Friday, Sept. 12, 2003 | 11:08 a.m.
Henderson neighbors fighting to keep bicycle-only lanes on a main road near their homes have flooded the mayor and City Council members with e-mails and are arming themselves with hundreds of signatures on a petition intended to sway the elected leaders.
And it appears the grass-roots efforts will pay off, because the mayor and council members say they've heard the voices of their constituents and a majority say they agree with the neighbors.
At issue is a recommendation from city staff to change designated bicycle lanes into shared bicycle/vehicle lanes on a roughly two-mile stretch of Warm Springs Road between Pecos Road and Arroyo Grande Boulevard. Such a switch would mean that part of the road would change from four lanes to six lanes wide after the road is rebuilt early next year.
The city is holding two public meetings on the project, at 6 p.m. on Sept. 17 and Sept. 24 at the Wildhorse Golf Club on Warm Springs Road.
Neighbors say they support the $2 million replacement of the bumpy, cracked and patched road surface. But they oppose the proposal to replace the bike-only lanes with shared lanes when the new surface is striped.
Having three lanes for vehicle traffic would make the street less safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, who would lose a buffer-space now between the traffic and the sidewalk, they say.
"It brings the traffic right up to the sidewalk," said Gale Husney, a school librarian whose back yard is along Warm Springs.
The change would also make Warm Springs more inviting to traffic, and therefore increase traffic on the road, which is lined with residential neighborhoods and dotted with schools, she said.
Henderson Public Works Director Robert Murnane said his staff is recommending changing the striping on that part of Warm Springs Road to address increasing traffic congestion there, especially during rush hours. Murnane said the recommendation could change after the coming public meetings.
Warm Springs is a six-lane road on the other sides of Pecos and Arroyo Grande, where two of the lanes are shared by bicycles and vehicles, as is proposed for the section of Warm Springs between those two intersections. So, the proposed change would make the road consistent for drivers.
City Councilwoman Amanda Cyphers said that from an engineering standpoint the staff recommendation makes sense, but it's not a change she supports.
"You go from a three-lane road to a two-lane road to a three-lane road; in a way it's common sense to improve flow through there. But then politics comes in," Cyphers said. "The neighborhood voice is always a bigger factor."
In recent weeks Cyphers and her fellow elected leaders have been bombarded with dozens of e-mails from residents asking that the bicycle-only lanes be left alone.
"I know and remember who I work for, the neighbors, and it seems unanimous they don't want it. So I have no interest in changing the way things are," said Cyphers, who said she's received at least 50 e-mails on the subject.
Councilman Jack Clark had a similar reaction.
"We were only doing this for the residents to make it easier for those who use the road," Clark said. "But if the folks most affected don't want it, I don't see any reason to do it."
The lobbying effort was spurred by Husney, who said no one she spoke with even knew of the proposal until she told them of it about a month ago.
Husney then went door-to-door in her neighborhood asking residents to contact the mayor and council members. Other neighbors joined Husney, and she said now there are petitions with as many as 600 signatures ready for the mayor and council.
Mayor Jim Gibson said the matter "wasn't even on my radar," before he received the dozens of e-mails form neighbors opposed to the change.
Gibson wouldn't say whether he would definitely oppose changing the bike lane, but he said "on this particular street I would hate to see us do it."
"My tendency is I wouldn't support, it would be difficult for me to support, widening the road to six lanes," Gibson said.
The mayor said he's concerned that adding lanes for vehicle traffic on Warm Springs would attract more traffic to the road.
Councilman Steve Kirk said he noticed the proposed change to the bike lanes before being contacted by the neighbors because he's had personal experience with a similar change on Green Valley Parkway.
"I used to run on it but I would never run on it now," Kirk said, echoing comments from others who said a shared bike/vehicle lane isn't really very safe for bicyclists.
Erin Breen, director of the Safe Community Partnership at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the shared lanes essentially put bicyclists too close to vehicles.
"The bicyclist has to hug the curb to stay alive," Breen said. "The cars go faster because they're more comfortable with wider lanes. You can say you share the road but the Cadillac of roads has a dedicated bike lane."
Breen said she hopes the elected leaders will listen to the residents on this matter, and show people that "if you get involved in your neighborhood you can make a difference."
Breen said that even though some elected leaders support the neighbors so far, it is still important for the opponents of the proposed change to attend the public meetings and the October council meeting where the plan is expected to be voted on.
"You have to follow through," she said. "They are there to do your bidding but they can't if they don't know what you want."
Councilman Andy Hafen said he's not sure whether he will support the change being opposed by the neighbors.
Ted Jelen, a political science professor at UNLV, said the neighbors went about pushing their agenda the right way, by contacting their elected leaders and lobbying them instead of launching some sort of ballot initiative.
He also said that this case, if the neighbors get their way, shows how the political system can work.
"It shows that given sustained public attention elected officials can be responsive," he said.