Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2018

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Making Las Vegas a bike town: Improvements aim to change the way we move around the city

Image

Wade Vandervort

Heather Fisher signifies her support for cyclist safety at the memorial site for Dr. Kayvan Khiabani outside of Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, on Saturday, June 17, 2017. Dr. Khiabani died in a cycling accident on April 18.

Ghost Bike Dedication

Pat Treichel, co-founder of Ghost Bikes Las Vegas, installs a memorial bike for Dr. Kayvan Khiabani outside of Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas, on Saturday, June 17, 2017. Dr. Khiabani died in a cycling accident on April 18. Launch slideshow »

Types of bike lanes in Southern Nevada

• Bike lanes (468 miles worth) — use striping, symbols and sometimes signage to assign a designated space on the road for bicycles.

• Shared-use paths (370 miles) paved thoroughfares shared by cyclists, pedestrians, runners and other nonmotorized vehicles. Shared-use paths are typically located in their own right-of-ways, separated from roads, but they also can be built adjacent. Notable trails include the River Mountains Loop, the Las Vegas Wash and the I-215 West Beltway.

• Shared roadways (96 miles) — Roadways that highlight the legal right of cyclists to operate in the travel lane without providing a dedicated lane or path. Ways of highlighting that right include signage and/or pavement markings. Lanes designated for buses and bikes fall into this category.

• Buffered bike lanes (27 miles) — Conventional bike lanes paired with a designated, painted buffer space that increases the distance between the bike lane and adjacent motor vehicle lane.

• Separated bike lanes (2 miles) — a conventional bike lane that is physically separated by some kind of barrier beyond a painted line (examples include parking lanes or bollards). They may also be elevated.

Note: Sidewalks and unpaved trails are not included in this list

When the master-planned community Skye Canyon broke ground last year, the developers and planners in attendance skipped the yellow hardhats. Instead, they donned bright white bicycle helmets — a reminder of one of their marketing messages: “Fit lives here.”

It is becoming easier and more common to be on two wheels, and those two concepts are interwoven, say the city planners and engineers helping shape Southern Nevada.

“We’ve come a tremendously long way,” says Mike Janssen, transportation manager for Las Vegas. “In 2006, we had very few bike lanes. We’ve (since) advanced the mode. We are doing the right thing.”

Janssen isn’t just talking about the painted-green bike lanes found weaving through the streets of a downtown urban core. He also is referring to bicycle infrastructure spliced throughout suburban parts of the valley — places like Skye Canyon in the far northwest of the city, where the developer has promised and promoted bike lanes on all major arterials and pathways between its schools, parks and amenities.

“It’s a maturation process of the city,” says Chris Armstrong, vice president of the Olympia Cos., which owns Skye Canyon. “You’re seeing Las Vegas growing up and adopting policies that are looking toward long-term sustainability and a sense of community. I think all the entities have taken that big leap of faith.”

Southern Nevada boasts 869 miles of bike lanes, paved paths and shared roadways, and a regional plan recommends more than doubling that number. There also is a move toward the types of bicycle infrastructure that provide more space between the cyclist and cars on the roadway.

All this infrastructure improvement isn’t helping only avid cyclists. Approximately 28 percent of Southern Nevada residents have no automobile or only shared access to one.

According to the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, its buses board an average of 50,000 to 60,000 bicycles every month.

“Bicycling is an integral part of the transportation system,” says David Swallow, senior director of engineering and technology at the RTC. “Sometimes it’s too far to walk, especially given our development patterns. Biking is a great way to bridge the gap.”

Las Vegas and Henderson were recognized in 2016 as bronze-level bicycle-friendly cities by the League of American Bicyclists. The news made some residents scratch their heads in confusion, but not local engineers.

“Sometimes, people want to judge a community by the number of (bicycle) commuters, but they are just part of the picture,” says Scott Jarvis, a project engineer and the bicycle program manager for Henderson.

Data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey often are referenced in conversations about biking in cities. But while the ACS is a reliable indicator of trends over time, it is limited in scope, as it collects data only about the primary mode of transportation for trips made from home to work. That excluded population of children, retirees, the unemployed, stay-at-home parents, etc., who make up 55 percent of Southern Nevada’s population.

The ACS found that less than half a percent of Clark County work commutes are made via bicycle — lower than Salt Lake City (2.8 percent), Denver (2.4) and Phoenix (0.7). The average of the nation’s 50 most populous cities was 1 percent.

Still, Jarvis is not deterred from bringing up a city whose bicycle culture and reputation is omnipresent in any conversation about bicycling — Portland, Ore.

“They’re set up for bikes in the downtown core,” he says. “You pay for parking (cars). You can get places faster and cheaper on a bicycle. We are not a dense downtown. We typically have residential and business districts. You need more dedicated bicyclists (for commuting) because you can get there faster in a car.”

Data support this. A solid 80 percent of Henderson residents work outside the city, and half of those commute more than 10 miles — not a reasonable biking distance for the average person.

What Southern Nevada has, Jarvis continues, are residential neighborhoods with good connectivity to non-workplaces. He uses the example of a family that can use a paved trail behind its neighborhood to visit the local convenience store for a Slurpee on a Sunday afternoon, or a couple who ride to a nearby restaurant for a dinner outing. That’s the type of riding that could flourish — not completely recreational; practical but also pleasurable.

Willingness is there

Of all trips taken in Southern Nevada, about 1 percent are by bicycle and another 8-12 percent are on foot. In national studies, 50-60 percent of people say they would ride a bicycle more — or start riding — if they had access to facilities that provided more separation from traffic, lower traffic speeds and/or lower traffic volumes.

Data show that about half of all trips taken by car are within three miles — a reasonable bicycling distance.

A regional study attempting to capture ridership beyond home and work found that 0.8 percent of trips in Clark County were taken via bicycle — still low, but ripe for growth.

Janssen says one of the most frequent requests from residents is better connectivity to local schools. Keely Brooks of the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition sees this as the natural place to start.

“Overcoming that stigma that it’s not safe to ride your bike to school — that needs to be tackled,” she says. “It would go a long way to getting more people on bikes. If kids get excited, the parent is more likely to get into it.”

Survey says:

A recent survey of Southern Nevada residents asked:

What are the biggest obstacles preventing you from walking or biking more?

1. Safety – inadequate lighting, too much traffic

2. Weather – too hot, not enough shade

3. Inconvenient – too much to carry, takes too long, no good routes available

• • •

What would encourage you to walk or bike more?

1. Better facilities – wider/separated sidewalks and bike lanes

2. More regional paved trails

3. More safe routes to schools – sidewalks, crosswalks, safety signage

• • •

Why do you walk or bike?

29% fun/recreation

30% exercise, physical and/or mental wellness

9% environmental/air quality benefits

Improved infrastructure can help that, she adds, but should not be seen as a silver bullet. Other direct outreach is needed. Short, nonstressful group rides are among the best tools. They can help teach people the rules of the road, and they come with built-in encouragement. Bicycle advocates say people who don’t ride regularly typically underestimate their own abilities.

They often also underestimate how much fun it can be, says the RTC’s Swallow, who is an avid cyclist.

“There is no better way to see a city than on a bike,” he says. “You’ll only see a limited amount walking and, (when you’re) driving, you’re focused on driving and the cars around you. On a bike, you’ll see more. It’s a great way to feel that connection.”

Technological improvements also may increase ridership. Electric bikes — or e-bikes — are becoming more popular as their price drops. An e-bike looks like a standard bicycle but has a motor that can either provide a little oomph for the rider (sometimes called “pedal assist”) or completely do the work. This can help riders through a tough leg of a ride (think: hills) or just provide them with a less strenuous ride.

“They may start having an impact,” Janssen says. “If you can put it in electric-assist, maybe you do use the bike for a longer commute.”

Even if e-bikes never fully take off, preparing for a bicycle boom is good business for everyone. Paved trails can be designed for both pedestrians and bicyclists, and the bike lanes on roadways protect pedestrians by pushing cars farther away from the sidewalk. Even drivers benefit, engineers say, because when there is dedicated space for everyone, there is less conflict about who should be where.

“Everyone has a place,” Janssen says. “Motorists know where they’re supposed to be. Cyclists know where they’re supposed to be. They can all operate together safely.”

Remembrance and reminder

As of July 18, four cyclists in Clark County had died so far this year after collisions with vehicles. That put the county on track to meet last year’s number, which was up from the previous year.

Did you know?

Cities with high bicycling rates tend to have lower crash rates. Why? Because increasing the number of bicycles on the road improves safety for all transportation modes. Presumably because drivers know to look for them.

One newly formed group is hoping to memorialize some of these fallen and help remind drivers to look out for the roadway’s most vulnerable users. In June, Ghost Bikes Las Vegas installed a “ghost bike” on West Charleston near Red Rock Resort, where Dr. Kayvan Khiabani collided with a tour bus in April. He later died from his injuries. The memorial features a bicycle painted white. Messages of support are scrawled across it, as are photos.

Ghost Bikes Las Vegas founder Pat Treichel hopes it is the first of many memorials that help personalize the issue of cyclist safety. Next up will be a ghost bike for Pete Makowski, who died in 2013 on Las Vegas Boulevard near Sloan Road after a collision with a dump truck. That memorial will build off an existing “3 Feet for Pete” memorial ride staged annually in September to raise awareness of the state law requiring motorists to give cyclists three feet of space when passing. After that will be one for Matthew Hunt, who was struck by a Mustang on Las Vegas Boulevard near Treasure Island in 2015. He died a week later.

“People will see these, ask about it,” Treichel says. “It reminds people that this is a father, a son, a daughter, a community member … It’s not, ‘Hey, that guy in Spandex, that guy is just an annoyance because I have to slow down for five seconds and wait to get through the intersection.’ We’re trying to humanize this.”

Ghost bikes can be found in cities around the world.

Cities with higher rates of biking also tend to have the lowest collision rates. The more drivers see bicycles, the more instinctive it becomes to look for them. The more bicycles are on roadways, the more likely municipalities, businesses and other community stakeholders are to support boosting infrastructure and facilities for them.

Treichel hopes the message registers best with children who notice it while driving with their parents.

“Kids are future drivers,” he says. “We need to start imprinting this into those kids, those future drivers, now. That’s a real person.”

For more info about Ghost Bikes Las Vegas, visit the group's Facebook page.

Before you ride, be aware of these laws

Look both ways

Nearly 40 percent of bicycle collisions occur when a motor vehicle is turning right, known as a “right hook.” The second-most common scenario is when a car is going straight.

For drivers:

• Drivers are required by state law to move over one lane when passing a cyclist on multilane roads. In other circumstances, drivers must move over 3 feet for cyclists when passing. They are not allowed to cross a double-yellow line.

• Cars are not allowed to be in the bike lane to drive or park (exceptions are when you are entering or exiting an alley or driveway, when operating or parking a disabled vehicle, to avoid conflict with other traffic, in performance of other duties, in compliance with the directions of a police officer, or in an emergency).

For pedestrians

• It is unlawful for pedestrians to walk in bike lanes. An exception is if there is a bike lane but no sidewalk. In that case, the pedestrian is allowed to use the bike lane, but the law says they must walk on the left side of the roadway, facing traffic.

For cyclists

Be seen

When riding at night, cyclists are required to have: a white headlight, a red rear reflector (even if the bicycle has a rear taillight) and reflectors on each side. Just like car headlights, cyclists are required to turn their headlight on 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise, as well as during any conditions that make it difficult for people to see 1,000 feet ahead.

• You can get a ticket while riding a bicycle. Cyclists have almost all the same rights as drivers — meaning it is lawful for them to travel in a lane, even if there is a designated bike lane available — so they must follow all applicable rules — like going with traffic, not against it.

• Bicycles are supposed to stay in the right-most lane except when it is not safe to do so, or when they’re going the same speed as motor vehicles or making a left turn. Cyclists are allowed to ride a maximum of two abreast in a lane.

• Riders can carry belongings so long as they maintain one hand on the handlebars at all times.

• Sidewalks: There is no state law prohibiting a person from riding on the sidewalk. Generally speaking, cyclists on sidewalks are expected to act as pedestrians (i.e., riding at slower speeds, walking their bicycles across intersections).

Helmets make a difference

There is no state law requiring the use of helmets, though their use is encouraged. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 9 out of 10 cyclists killed are not wearing helmets. Only 20-25 percent wear helmets.

• Cyclists must use hand signals (left turn, right turn, stop or decreasing speed, re-entering lane of traffic) unless it would be unsafe to do so.

• It is unlawful to carry more people than the bicycle is designed and equipped for. That means you can get an attachable seat for your infant to ride with you, and a couple can ride a tandem bicycle, but your cousin can’t ride on your handlebars.

• If five or more vehicles are lined up behind a cyclist, the cyclist is legally obligated to move off the roadway when it is safe to do so. (This same law applies to cars.)

• Cyclists are allowed to run a traffic signal if said traffic signal did not detect them. They have to wait two light cycles, then must yield to pedestrians and other traffic.

Popular routes in the valley

Southern Nevada has miles and miles of bike lanes, paved paths and shared roadways, as identified in a study by Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Nearly 50 percent of bike lanes are within Las Vegas city limits.

• Las Vegas Wash Trails: 13.4 miles

Trail start and end: West Tropical Parkway/Valley Drive and Ruby Creek Drive/South Sloan Lane

Did you know?

In the U.S., about half of all trips taken by car are 3 miles or less, equivalent to a 20-minute bike ride.

• Pittman Wash Trail: 4 miles

Trail start and end: Arroyo Grande Sports Complex on North Arroyo Grande Boulevard and Pebble Road/Topaz Street

• Union Pacific Railroad Trail: 6.8 miles

Trail start and end: Acacia Park at Casa Del Fuego Street and southeast of East Paradise Hills Drive/Dawson Avenue

• Clark County Wetlands Park Trails: 14 miles (11 paved, 3 unpaved) with multiple riding options

• St. Rose Parkway Trail: 8.1 miles

Trail start and end: St. Rose Parkway/Bowes Avenue and St. Rose Parkway/Interstate 215

Picking a bike

• Road: Designed to be ridden fast on pavement. You’ll hear terms like “racing,” “endurance,” “cyclocross” and “touring” lumped into this category. They are typically lightweight with narrow, smooth tires and drop handlebars that allow the rider to bend down and be as aerodynamic as possible.

• Mountain: Designed for unpaved trails and gravel roads. They typically have flat handlebars, suspension allowing for bumps and jumps, durable brakes and wide tires. There’s even a category of mountain bikes called fat bikes with super wide tires.

• Hybrid/City: Designed with borrowed features from both road and mountain bikes to be a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none option. They allow for comfortable, casual riding in multiple settings (paved roads, smooth dirt).

• Specialty: There are a slew of bicycles designed for specific purposes. Examples include electric/e-bikes, for riders who want a battery-powered boost; BMX bikes, for tricks; cargo bikes, for carting lots of stuff around; and folding bikes, for anyone who needs to save space when it comes to storing.

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