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.