So Your City's Getting More Bike-Friendly. How Do You Identify the Next Best Step?


This guest post is by Strong Towns member Tim Wright. Tim is a civil engineer engineer in training (EIT) with Verdunity who enjoys design and production work on municipal infrastructure and site development projects. Tim lives in Shreveport, Louisiana, where is also an active Strong Towns advocate and founder of Re:Form Shreveport. He’s especially interested in how Strong Towns ideas can be worked out in practical ways on city projects.


A few years ago, I wrote an article about biking in Shreveport, Louisiana. We had just implemented our first bike lanes, and I was excited about the progress that had been made in my home city, and how we were making Shreveport a stronger town.

The specific actions that excited me about the progress were (1) dedicated lanes for Shreveport bikers, (2) a public process that responded to feedback and accurately weighed citizens’ concerns, and (3) concurrent initiatives and events that brought awareness to alternative and active transportation in our community.

Two years later, the city of Shreveport recently implemented a second round of bike infrastructure. We found two low-speed streets downtown and implemented sharrows to designate the streets as a bike route, and we implemented a buffered bike lane along Marshall Street. The latter is one of our only slow speed entrances into downtown, and the closest thing to a complete street in Shreveport. These improvements have been complemented by new signage as well, designating preferred bike routes and how they connect to existing trails.

As an advocate for these improvements, I usually have a lot to say about why bike lanes are important, how they can be implemented incrementally, and how they can contribute to a strong fiscal future. Yet, one way in which the Strong Towns movement has affected me is in its call for humility. So, in writing this piece, I made it a point to seek out other opinions and perspectives from those who ride a bike regularly, or would like to but find very real concerns preventing them from doing so. I learned a lot, found inspiration in new places, and gained fresh insight on what can and will make Shreveport an even better place to ride a bike.

I hope some of the lessons I learned can work in your city too.

Education, Education, Education

Earlier in our community’s conversation about bike infrastructure, my advocacy efforts were mostly focused on pushing for bike lanes in useful locations. During that process, there was much debate on whether shared lanes (sharrows), bike lanes, or all-out complete streets were the answer. Do we go all out with an expensive but comprehensive solution right from the beginning that accomplishes all our goals? Or do we take an incremental approach that isn’t perfect but makes use of the funds we have?

While not everyone agreed on which course to take, the more I engaged in dialogue with people, the more one core concern kept emerging: we all felt education of drivers and cyclists regarding the rules of the road was imperative. Getting bikes and cars used to interacting at reasonable speeds with each other respectfully was one of the most important issues, and had to be addressed.

What educational measures would improve biking the most in Shreveport? I don’t have the perfect answers, but I was able to begin brainstorming what that would look like. Some great thoughts came from Gregory Powell, founder of a new group called SB Rides in Shreveport. The first thing Gregory said was this: Not all drivers know that bikes are legally allowed on the road. And, as more infrastructure goes into place in Shreveport, these drivers might mistakenly see bikes as only allowed on the sidewalks or on designated bike routes. We need to take care in educating the public that bikes are still allowed on the road (except for freeways of course) even in the absence of a designated bike route. This is one area of concern that where I actually agree with my friend’s view (who could be categorized as a vehicular cyclist) that advocates should take care to highlight a bike’s right to the road.

Another potential solution from my conversation with Gregory came from those protecting human lives on a daily basis: police officers. In Shreveport, many officers patrol on bike, and a few recently helped a resident who had their bike stolen. Police know the rules of the road—could they be part of the education solution? Gregory thought so, and while we didn’t discuss specifics, I agreed that a police force educated on bike safety and rules of the road would be a great step forward in education.

There are a few graphical ways your city could educate drivers as to the safety needs of those using alternative transportation. Gregory’s group puts out flyers for their social rides (Figure 1). Another friend, Chris Lyon, helped to create a billboard (Figure 2) for a bike group educating drivers on how to drive by bikes on the road.

 

Figure 2: Educational billboard created by Bike Shreveport.

 

Just Have Fun!

When it comes to safety, there’s one more piece that should be a part of the conversation: there is safety in numbers. The more bicyclists are seen on the road, the more cycling will become an active part of people’s experience, and the safer it will become. So how do we get more bikes on the road? Create opportunities to ride just to have fun! There doesn’t need to be a contest about whose bike is the nicest, or who can ride the fastest. You just need to create an environment where people enjoy biking with others.

A conversation over coffee with Gregory Powell gave me some new perspective on this important point. While the group I’ve ridden with off and on for the last four years does organize “slow rolls,” there are still folks who prefer an even more casual environment. In fact, many people who want to ride a bike may not own a bike. So, this local group rents bikes (beach cruisers to be exact) and has filled the niche of offering rides to very casual riders who may not own a bike.

Gregory’s group SB Rides added another fun thing to their rides, too: lights on the rims and music playing! This makes for a really fun atmosphere, and brings attention to the riders so drivers will not overlook them. On their rides, they go very slow, and make it a point to stop by different events happening, support local restaurants on their way through town, and find routes with the least amount of hills.

I’ll end this thought with a story: when I was first getting involved in the biking conversation, I met with one of Shreveport’s city engineers who helped design bike infrastructure in Shreveport. He helped out greatly in the process; however, we had a conversation in which I learned that as a kid, he almost got hit by a car on a bike, and hadn’t been on one since! It opened my eyes to the ways people could think about riding a bicycle, and the hesitations they might have.

There’s a good chance there are many folks who feel similarly about biking in your community. So support or create a group ride where folks reluctant to bike can take the “next best step” that fits them.

Bike Repair Stations and Wayfinding Signage

I’ll end by returning to some of the physical pieces of biking “hardware” that have been beneficial in our community. It’s not just about space on the streets! Some of the commuters I know appreciate bike lanes and sharrows, yet they note that the lack of bike storage, repair spots, and showers in their offices can be just as big of a hindrance to using a bike regularly as high speed roads.

One fairly popular addition in Shreveport has been our “bike repair stations”. These small stations cost about $1,200 and have been installed at several parks. These stations have the tools needed to change a tire, fix a spoke, or tighten up your steering. According to the frequent riders, these have been very popular.

In addition to the bike repair stations, the city has also added along way-finding signage along the bike routes in Shreveport. This is one more example of how the public process conducted by the city has been responsive to community feedback. During the first phase of the bike lanes, community members brought up signage as a need. The City of Shreveport has its own sign shop, so they took the time in the latest round of bike infrastructure to install signs to help Shreveporters navigate their city on a bike.

These actions are just some of the small steps we’ve taken to improve biking in Shreveport. Strong Towns has inspired us to ask ourselves: what is the “next best step” in Shreveport to make us a stronger town? I think we’ve been successful in applying this mindset to active transportation, and I hope you can apply it in your city too!