A new bicycle lane on Vance Avenue downtown runs for exactly three blocks — between East and Waldran — before dropping cyclists off into the shared car lane on busy Peabody Avenue. The short bike lane is among many new lanes installed over the past year that end abruptly in areas with heavy traffic.
But the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Kyle Wagenschutz says there is rhyme and reason to the way bike lanes are being implemented, and within the next few years, disjointed lanes will actually connect up with new lanes, bike paths, or shared sign roadways.
"Right now, there is little connectivity from one bike facility to another. The reason for that is because the majority of the facilities that have been placed to date have been done in conjunction with repaving projects," Wagenschutz said. "It creates a problem of this disjointed network, but repaving is one of the most opportune times to add new facilities."
A look at an interactive map of existing lanes on BikePedMemphis.wordpress.com, a new website devoted to city bike maps and cycling safety, shows multiple lanes that seem to drop cyclists off on busy streets. But another map on the site showing future planned bike lanes backs up Wagenschutz's statements.
Eventually, that Vance bike lane will connect with lanes being added to Peabody, which will extend all the way to Cooper Street. Cooper lanes will connect with the existing Madison Avenue bike lanes in one direction and future bike lanes along South Parkway in the other direction. The Madison bike lane that ends abruptly at McNeil will jog over to planned bike lanes on Jefferson via a future bike lane along Cleveland, leading all the way downtown.
The lanes that have been added over the past year are part of 55 miles of bike lanes that Mayor A C Wharton pledged to construct back in 2010. To date, 45 percent of those 55 miles have been completed. Nearly all of those lanes have been added during city repaving projects.
"The 55 miles will be finished at the end of this paving season, and then we'll start working on building some of the connections," Wagenschutz said.
Those connections — another 55 miles of bike facilities — are being funded by a $1.4 million federal grant.
"The whole premise of our application for those funds was that we have all these facilities going in right now, but they're a little disconnected. So we needed funding to connect these facilities together," Wagenschutz said.
Unlike with the current 55 miles being constructed in conjunction with repaving, the 55 federally funded connector miles will only involve re-striping and adding signage.
"The process will be much easier and less disturbing to the neighborhoods because it will be done much faster," Wagenschutz said.
In some cases, roads that are currently designated as shared sign roadways will be upgraded to include bike lanes. That happened last week as a stretch of McLean was striped for bike lanes in conjunction with repaving.
Wagenschutz points out that, in some areas of town, natural barriers, such as rivers, creeks, and interstate, might still present problems with connectivity.
"Those natural barriers won't be fully addressed in this project," Wagenschutz said. "I think we still have a long way to go to provide complete connectivity, but this will at least give us a good backbone to build on."