By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
There was a head-on collision Monday evening between city residents who want to safely bicycle in town, and city residents who want to hang on to their front yards and street parking.
John Zanfardino, of City Council’s Transportation and Safety Committee, set the scene by explaining the long-awaited goal of creating bike routes in the city.
“Everywhere I visit has bike lanes,” he said. “It seems to me a progressive concept we should consider.”
The consultants working with Bowling Green on a community action plan asked about bike lanes during their initial visit to the city, according to council member Daniel Gordon. “The very first thing they noticed when they came to Bowling Green was a lack of bike lanes,” he said.
“This is a national movement,” said council member Sandy Rowland.
But plans to modify the first two streets for bikes met roadblocks Monday evening from neighbors who felt their concerns were being ignored.
When City Engineer Jason Sisco presented the plan to widen sidewalks on the east side of Fairview to accommodate bikes, the neighbors asked why the bike lane wasn’t being placed on the west side along the golf course owned by the city.
“Yeah,” several in the audience said loudly.
Sisco said city officials had been worried about putting bicyclists too close to stray golf balls, but he added “there’s nothing that says it couldn’t be on the west side.”
When given a chance to take the podium, several Fairview Avenue residents defended their front yards, and several Conneaut Avenue residents stood up for their street parking.
“If you put a path in my yard on Fairview, you will be able to knock on my side door,” Faith Olson said. “That’s not fair to me as a long-time resident of Bowling Green.”
Olson said she understood the frustration of bicyclists waiting from some accommodations in the city. “I understand you’re tired of talking, but you need to consider people on those streets.”
One of those people is Francine Auchmuty, who lives on the far east block of Conneaut Avenue, where street parking is currently allowed. “We have six multiple units on Conneaut and Grove,” many with driveways that have room for only one or two vehicles. “There’s no way that would be fair to take away our parking,” she said.
Another resident said she sees very few bicyclists on Fairview – but a bicyclist in the audience offered that could be because cyclists don’t feel safe on the street.
The council members of the transportation committee said they knew the needs of bicyclists and homeowners might be at odds. “We knew every street we brought up would be a problem for someone,” Zanfardino said.
But bike paths attract new residents, provide health benefits and reduce environmental pollution, he said.
“It’s a way to attract new and young folks,” Zanfardino said. But Olson objected, saying her rights as an older resident shouldn’t be ignored.
Bicyclist Penny Evans-Meyer said Bowling Green is behind other communities in making travel safe for cyclists.
“We might be as many as three decades late with bike paths,” Evans-Meyer said. “It’s time we put aside some of our worries and say it’s the thing to do.”
The city adopted a long range plan in 2007, identifying several streets to become more bike-friendly. But that’s where it stopped when money got tight. A community meeting this past summer brought together cyclists talking about the risks of riding in Bowling Green. They identified several streets they would like to see improved for bicyclists.
The Bicycle Safety Commission helped by narrowing down the street list to the top six that should be made more bike-friendly. Those streets were Conneaut, Fairview, Court, Clough, Pearl and Maple.
Last month, that number was narrowed further to the top three. Conneaut and Fairview were selected because those streets are on the city’s paving project list for next year. Court was selected because of its link between the university and the downtown.
The initial proposal included a complicated combination of routes. It started at Fairview and Poe roads by widening the sidewalks on the east side of Fairview to 6 feet. Then it crossed the street between Liberty and Evers to the west side of Fairview.
On Conneaut, the initial plan suggested that on-street parking be removed east of Fairview Avenue, that sharrows (bike arrows painted on the pavement) be added up to Haskins Road, then a side path from Haskins to Wintergarden Road, then more sharrows west of Wintergarden.
On Monday evening, Sisco offered an alternative plan for Conneaut that may involve a “road diet.” The 12-foot car lanes would be reduced to 8-foot lanes in each direction, and 4-foot dashed lanes on the outside of the car lanes for bike traffic. That plan would eliminate the need for a side path to be paved. “That might be a pretty good option for us,” he said.
Another meeting to discuss Complete Streets and bike routes will be held Oct. 17, at 6 p.m., prior to the next City Council meeting.