Too risky for bikes

Published:

We generally like the idea of making life safer and more convenient for people who ride bicycles for recreation or commuting. Pedaling burns calories instead of gasoline and may even curtail the march of urban sprawl if more of us get into it.

However, we’re troubled by the latest proposed step in that direction. Louisville Hill – the section of U.S. 60 that connects South Frankfort to West Frankfort – will be closed for up to 10 weeks to permit installation of a new storm sewer, and Walk-Bike Frankfort envisions a somewhat different road afterwards. President Brent Sweger says his group wants to take advantage of reconstruction to make the route more bike-friendly.

Public Works Director Jeff Hackbart, who sees some possible benefits to staying with the present configuration of two uphill lanes and one downhill lane, invited public feedback on the pros and cons of changing.

The plan calls for a separate bike lane on the uphill side and a shared-used downhill lane with icons reminding motorists to watch out for bicyclists. This could be accomplished simply by restriping before the road reopens.

Second Street, which begins at the bottom of Louisville Hill, already has a lane for bikes. We frankly had our doubts about putting bicycles and cars side by side in that location, but at least Second Street traffic moves slowly and the roadway is straight and level.

Louisville Hill is another matter. The grade is steep, the road is curvy and rock slides can occur in rainy weather, forcing uphill traffic temporarily into the center lane. In addition, there have been instances in which vehicles, for whatever reason, have gone out of control headed downhill, resulting in pileups at the foot of the hill.

It’s a far cry from the Louisville Hill depicted by Frankfort impressionist Paul Sawyier, who had an occasional horse trudging up and down the snow-covered roadway, which back then was a main connector between the valley and the farms atop the hill.

Pedaling up the steep incline most certainly would test any bicyclist’s stamina. Our worry is that drivers, who make the climb with little or no thought for the physical effort it would entail without the assistance of an internal combustion engine, might have to make a rapid evasive maneuver if they unexpectedly encountered a bicyclist straining to reach the top.

Downhill is potentially even dicier. The speed differential is reduced because bike riders can coast at about the same speed as cars and trucks, but that poses a problem of its own. “Tailgating” is risky enough for vehicles of nearly equal size and safety features. More vulnerable bicyclists especially should not have to worry about getting rear-ended by a two-ton piece of machinery whose brakes fail or whose operator misjudges the distance.

Our real preference is for roads to keep bikes and motor vehicles totally separate. The recently opened 1.5-mile River View Trail is a worthy example, giving hikers and riders a route roughly parallel to Wilkinson Boulevard but removed from the noise, fumes and danger. Plans are to extend the path to Cove Spring Park and eventually back downtown along an old railroad bed. Then it’ll be possible to ride all the way around the historic part of the city without fear of getting clobbered.

Bicycles and automobiles just don’t mix very well, no matter how many “share the road” signs you see along the way.

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  • The traffic load of LaFayette Drive is a small fraction of that on US 60 Louisville Hill, and it is much shorter to the top. My tired old butt must be a heckuva cyclist, because I can put it first gear and motor to the top. It is a good workout. And even if I could not, I can get off and push...there's plenty of room on the right side. The parking only goes up to the last house on the right which is about half way up. From there, the road is quite wide all the way to the top where it does restrict down. That is where I dismount, mount the curb and push the short distance until I reach the sidewalk. Then I can get back on and ride a short distance until I am back on the road. I am not too keen on riding on US60 on top of the hill either, but there are alternative routs through subdivisions that are easy to navigate. This isn't a classic bikeway with designated lanes as presently configured, but I prefer it to just riding out there with people in cages who DON'T think that I should be on the road with them. Whether we like it or not, this is KY and these drivers are a reality that are ignored at our own peril. I don't want to see somebody hurt or killed here. These cage drivers will still be out there even if a bike lane is approved on Louisville Hill and I don't want to mess/mix it up with them. While I was riding on "their road", I have had a beer bottle thrown from a car that barely missed my head! Louisville Hill is just too dangerous for me to tackle...maybe not for some other folks. I also drive a car around here a lot more than I bike, and taking a lane out of the uphill of Louisville Road just so a few cyclists can ride up it every now and then in good weather doesn't seem like the best use of that thoroughfare. The vast majority of the time that lane would just be an empty lane, while the nearly full-time car traffic is squeezed down to two lanes year round, and the downhill portion would be sharing the road with bikes...a very tenuous arrangement at best. This is a very busy road all of the time. My opinion has nothing to do with whether bikes have the right to be on the road with cars, of course they do. My Dad's term "dead right" comes to mind here...some of that soaked in. I am just saying that maybe we need to think this thing through a little more. There has to be a better way.

  • Just a reminder that we tried to incorporate bike lanes on Lafayette Dr. a few years ago but dropped the proposal after conferring with residents who were concerned about the loss of on-street parking. Regardless of whether you're a cyclist or not, it's important to remember, as several have noted, that cyclists and motorists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road. It's been shown that as bikes become more prevalent in traffic, injuries drop because motorists start getting used to seeing them and adjust accordingly. And cities that provide enhanced accommodation for bikes reap the economic benefits of doing so. Bike lanes are just one component of an overall transportation plan. Ideally, they'd link to off-road trails, parks, commercial and residential areas. Finally, bikes and cars co-exist in lots of towns and cities and folks manage to get along just fine. Surely Frankfort can figure it out, too.

  • I think it is much more dangerous for cyclists and motorists to use Lafayette Drive. And you'd have to be one heckuva cyclist to go up Lafayette! And way too dangerous to go around the Buford VanMeter bypass (past Dan'l Boone Guard complex) as the hill is long and the driving speeds are high and it's out of the way to get downtown. Why not let the cyclists have their lanes as envisioned, and if there are problems and it doesn't work out after putting into effect, then repaint the lines and go back to the way it is now. It's just paint stripes, people! Give it a try. Cyclists have the same rights to safe travel on our public roadways as motorized vehicles (except where restricted, like on interstates).

  • And there you are. :o)

  • It's worth noting that the City can't actually make this decision. We're essentially just gathering community input so that we can democratically communicate with the State. If anyone wants to email their opinion, they can send me a message at selluswilder@gmail.com and I'll pass it along. Folks can also call City Hall at 875-8500 and ask to speak to the Public Works Department. Another option is to send a letter to City Hall at 315 W. Second Street, or simply stop in during normal business hours. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ Sellus Wilder - Frankfort City Commissioner

  • Grackle, I've OFTEN seen Sellus Wilder and other city officials comment on these stories. There's probably too much anonymity on our website for an official record. Heck, we can't get people to change their suggested username from anonymous_####. (I suggested to the Webfolk to change the suggested name to something distasteful, like ped0ph!le_####. Then people would LINE UP to change them!) You'd probably have to send regulation snail-mail to the City Commission (I bet "City Hall, West Second Street, Frankfort, KY 40601" would go straight there) with your full name and address before it would be taken seriously.

  • Steve: the S-J is participating in the process by informing people of this situation. However its website is a dead-end for comments which should be directed to the city. It would be more responsible to have the articles encourage readers to send their views to the appropriate city staff (with complete address details) AND to share them in the comments section here. Even if city staff read the S-J website, the comments are not going to be entered as official record unless they are submitted via the approved process. ***** How many people who've posted their views here are going to also send them to the city?

  • My preferred alternative for going west out of town on a bike is LaFayette Drive. There is too much traffic on Louisville Hill, the sight distance is inadequate, it is too narrow to make proper bike lanes and there is too much of a speed disparity between the cars and bicycles, even when going down hill. If Louisville Road were to be cut further into the hill making a much wider thoroughfare with adequate ditching that didn't leak water onto the pavement from the cuts, then bike lanes could realistically be added. That isn't going to happen. ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ And let's be real here for a moment, there just isn't enough bike traffic going up the hill to justify designating a full lane to them on a road that is already too narrow. Louisville Hill isn't all that safe right now for cars only. Pretty soon, there isn't going to be any bike traffic going out that way because it will be too cold.

  • KSP, well put! Thank you!

  • Any time someone tells me a particular road is "too dangerous for bike lanes," I think two things: One is that they are usually right, although not for the reason they imagine. If there is, indeed, a climbing lane on the hill in question, a bike lane is a good idea. Taking away five feet of pavement will force other traffic to slow a bit, which is a good thing for the safety of all involved. The other is that the people who insist that bicycling is unsafe don't have a very good grasp of statistics. Driving is far more unsafe, yet I don't see such people doing much to stem the tide of American deaths due to motor vehicle crashes--more per month than were killed on 9/11/2001. Do something about the source of the danger first, THEN come to me about how bicyclists are your perception of a problem. I would also respond to nightrider502's made-up statistic by observing that the fact that you may not be able to bicycle up that hill it doesn't mean that others cannot. On the other hand, if your statistic is semi-close to reality, it's an even better argument for a bike lane, as cyclists who need to stop would still be out of your way as you gas your over-weight car up the hill. If it is being used as an evacuation route during some emergency along the river bed, I would think the eastbound lanes would be pressed into service for additional westbound capacity. It could very well be that cyclists are the only ones able to move due to overcrowded auto lanes or other obstacles. Your doomsday scenario is not a valid argument against a bicycle climbing lane. Or perhaps you are just arguing against what is a legitimate vehicle in hopes that your perceived convenience will be uninterrupted by having to obey traffic law?

  • Why do the authors of this article and many of the comments below think that a slow cyclist in a bike lane is a problem for cars in a car lane? If both stay in their respective lane then it works great! If anything, right now cyclists using the road as it is (2 lanes for uphill) are well within their right, and motorists have the legal responsibility to share the road and could be held liable for any injuries or damage caused if they don't... so most of the arguments that seem to be cited to oppose the bike lane actually SUPPORT adding a bike lane in order to separate the uphill cars from any potential uphill bikes.

  • That road is too dangerous for bike lanes. I would venture to guess only about 5% of the bikers using it would be able to get completely up the hill without stopping or pushing the bike, thereby causing potential traffic problems. This is one place where bike lanes are not needed. This road is also an evacuation route. Eliminating one full lane going out of town would be a detriment should the road need to be used for evacuation.

  • Down-hill separate bike lanes are a bad idea. There is little good to be found in going 20+ in a narrow bike lane--having the use of a full normal lane is far safer for the cyclist at such speeds. Bike lanes rarely get the debris-removal common to main traffic lanes, and at such speeds, diversion from the bike lane for debris (with the inevitable motorist close at hand) is overly problematic. Yes, a climbing lane for bicyclists is a good idea. Your citation of frequent rock slides causing cyclists to use the left lane is something of a red herring. ALL road users are compelled by law to look far enough ahead to enable analysis of road conditions at travel speed. If you can't see far enough ahead to deal with something two seconds ahead of you, you're going too fast for conditions.

  • Grackle, the other story said this: "Hackbart is planning to request residents’ input at an Oct. 15 City Commission work session at 12:30 p.m." Not the most friendly of times, and no mention of written comments, but I bet Mr Hackbart (and other commissioners like Sellus Wilder, etc) has email.

  • Well written and thought-out piece.

  • Neither article in this paper makes it clear how public comments may be submitted to the city on this topic.