SLO street will get $2.4 million for improvements — but council says no to protected bike lanes

Members of the Tortoise group of the SLO Bicycle Club take a ride along Broad Street.
Members of the Tortoise group of the SLO Bicycle Club take a ride along Broad Street. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo City Council on Tuesday veered away from an idea to install protected bike lanes along Laurel Lane in the city's south-end corridor, despite an ongoing initiative to support efforts to protect cyclists.

A council majority had hoped to include the protected bike lanes as part of an approved $2.4 million roadway sealing and street improvement project on Laurel — a corridor that helps connect Johnson Avenue to Broad Street and includes homes, Sinsheimer Park, offices and businesses nearby.

City transportation officials recommended against pursuing protected lanes as part of the project, saying the road isn't wide enough, needed funding isn't available, and more study is needed on the potential traffic and circulation impacts.

The improvement plan, however, does include safety improvements for pedestrians and a new roadway configuration, reducing vehicle traffic from two lanes to one in each direction to allow for wider (unprotected) bike lanes and sidewalk space.

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"We owe the community an opportunity to really get all of the information," said Tim Bochum, the city's deputy director of transportation. "Some people in the community say (separated bike lanes) are the perfect tool to get choice riders in, and some say they're the worst thing in the world. They're actually somewhere in between those two diametrically opposed issues."

The council unanimously supported the staff's recommendation to move forward with the $2.4 million plan — but not the protected bike paths.

Protected bikeways physically separate motorists from cyclists with barriers such as posts or planters. Critics say they disrupt traffic in and out of driveways and business entrances and exits.

Advocates, including Councilman Dan Rivoire, say they allow cyclists to ride safely, and currently roads such as Laurel Lane don't provide enough protection.

Rivoire said he was disappointed that a safer bikeway couldn't be achieved, despite his support of the street improvements.

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"What will it take to get a kid to ride a bike on a city corridor?" Rivoire said Tuesday. "Would you feel confident letting your 8-year-old ride a bike on Laurel Lane? I don't think we're quite there yet. I don't think this design gets us there yet ... protected cycle tracks are a really a way to get there. We want to get to a place where we have a world-class transportation system."

The City Council discussed the idea to add the separated bike pathways on May 1 as part of the planning on the project, asking city engineers to research the possibility.

A cyclist bikes toward Cal Poly in the green bike lane along California Boulevard. The city of San Luis Obispo is considering upgrades to add protected bike lanes, but rejected an initiative to explore them on Laurel Lane. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Bochum said he believed the separated pathways likely would have caused a problem because of a lack of space for drivers to get out of their parked cars safety without crashing with bike riders. Buses also travel the corridor, which could present circulation problems.

Jake Hudson, the city's transportation manager, said the city will be assessing where protected bike lanes can be implemented in the city as part of the city's upcoming Active Transportation Plan Update.

"This is a type of facility we want to strive to achieve in as many places as we can achieve it," Hudson said.

The discussion comes in the wake of significant controversy over how to implement bikeways in a north city neighborhood between Highway 101 and Foothill Boulevard, called the Anholm Bicycle Plan.

Ongoing planning and community discussion on how best to implement bike pathways in the controversial middle section of the Anholm neighborhood is proceeding after multiple City Council meetings.

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Hudson said the city acknowledges protected lanes increase ridership. The city has a goal to boost the number of bike commuters to 20 percent from its current level of about 7 percent.

"I want to challenge staff to look at every re-striping, resurfacing and every street design with the mindset of what would it take to have my 80-year-old father be able to comfortably ride on that route and an 8-year-old child," Rivoire said. "We should really be thinking of corridors and how we make that safe."

Nick Wilson: 805-781-7922, @NickWilsonTrib