In downtown Wichita, bicyclists are now closer to the flow of traffic than ever before.
A few weeks ago, bike lanes were striped on First and Second streets, and on Market Street, in downtown Wichita. There are plans to paint lanes on Topeka Street, and extend those and the Market Street lanes south to Mount Vernon.
The Eagle asked Wichitans what they thought of the new lanes via an online survey.
The bicyclists surveyed generally received the new lanes positively.
“I think it works out best for both worlds – cars and bikes,” said Liz Denham, 31. “It gives bikes the comfort of a path or sidewalk with the speed/convenience of the street. It gives cars a warning – I guess you could say – to look out for bikes.”
Some motorists surveyed were not as pleased with the changes, which reduced three-lane streets to two lanes.
“We are at a point of no return downtown,” said Bill Pearce, 69. “We need to come to a better solution to accommodate bicyclists without making auto traffic more and more dangerous.”
Scott Wadle, the city’s senior planner who oversees bicycle matters, said the lanes are here to stay, so motorists and bicyclists alike need to learn how to use the lanes legally and safely.
“It’s not that these bike lanes just … came down from outer space and landed,” Wadle said. “If you weren’t engaged in these processes, it may seem that way … but the process to get these in goes back more than six years now.”
Where did the lanes come from?
Bike lanes were first installed along First and Second streets in College Hill in 2010 as part of a pilot project, Wadle said.
The lanes were originally proposed in the Project Downtown plan released by Goody Clancy in 2010. The plan identified which travel corridors could be enhanced for bicycle travel and others which could be enhanced for pedestrian, transit and/or motor travel.
The plans were refined in the Bicycle Master Plan, endorsed by the Wichita City Council in 2013.
The plan was developed over two years and more than 50 public meetings were held for feedback, Wadle said. People could also fill out an online survey.
In 2013, the city was awarded $145,973 in federal Transportation Enhancement funding from the Kansas Department of Transportation for the construction of lanes on First and Second.
The project was funded with a combination of that federal funding and a city local match. The city funding for this project and other bikeways was provided through the city’s capital improvement program.
Its bicycle enhancements line item includes $500,000 every other year for bicycle-related projects, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the city funding for bridges, freeways, and streets in the adopted 2014-15 plan, according to Wadle.
Traffic Control Services was selected as the contractor for the $583,697.85 construction project on July 7.
It is legal to ride a bicycle on sidewalks in Wichita, except in the Central Business District; however, many cyclists say riding in the street is safer.
“Cars neglect to look for cyclists riding on sidewalks when turning from residential streets onto more major roads like First and Second,” said cyclist Alex Kruse, 27. “Oftentimes, fences or bushes hide cyclists on sidewalks and it makes crossing side streets unsafe.
“Biking in the bike lane makes a rider much more visible to cars because cars are used to looking to the road for traffic before making turns.”
Rules for drivers
Bicycle lanes should be treated the same as any other lane of traffic, and both motorists and bicyclists are expected to follow traffic laws.
When the bike lane is marked by a solid white stripe, drivers should only cross the lane to access a driveway, side street or parking space, while yielding to oncoming bikers.
When the bike lane is dashed, drivers can cross there to access a designated right-turn lane, while also yielding to oncoming bikers.
As for those green zones? Crews painted the road green in some areas, like near I-135, simply to draw attention to the lanes.
If there is no marked right-turn lane or dashed stripes, drivers are expected to make right turns from the left of the bike lane. That means you cannot pull up next to traffic in a bike lane to turn right – even if that means waiting until the light turns green to make the turn.
“(Drivers) are responsible for being aware of their surroundings and allowing the straight-traveling traffic to proceed through and get clear before they make their right turn,” Wadle said.
Wichita police Lt. James Espinoza said officers will be trained on how to enforce bicycle laws at an in-service training session next spring.
He said with any major change, there is a sort of “grace period” in which people learn to adapt to the new rules.
“We know people have to learn the laws,” Espinoza said. “As an officer, (ticketing) is at my discretion. I’m not going to tell you we’re going to write up everybody.”
People cannot drive down the bike lane at any time.
If you are turning right through a bike lane to access a side street or a driveway and a bicyclist is in the lane, then Kansas state law says you can only do so when it is reasonably safe.
Finally, if drivers are parked in a space to the right of the bike lane, check to see whether a biker is coming down the lane before opening the door.
Rules for bicyclists
Bicyclists are expected to follow the same traffic rules as cars – they must signal turns and stop at all stop lights.
Helmets are recommended but are not required by law.
Wadle encourages bicyclists using bike lanes to be aware of their surroundings, especially at intersections where drivers are trying to turn right from the left of the bike lane.
“Ideally what would happen is you’ll make eye contact,” he said. “When I’m a cyclist … if I know it’s going to be red for a while, I get off the pedals to clearly indicate I’m not going to proceed forward at any point. Sometimes I wave at motorists to let them know they can proceed through.”
Bicyclists must ride with the flow of traffic, not against.
At nighttime, bicyclists are required to have a headlight and, at the least, a red reflector on the rear. If bicyclists are about to pass someone, they must provide some sort of audible signal, such as a bell chime.
The city is distributing free headlights, taillights and warning bells to Wichitans to improve safety, Wadle said.
Educating the public
The city is developing a “street safety education initiative” with $52,500 from a $100,000 Kansas Health Foundation grant. KDOT funding was used to purchase lights and bells for cyclists, Wadle said.
Wadle said the city is working on “developing an education module” with the Wichita Police Department, which will help train officers on bicycle laws.
It is also trying to teach bikers how to bicycle appropriately, he said. The city has been working with the League of American Bicyclists to certify local bicyclists as safety instructors. The city currently has nine league-certified instructors, according to its website.
For more information about taking a class from one of these instructors, visit www.bikeleague.org and search Wichita. People can also sign up for the city’s weekly bicycling and walking newsletter to stay updated at www.wichita.gov/bicycle.
The city has produced brochures, titled “Street Smarts: Rules and Guidance for Driving and Bicycling in Wichita,” that will be available at City Hall, libraries, neighborhood city halls and recreation centers, Wadle said. The brochures were produced with KDOT funding.
Wadle acknowledges it is hard to get the message out to everyone at once, but said he is “confident” the city’s efforts will adequately inform Wichitans.
“The (free bike) lights get a lot of attention because they’re kind of the … sexy thing, but the booklets and pamphlets go a long way to explaining what’s going on out there,” Wadle said.
What Wichitans are saying about the new bike lanes
“I like knowing exactly where to expect cyclists now. As a bicyclist, the new lane markings have made my travels much safer.” – Kate Clause, 32
“I have started using the new lanes on First and Second through downtown when I commute via bicycle. The lanes work great, and I feel surprisingly safe.” – Diana Edmiston, 54
“I bike whenever I can, and I have used the bike lanes on First and Second streets many times already. Having the lanes clearly marked has made my ride safer.” – Dominic Canare, 31
“First, the skill level required to obtain a driver's license in Kansas is quite low, so drivers don't necessarily have the ability to interact with cyclists safely. Second, our compass-oriented grid plan leads to sun blindness during peak commuting hours for much of the year, which has been implicated in a number of deadly cycle accidents over the years. Cycle lanes that increase lateral separation between cars and bikes can help with this problem; however, to the extent that they encourage more people to cycle, they can also result in more accidents at points where cyclists and motorists compete for the same space.” – Jonathan Winkler, 40
“You still couldn't get me to bike that close to Wichita drivers, even though the lanes are nice.” – Alexandra Simmons, 39
“I live off First Street and I can honestly say that moving from three to two lanes has not affected the flow of traffic, but obviously has created a safer space for drivers and cyclists.” – Andrew Gough, 35
“I think the traffic flow is actually better with the bike lanes and the shared lanes. First and Second streets have always been a mess because no one really knew how many lanes existed, as mostly there were no lane markings. Now there are and we know where we should be.” – Paul Corn, 71
“Traffic has been relatively smooth and unchanged since the changes. If anything I'd say traffic has improved because bikes and parked cars have their own space.” – Robert Metoyer, 34
“Cannot figure out for the life of me why you would take away three lanes of car traffic for a few bicyclists that apparently do not abide by the same laws as drivers of vehicles are supposed to do. Ridiculous.” – Dawn Davenport, 62
“It gums up traffic and slows everything down for no good reason. One of the biggest wastes of tax dollars in the 26 years I've lived here.” – R.J. Dickens, 58
“It's chaos – people aren't aware of the bike lane changes, so when lanes suddenly end where they did not before, people are merging everywhere. It doesn't help that when they first made these changes, there were no merging signs or bike lane markings in the new lanes to let people know what was going on.” – Korley Tate, 41
Wadle said the city is looking for suggestions on how to improve bike lanes in the future – people can e-mail him at SWadle@wichita.gov with any comments or questions.