Biking in Lexington is about to get easier. The city plans to add 20 miles of bike lanes by the end of the year, bringing the total to 65 miles, according to city transportation planners.
The city is spending more than $110,000 to create bike lanes and bike-friendly roads in the fiscal year that ends June 30, and the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is even higher: $156,000.
The new lanes will be found on several city streets, such as Cooper Drive, Alumni Drive, Armstrong Mill Road and Main Street.
In 2010 there were just 22 miles of bike lanes in Lexington, up from 9 miles in 2005. Meanwhile, the number of bike commuters in Lexington reached an estimated 1,000 in 2010, up 435 percent from 1990, according to a survey from the League of American Bicyclists.
Among hundreds of bicycles and a thick smell of grease, two volunteers from Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop said they hope the new developments will get even more Lexingtonians to leave their cars at home and start pedaling to work.
"Bike lanes are really the root of the tree," said Steven Curtis, a volunteer mechanic at Broke Spoke.
Curtis said more bike lanes could plant the seed of a cycling culture, similar to what is found in Denver or many other cities on the West Coast.
"Having a critical mass of bicycles on the road is what's necessary for drivers to be aware there are bicycles on the road," said Carl Vogel, a Broke Spoke volunteer. "Many of our clients ride by necessity, because that's how they get around, yet some of these people still get clobbered."
City officials pointed to a University of Colorado Denver study that showed more cyclists can mean fewer bike-on-vehicle collisions per cyclist. In the study, researchers analyzed crash data at intersections with the most bike-on-vehicle collisions in Boulder, Co., and found that intersections with fewer than 200 cyclists were the most dangerous. Above that threshold, the rate of collisions decreased.
In Lexington, transportation planners say they include bike lanes in road projects whenever possible, but they are expensive — about a dollar per foot — and some roads are too narrow to add a bike lane.
"A lot of the bike lanes we've been putting in over the years have been areas of opportunity. We go ahead and do what we can to build a bike facility if the roadway width allows," said Kenzie Gleason, a city transportation planner. "The thing we're really trying to do is, where we can, achieve additional buffer between cyclists and moving vehicles. It increases safety, but it also increases cyclists' comfort."
If there's no room for an additional lane, the city often creates "sharrows," which are roads painted with arrows and other markings urging drivers and cyclists to share the road.
An ongoing city campaign called "Move It, People" is aimed at educating drivers and cyclists on how to coexist. As part of the campaign, billboard and bus ads push safety messages, such as "Every Lane is a Bike Lane" and "Ride With Traffic. Not Against."
In addition to the ad campaign and the push for more bike lanes, Lexington officials have experimented with painting bike lanes green to get drivers' attention.
"What they've done around UK with the green stripe program ... is huge in letting people know there's something different," Vogel said.
Cycling events and programs at the University of Kentucky and throughout Lexington have also helped push a cycling culture.
Annual events, such as Bike Lexington, a month-long celebration of cycling in Lexington, and the Bike Prom, where people dress in three-piece suites and dresses before pedaling through downtown, put bikes on the streets in mass. At UK, and the Big Blue Cycles program encourages students to leave their cars at home and rent a bike from the university for the semester.
The number of bikes on campus has gone up just as it has in the city, according to UK Parking and Transportation Services, and UK's Office of Sustainability is pushing students to continue the trend.
"It's partially a cultural change," said Chrissie Tune, a marketing promotions specialist with UK's Parking and Transportation Services. "For some people, they want to avoid the costs associated with having a car."