Building Bike Infrastructure is a Slow but Steady Process

Jun 16, 2015

Credit Virginia Alvino / WBOI News

In Fort Wayne and around the globe, more and more people are using bicycles for health and recreation, and even as a mode of transportation.

 The city’s trail system – which allows bikes – has has increased increases in length and popularity in the last decade. But street infrastructure is slowly but surely increasing as well. But how does a more bike-friendly environment come to pass? WBOI’s Virginia Alvino tells us more about how the planning process works, and how projects are chosen.

On a bike ride with Kate Rioridan she mentions she hasn’t owned a car for about four years – she bikes everywhere.My commute is only a mile to work," she says, "and I wished I lived further from work.” 

She’s the active transportation planner for the City of Fort Wayne – the first to hold that position that’s only existed for about a year. She works on bike and pedestrian projects to help people be healthier, save money, reduce stress, and she says "a really great thing is that you’re giving people different options.” 

But accommodating alternatives to cars in the city is hard. Lots of the infrastructure was planned and built in an auto-centric era, and motorists and bikes often have a hard time getting along in such close quarters.

So – how is that changing?

Let’s start at ten-thousand feet with a visit to NIRCC - that’s the Northeastern Indiana Regional Coordinating Council.

Matt Peters’ is a senior planner here. His department looks at the big picture when it comes to transportation, making long-term, multi-county, conceptual plans for infrastructure projects.

“Some we know are probably gonna happen," says Peters, "and some are really kinda out there.” 

But it’s important to be able to imagine what would be built in that ideal world, because bike and pedestrian projects are eligible for lots of federal funding – if it’s matched 80/20 by city or county funds, and if the projects come from NIRCC’s plan.

Their 2035 plan includes off and on street facilities, trails, and sidewalks.

“You have to use a combination of things to get good connectivity," says Peters. 

Peters says priorities have really shifted in the last 10 years.

“In the past there have been so many roads that have been built that have been missed opportunities, and now people are wishing they had that infrastructure," says Peters. "Coldwater, Dupont up to Cook, there's no sidewalk. Nobody can get anywhere because it’s a high volume street.” 

To see exactly how that’s starting to change, let’s zoom in to the local level: There are now nearly 9 miles of bike routes in Fort Wayne, 4 more miles of bike lanes planned, and more than 60 miles of trails in town with more on the way.

“Really it took the Bike Fort Wayne Plan to really start putting these things in with City projects. They were a little reluctant at first to just put them in," says Peters. 

Kate Riordan is the Active Transportation Planner for the City of Fort Wayne.
Credit Virginia Alvino / WBOI News

Paul Spoelhoff is a senior planner for the City of Fort Wayne. He says of the Bike Plan, it's "not an attempt to create a cycling class, it’s a response to the fact that there’s a group of people who are cycling. And that group is growing.” 

The bike plan passed in 2012 was an attempt to localize projects from the regional NIRCC plan, and include other things like priorities, education, and policies. He says it helps recreational cyclists, “but also it reflects serving as much of the community as we can, where people live, and connecting them to the destinations they say they want to reach.”

The idea is to take advantage of opportunities to integrate bike facilities into other public works projects, like repaving a four lane road into three lanes, plus bike lanes.

"It requires a little bit less engineering," says Spoelhoff. "It’s not as massive a project, we’re not changing curb lines, we’re not acquiring property all the time.”

The plan doesn’t specifically state which projects are next up in the pipeline, it’s more a guiding voice to work with funds as they become available. While the process of adding bike infrastructure can be a slow one, Spoelhoff says there are advantages. You not only ease people into the changes, but they can also reflect on how effective they are, and help with future planning.

“And so that’s feedback that we couldn’t have gotten when we wrote the plan , because we didn’t have enough infrastructure on the ground to talk to people about how do you feel in a bike lane," says Spoelhoff. "Now we do and people can react to that.”

And while it’s pretty much impossible to tease out how much money is going towards bike projects versus total capital improvements, Spoelhoff says you know spending is up, because more and more facilities are going in.

“There’s always this saying that if you build it they will come,” says active transportation Kate Riordan. She says people are using the projects that are going in.

But that doesn’t mean everybody is happy about more bikes on the road.

“You’ll find a wide range of attitudes towards bicyclists," says Riordan. "We had maybe two people honk at us I think, and out of however many cars passed us, that’s going to be a really small percentage”

Riordan says one way to change that is to have more bikes on the road. She says it not only increases safety, but encourages more bike facilities to go in quicker.