Tom Eblen

Tom Eblen: The future of cycling in Central Kentucky is looking good

Tom Eblen
Tom Eblen

It is Monday afternoon as I write this, and outside my office window, Lexington looks like a giant snow globe. Fat flakes are pounding the icy pavement, and all I can think about is how much I want it to warm up so I can ride my bike again.

Spring will come eventually. When it does, Lexington will be an even better place for bicycling, thanks to many people's hard work.

The Fayette County Public Schools was awarded a $20,775 grant last month from the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission to expand its bike-safety program. The money came from voluntary fees paid by people buying "Share the Road" license plates.

Last year, many of the school system's physical education teachers were trained by certified instructors from the League of American Bicyclists. The next phase of the program includes purchasing 70 more bikes and helmets to teach all third-, fourth- and fifth-graders how to safely ride a bike.

City officials recently finished "complete streets" guidelines for adding bike lanes, whenever possible, to new and renovated streets and roads, said Kenzie Gleason, Lexington's bike/pedestrian coordinator.

Lexington has 25 miles of bike lanes, including recent additions to South Limestone, Vine Street, Polo Club Boulevard, Todds Road and the Newtown Pike extension. An additional 15 miles have been funded. Those bike lanes will be added as part of improvements to Maxwell Street and Clays Mill Road this year, and to Southland Drive next year.

Lexington also now has 22 miles of bike/walking trails, including the new Legacy Trail. Six more miles of trails have been funded and are in development. Twenty more miles are being studied or designed but are not funded.

The Legacy Trail's initial eight-mile section, from the YMCA on Loudon Avenue to the Kentucky Horse Park, has been popular since it opened in September. When it has been too icy or snowy for bikes, friends tell me they have seen people cross-country skiing there.

An extension of the trail from the YMCA to the proposed Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue has been delayed until completion of an archaeological survey. Organizers always knew the great 19th-century African-American jockey's home was near the garden; now they think he might have lived on that very spot.

Two couples from Scott County — Dick and Christie Robinson and Keith and Leslie Flanders — are soliciting support to extend the Legacy Trail from the Horse Park to the Cincinnati Bengals' training center in Georgetown. The distance is less than most people might think: about three miles. But it would make this the Bluegrass's first multicounty trail.

Bluegrass Tomorrow also is pushing the idea of a regional trail system. Chairman Blaine Early said the non-profit "smart growth" group hopes to facilitate plans among its 18 counties to build new trails and connect with those that exist elsewhere, including Lexington and Versailles.

Meanwhile, The Fayette Alliance has asked Vice Mayor Linda Gorton to appoint a Bike Trails Task Force to bring stakeholders together to figure out how to design and finance recreational trails throughout Fayette County.

An extensive trail system could be "an extraordinary economic development, quality-of-life, tourism and transportation tool for our city and state," said Knox van Nagell, director of the land-use advocacy group.

"I'm super-excited about this," said Gorton, who expects to appoint the task force by the end of February.

But one thing Lexington won't see soon is another public bike-sharing program downtown. Last year, the city received a $175,000 federal grant that officials hoped to use for an automatic kiosk system to replace the Yellow Bike program that was launched in 2008 but was abandoned last year.

"The more we learned about bike-sharing systems, it was obvious that that amount of money was not going to cover the equipment and ongoing operations," Gleason said. More study is needed to develop a plan to make such a program pay for itself after creation.

Instead, Gleason said, the grant will be used to install sensors to detect cyclists and trigger traffic signals at key intersections around town. That would be helpful because most current sensors were designed for big motor vehicles and don't notice a bicycle. Cyclists gripe about that almost as much as they do about snow and ice.