14th Street Lane: Construction Edition

The construction in downtown Lincoln has been the scourge of all traffic this summer—and not only because it’s made for more frustrated motorists than usual! P Street’s facelift has irked city management and residents alike for the reduction of lanes, sidewalks, and parking. One can only hope for the single positive that may emerge from this dark time: that motorists realize they should take more advantage of the downtown garage’s free first hour of parking and lower the city’s perception that on-street parking needs intensely fierce protection (more on that later).

The last few weeks have seen 14th Street between O and Q get some unexpected nips and tucks from the *ahem* urban surgeons. If you regularly use the bicycle lane to easily slide through the city center on 14th Street, you’ve no doubt noticed the lateral hopping necessary to stay in the lane. Starting at O Street, the bike lane has been moved (rather inartfully) to the left about six feet moving north from the intersection. The reason for this shift is the flip-flopped parking situation between O and P on 14th, where the west side now has parallel parking (sorry, Jimmy John’s drivers!) and the east has angled parking (goodbye, bus lane!).

O Street intersection
O Street intersection
Between O and P Streets

The real interesting change will come north of P Street where there are currently two turn lanes for cars going left on Q Street. As of this writing, the bicycle lane disappears into one of the two car lanes. Where it will land is anyone’s guess.

P Street intersection
P Street intersection

This brings us to one final issue that has plagued bicycle riders who continue north across Q Street on their way to campus or beyond: the car lane adjacent to the bicycle lane is far too narrow when the angled parking is full, which is usually. Cars are forced to drift into the bicycle lane to slide by, thus endangering bicyclists who may be riding along side them.

Two years ago, when the downtown resurfacing project was arriving at N Street, BicycLincoln helped mobilize members of the community to let the City Council know the importance of the current lanes. Otherwise they may have been paved over never to be seen again. While far from perfect, they are an important message stamped into the infrastructure for all to see that bicycles belong on the road downtown. For anecdotal evidence that they have made a difference, it has been years since anyone has kindly yelled at me to “get on the sidewalk” downtown. It seems most realize that bicycles legally must ride on the street downtown either in the designated bicycle lanes or in regular traffic lanes in order to stay off the sidewalks where pedestrians may be in danger.

Having said that, these lanes are an embarrassment to safety and an inconvenience to both pedal and motor traffic for several key blocks downtown. The city was uncompromising when it came to installing the lanes, standing firmly on the side of maintaining existing parking spaces over safety. They kept their parking and built a corridor where buses zigzag across the lane, motorists merge through, and angled parking backing up to the lane constitutes a constant potential for dangerous interactions between cars and riders. We’ve even been told  the League of American Cyclists uses these lanes in their presentations of how not to implement bicycle infrastructure. We are a lesson for others, it seems, and next month when League representative Steve Clarke visits Lincoln on his cross-country tour of Bicycle Friendly Communities, he will have another chance to survey the potentially botched Botox job we’re seeing today with more fodder for the What Not To Do section of his presentation.

The current 14th street lane is, I repeat,  important and terribly conceived. Keep both of these in mind next time a bus cuts across you outside the state office building.

We can do better, and hopefully the N Street lane (when it comes along) will show that we care about investing in quality bicycle infrastructure. Other cities are watching us, especially as we once again crush it in the National Bike Challenge. Here’s to safer days to come on our downtown streets!