In Northwest Las Vegas, I motor from time to time along Lone Mountain Road between Jones and Decatur boulevards.
Recently, these streets have been repainted with solid white lines designating bicycle lanes. In addition to the re-striping, the city of Las Vegas has posted reflective metal “Bike Lane” signage, 10 to the mile.
When the city marked bicycle lanes on the stretch of West Charleston that leads to the popular recreational route past the Red Rocks, that was fine by me. I have nothing against bicyclists.
But I drive these streets I’m talking about in the Northwest at all hours of the day and night, and there are no bicycles. Maybe an occasional teen-ager peddling a few blocks from home to the convenience store (mostly sticking to the underused sidewalks, which I happen to think very wise of them, even though that’s now apparently illegal.) But in effect, streets that once carried three lanes of motor vehicle traffic in each direction have now lost a full motor vehicle lane on either side, with that space now dedicated to the use of imaginary bicyclists.
The new bike lanes aren’t up against the curb, you see. They’re set five feet OUT from the curbs, creating a strange, five-foot-wide “dead zone” between curb and (imaginary) bicyclist, while placing the left handlebar of the (imaginary) bicyclist within inches of motor vehicle traffic which often zips along these thoroughfares at 50 miles an hour.
Las Vegas city spokesman Jace Radke explains in an e-mail “The layout of the new bike lanes on Lone Mountain eliminates the need to constantly shift the bike lanes away from the curb at exclusive right turn lanes and minimizes conflicts between right turning traffic (the biggest complaint we get from bikers)╩and bikes. This layout provides an auxiliary lane along the curb that can be used for parking associated with utility maintenance, landscape maintenance, bus stops or deliveries. There is no congestion on Lone Mountain during peak hours because the traffic volumes are easily handled by two travel lanes in each direction. …”
Given that many automobile drivers who get into accidents with motorcycles often say they literally didn’t see the motorcycle, the idea that safety is enhanced by putting even smaller, quieter bicycles with minimal lighting well out into a street in parts of town where no one expects to encounter them seems a bit odd. Nor could the city spokesfolk explain whether motorists will now be ticketed if they cross the solid lines of the unused bike paths, referring those questions to the Metropolitan Police Department, which means they’ve put this plan into effect without even asking.
(A Metro spokesman says officers will use discretion, but “extended travel” by a motor vehicle in a bicycle lane is out.)
The cost of creating these bike lanes, by the way, is $3,500 per mile, and “The city maintains about 350 miles of bike lanes (this includes bike lanes on both sides of the street),” Mr. Radke adds. “The bike lane network has been funded by a wide variety of funding sources including federal funds and grants. …”
In fact, at a time when government at all levels is pleading poverty, when the Obama administration is whining the stingy Congress won’t even give them enough money to run White House tours or keep control towers open at rural airports, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada spokesgal Angela Torres and the RTC’s bicycle guy, David Swallow, confirmed last week that the RTC is currently administering a $3.1 million federally funded contract to create dedicated bike lanes on 96 miles of additional roadways, along with another 28 miles “where you have the ‘share-the-road’ signage.”
Why? Justifications vary. Mr. Radke at the city says the bike lanes are funded “ in order to improve our communities, public safety and quality of life.” The RTC’s bicycle Web page (www.rtcsnv.com/cycling/non-motorized-alternative-mode-plan/) says “The purposes of the Plan are to create safer and more convenient facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians, reduce air pollution, and limit the negative effects of inactivity. It supports the Valley’s economy and is a sound investment.”
(When government bureaucrats say spending $3,500 per mile to stripe new bicycle lanes is “a sound investment,” they mean it’s a way to spend our hard-earned money in which no private investor in his right mind would invest a dime, since it will never return a penny.)
Angela Torres at the RTC says the projects in different jurisdictions — primarily Las Vegas and Henderson — are funded by “different grants … for air quality and congestion mitigation, it’s coming from the Federal Highway Administration.”
The money flows from the FHwA through the Southern Nevada Health District to the FTC, she says. The Health District is involved because bicycling “promotes an active lifestyle.”
The RTC’s bicycle guy, David Swallow (technically, director of engineering services for capital projects), says the federal funding is for “congestion mitigation and air quality funding, and we got it through the Nevada Department of Transportation.”
OK. How does reducing a six-lane motor-vehicle street to a four-lane motor vehicle street, setting aside two lanes for bicycles that aren’t there, “mitigate congestion?” I asked.
“That was identified by the City of Las Vegas as a proposed improvement,” explains Mr. Swallow. “It’s not really for us to say.”
“Lone Mountain is a wide 100-foot right of way that will never need six travel lanes because it does not have an interchange at U.S. 95,” Mr. Radke explains, “so when the road was recently rehabbed, it was re-striped with four travel lanes and bike lanes between Decatur and Rancho because our goal is to have a network of streets with bike lanes that are no more than one mile apart. Since Craig Road (a half mile to south) and Ann Road (a mile to north) are very high traffic volume corridors and truck routes, we selected Lone Mountain as the preferred bike corridor.”
I still keep coming back to the fact that there are no detectable bicycle commuters in this part of town.
“But there are also children,” Ms. Torres reminds me. “Children use bicycles.”
Somehow picturing a tiny tyke with training wheels, six feet out from the curb on a street where cars move 50 miles an hour, does not reassure me. And I still want to know whether anyone did a survey to find out which streets actually have heavy bicycle traffic before deciding where to concentrate this multi-million-dollar project.
The county says it didn’t. The city says it didn’t. The RTC hasn’t done a street-by-street survey of bicycle use, either — though they do have a number of bicycle uses: “We carry approximately 50,000 bicycles per month on our system,” says Ms. Torres.
I’m impressed. And how did they get that number — by counting bicyclists peddling past a certain point or points, and then multiplying?
No, no. Ms. Torres explains that every time a bicyclist boards an RTC bus and attaches his or her bicycle to the bike rack on the front of the vehicle, the driver is supposed to click a clicker, once. Over one month, they average about 48,000 clicks, system-wide.
Wait a minute. If a bicycle commuter uses an RTC bus to cover part of his or her route to work or school every day, he or she would account for one click in the morning and one in the evening, at least 20 days per month. A little long division tells me that as few as 1,250 daily bicycle commuters could thus generate that 50,000 “clicks” a month.
Are we spending millions of dollars to create hundreds of miles of bike lanes for 1,250 people?
Idealistic urban planners holding conventions in Cambridge or Berkeley or Amsterdam or Rome may look out their hotel windows and experience ecstasies at all the gasoline being saved by all the bicyclists they see, but the kind of verbiage you will find at the RTC’s bicycle Web page verges on the ludicrous when applied to 20th-century cities built in 110-degree deserts around the automobile, which ain’t going nowhere no matter how many bankrupt electric car companies the Obama White House chooses to lavish with the last of our cash in the final years before the American economy goes the way of Cyprus.
A city councilman told me why this money is really being spent. Because the federal government offers it. If we don’t take it, it will simply go somewhere else.
I believe it was Dudley Moore’s partner, Peter Cook, who predicted back in the ’60s that the British Empire would not so much fall to conquest as “sink giggling into the sea.”