on that and go five blocks."

Pro: Bike lanes would provide for safer travel

Bicyclist Kelly Loesch rides an average of 150 miles a week on his bike.

Although an experienced cyclist, he doesn't feel comfortable enough to ride his bike on Victoria's main city streets. He takes back roads on early mornings and evenings and rides toward Mission Valley, Coletoville or Goliad when there is little traffic.

"I don't ride in the city - too much traffic. That's why we need bike lanes," the graphic artist said. "Most drivers around here are not used to cyclists in the road. . Even if you're on the edge of the road, you're forcing the driver to go into the opposite lane if it's a two-lane street."

Riding on sidewalks is dangerous and not an option for cyclists, Loesch said. Sidewalks are built for walkers and can cause a cyclist to fall.

"If you're a biker, over 16 years old and have a driver's license, you should be in the road - you're considered a moving vehicle," he said.

The hike-and-bike trail is only two miles long one way and has too many walkers for cyclists, Loesch said.

Jeffrey Cass, University of Houston-Victoria English professor, rides with the same group as Loesch, which rides on the shoulders of the road or off to the side in the traffic lane.

Bike lanes would promote dialogue between drivers and cyclists, Cass said. They also would encourage more people to ride bikes.

"It is like the chicken-and-egg thing," he said. "This is what people argue: there are not enough cyclists to justify the cost of bike lanes. Part of the reason there is not enough cyclists is because many of the people don't think it's safe to cycle."

Companies considering locating in Victoria will see bike lanes as investment in the community, Cass said.

"(Companies) are more attracted to a place that takes care of people who are doing recreational activities like cycling," he said. "Promoting bike lanes is showing people we care about safety of people who are recreating in the city."

Bike lanes also would be beneficial to people who use bikes as a means of transportation because they would get around more easily and safely, Cass said.

City Councilwoman Jan Scott said the city should embrace bike lanes when feasible, but cyclists still need to practice caution, use side roads when possible and avoid major roads if they haven't been designed for bikes.

"They're a great addition and something that we should be looking at, but bikers need to be smart," she said.

Con: Cost, other pressing issues make lanes prohibitive

Victoria County Commissioner Gary Burns said he's not against bike lanes, but cost and safety will determine whether Victoria invests in them.

Burns isn't much of a biker, but he said if he were, he would feel unsafe on the road with drivers even if there were bike lanes. He believes it's dangerous to have cars and bikes on the road together.

"Everybody is on their cellphones," he said. "They're driving all over the roads, which isn't the bike rider's fault at all. People aren't paying attention."

Local government officials are figuring out their budgets, and there's no room for bike lanes right now, Burns said. Other projects would take precedence over bike lanes, such as road repairs and social programs.

"We need to expand our veteran services because we have a real need," he said. "We have a veterans center. The funding is so tight on it."

The city should consider bike lanes in places like Riverside Park in the future, but Burns said he can't see it happening on the main roads in Victoria.

"I would be real hesitant to invest a lot of money into bike lanes all over town. There are other projects that we need more," he said. "I don't see where we have the room and the money right now."

City Councilman Tom Halepaska agreed with Burns that there are other more important projects to focus on. Along with Burns, he's not against bike lanes, but said he doesn't think investing in them makes sense.

The city has to keep in mind how much the hike-and-bike trail has been used before investing in bike lanes, he said.

"Their usage rate is very low. We have a hike-and-bike trail off of Airline and so on," he said. "The people who use it, if you went out there and counted them - why should we build something that people don't use?"

Bike lanes would be difficult to add to old parts of town that have narrow roads, Halepaska said.

"An example would be, look at Main Street; could you think of adding a bike lane when there isn't enough parking as it is?" he said.

Crestwood Drive, Red River Street and other streets have limited rights of way, and every street will have unique circumstances determining whether bike lanes are feasible, Assistant City Manager John Kaminski said.

"(We'll invest) if it's a priority of City Council and (they) decide they want to increase accessibility for bikes and they want us to look at all those opportunities," he said.



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