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Will Durham Get Serious About Biking?

City Manager Tom Bonfield has resisted the idea of a protected bike lane for Broad Street. Photo via Google Maps

Durham, North Carolina, seems like a city that should be making progress on bicycling.

Last year, the City Council adopted a Vision Zero policy. And this year, Bloomberg Philanthropies awarded Mayor Steve Schewel's administration a grant to help reduce car commuting downtown.

But city officials have been slow to translate these ideas into tangible changes.

The redesign of Broad Street typifies the city's inertia. Broad Street is a commercial corridor connecting different neighborhoods, and local bike advocates see it as a great candidate for a protected bike lane.

When the street was due for a resurfacing this year, city officials put out three options, including two that include some degree of physical protection for cyclists. Hundreds of public comments were submitted, and more than 70 percent supported a protected bike lane, according to Council Member Charlie Reece.

Durham presented three options for Broad Street. Bike advocates like the first option -- protected bike lanes. The city chose the second. Image: Durham
Durham presented three options for Broad Street. Bike advocates preferred Option B, with a parking-protected bike lane on one side. The city chose Option A, without any protection. Image: Durham
Durham presented three options for Broad Street. Bike advocates like the first option -- protected bike lanes. The city chose the second. Image: Durham

But City Manager Tom Bonfield announced last month that the city had selected the only option of three scenarios without any physical protection. Bonfield told the Herald Sun that the city decided against protection because the street has too many driveways and curb cuts.

The city listed a number of other minor concerns in a memo. In a rebuttal, the advocacy group Bike Durham pointed out that city officials are mainly worried about trying out treatments that feel new to Durham but have proven to work. Bonfield doesn't like the idea of a parking-protected bike lane, for example, because people will be getting in and out of cars next to an 11-foot travel lane. Bike Durham notes that drivers already do that on Main Street.

One local bike commuter compiled this video of "close calls" on Broad Street. An unprotected bike lane simply won't change the street enough to make biking feel safe to most people.

"With the current design, every time someone parallel parks or double parks on Broad, a cyclist will be pushed into 35 mph traffic or faster," Bike Durham wrote in an appeal to its members. About 300 people wrote to the City Council asking them to support the protected bike lane design.

The volunteers serving on the Durham Bicycle and Pedestrian Advocacy Commission also called on Bonfield to reconsider.

"We feel that the design does not live up to the standards laid out in Vision Zero," the group wrote in a letter last month.

Some council members, like Reece, support the protected bike lane design. Bike Durham wants to see the City Council push for that option when it returns from recess mid-month. But because the Broad Street project is funded by North Carolina DOT, Bonfield and the city don't need the council's permission to continue.

"If the City is committed to the goals it has set for itself, then its leaders will need to push through the fear of novelty and imperfect conditions to get the 'interested, but concerned' citizen out of their car and onto a bike," Bike Durham's Landis Masnor told Streetsblog.

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