From affixing a grill on the back of your bike, like the elegant “Backbrat,” to turning your beloved old ride into taxidermy (yes, seriously), bike culture is a passion for many. And why not? Biking is good for our health, our planet and our wallets. So then, why don’t we see more bikes in Downtown Jacksonville?
To some extend, the fact that Jacksonville is so expansive plays a role. Most of us aren’t just going to hop on our beach cruisers and pedal over “the ditch” and all the way into Downtown. But more to the point, present day Downtown was not designed for bicycles. One-way streets were implemented in the 1960s with cars in mind, and more specifically to allow cars to travel faster in and out of Downtown – a product of their time but a detriment to cyclists.
We are, however, making progress. You may have heard of the Context Sensitive Streets Special Committee, chaired by City Councilmember, Lori Boyer. The committee was created to “review the existing Context Sensitive Streets Guidelines that have been drafted by the Planning Department but not implemented, determine the appropriateness of these guidelines, investigate any other information pertinent to this issue, and make recommendations for and/or draft legislation as appropriate to address this issue.”
In other words, as it relates to cyclists and pedestrians, the committee looks at transportation planning designs to make sure streets fit their physical settings and preserve scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility. The goal is to create streets that don’t put the needs of cars over the needs of everyone else.
At the heart of the issue is safety. Recently, the national Alliance for Biking and Walking ranked Jacksonville as the third-worst large city in the United States in average annual traffic deaths for bicyclists and the second worst for deaths of pedestrians, based on several factors including population.
We can learn a lot from cities like Minneapolis, MN, where Downtown is filed with bike commuters and couriers. Bike shares, like these line the streets in Downtown Minneapolis. City buses and trains all have bicycle-carrying capabilities and office buildings are required by law to provide bicycle storage. A master bicycle plan intends to bring all residents within a half-mile of a bike lane by 2020. It’s no wonder Minneapolis was been ranked as one of the best biking city in the country by Bike Score, the #2 biking city by Bicycling Magazine, and the #4 bicycling city in the nation by the US Census Bureau. It’s this type of commitment to cycling that helps energize Downtown Minneapolis.
So its great news then, that the Context Sensitive Streets Committee has drafted legislation to appoint a full-time bicycle/pedestrian coordinator to the Planning and Development Department. As the demand to live and work Downtown increases, we hope to see many more bikes Downtown and a shared understanding of sharing the road.