Syracuse’s bike plan is beginning to show its stripes.
From East Genesee Street to South Salina Street, bright new white lines identify bike lanes. They are the result of the city’s plan for an interconnected bicycling network. They are also cause for celebration among the city’s bicyclists, long-time advocates and some city residents who depend on bikes. But the city is still open to suggestions.
This week, transportation planner Paul Mercurio is meeting with residents in the Eastwood and Northside neighborhoods to discuss the plan. The Eastwood meeting will be on Monday, Feb. 27, and the Northside meeting will be on Wednesday, Feb. 29.
Since the summer of 2010, Mercurio has had 15 public meetings—some with as many as 70 residents—to explain the benefits of cycling, elements of the plan, and recommendations for each neighborhood.
Education has built public support, said Mercurio. “Initially a lot of Syracusians didn’t understand how bicycling fit into the transportation infrastructure,” he said. But since the bike plan’s been put into action, Mercurio said, he gets are more positive comments than negative.
So far, new bike lanes line Meadowbrook Drive, Water Street, Comstock Avenue, East Genesee Street near Nottingham High School and South Salina Street in the Valley. To get the lines, the city is simply adapting its street-striping program, he said. “It just takes a different pattern,” he said.
The total cost of the bike plan is unclear. It’s a policy with gradual projects and piece-meal funding. For example, the cost of striping the roads for the bike lanes is covered under the city’s ordinary street-improvement budget. Other elements are more expensive. For example, “cycle tracks” require construction of a curb to separate a “bikeway” from the road.
But other parts of the plan will be funded by multiple sources, such as federal grants and county funds. The city is aggressively pursuing grants, partnering with Onondaga County for funding and supporting the Connective Corridor project, which is funded separately than the bike plan.
Cyclists welcome these changes. One avid supporter, bike commuter and recreational rider is Common Councilor Bob Dougherty, D-Valley/Westside. Dougherty is one of many long-time advocates who worked with F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse, a non-profit organization, to lobby for improved city streets, paths and trails.
The council may soon turn the bike plan from policy into legislation, he said. “I’ll definitely be championing it, sponsoring it as it goes through,” said Dougherty, who represents the city’s District 3.
Another long-time advocate, Charlotte “Chuckie” Holstein, is executive director of F.O.C.U.S. Greater Syracuse. She met monthly with 20 to 40 residents for over a year to get their views on walking, driving and biking in the city.
Residents voiced their biggest concern, Holstein said: “Safety, safety, safety, safety.”
“At one point, I asked how many cyclists had been involved in a car and bike accident and more than half of the room raised their hands,” she said. “That just blew my mind.”
Some community-minded cyclists are especially grateful for improved bike safety. One, Andrew Lunetta, is director of Pedal To Possibilities, a program that organizes group bike rides for the homeless. Lunetta, 21, leads as many as 20 riders along recently-made bike lanes, such as on South Salina Street between the Seneca Turnpike and Green Hills Market.
“It allows us to follow the rules of the roads for bicycles much easier,” said Lunetta, a peace and global studies major at Le Moyne College, in an email interview. He added, “With poor roads and little space for bikes, people will make dangerous choices like ride on the sidewalk or ride against traffic.”
Safety is also an issue for young bicyclists on the Westside, where some rely on bikes for transportation. Alec Leclercq, 39, founder of a program called Syracuse Bike Works, would like safer routes for youth in the city. That would help, he said, promote bicycling for all.
“It is the most democratic means of transportation,” he said in a text message, adding, “It is supposed to be liberating and fun.”
(Elizabeth Carey is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)