One Less Car
I have pedaled the streets of Reno for almost twenty years. A lot has changed. While there are more butts on more bikes more often than when I first moved to town, the infrastructure, education, and overall riding experience in town have not come as far as I believe they could have.
I ride a bike for many reasons: for health, to save money, to reduce my carbon emissions, to avoid paying to park, for safety, and the list could go on.
Two reasons that stand out the most to me are the mental clarity riding a bike brings me and showing my kids that relying on a bike instead of petroleum for transportation is a realistic possibility. Plus, having my kids join me on the bike is a guaranteed method to start the day with a laugh and a smile.
Just ride a bike and get there free; quit bothering me.
This phrase has long been a mantra of mine. Some may know where it comes from, and others should try it out. But to me, it is some of the best advice.
I dream of bike-centered infrastructure and a city council and Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) that designs and plans around cycling instead of cars. I often ponder how things could be better for a cyclist as I weave in and out of carbon-emitting vehicles on my daily rides.
I spent the summer navigating the confusing implementation of the micro-mobility study in downtown Reno. With electric scooters zipping amongst tourists on the sidewalks and cars trying to drive through the narrow two-way bike lane that split through the heart of town, I wonder what passed through tourists’ minds.
Along two blocks south of the Virginia Street bridge, there is a cycle track that situates traveling and parked cars next to each other; the bike lane is further protected with pylons and is next to the sidewalk.
The idea of a two-way protected bike lane, or cycle path, through downtown is not novel. In 2015, RTC held several public meetings about the renovation of Virginia street in midtown. I attended these meetings to support bike lanes, as did the community.
When RTC selected the final plans for the Midtown revitalization, one without bike lanes in favor of more parking spaces, the community was promised a cycle track connecting midtown to the university via Center Street. That project was approved, and a third of the way completed when downtown casinos expressed concern.
In March, the Reno News and Review reported the project was put on hold at the request of the casinos. A case of the city catering to businesses over the public interest is not uncommon. During the 2015 and 2016 RTC meetings, Midtown businesses clamored for more parking spaces to revitalize Virginia street. Midtown has been revitalized, but there is no bike lane but a sharrow or shared-use lane.
RTC’s new construction created “the total net loss is five to 10 parking spots in all of Midtown, according to an RTC engineer who is still finalizing the plan,” wrote local journalist Mike Higdon for the Reno Gazette-Journal in 2018.
So we have a net loss of parking spaces and no bike lane in Midtown. Is the center street cycle track headed toward a similar fate?
Bring in the Conestoga
I had to look at the definition of this word when I began researching year-round bike commuting. In short, it is a covered wagon, not unlike the kind we think of when we picture pioneers or emigrants coming west. For the bike, the Conestoga covers my passengers and protects them from the elements.
As I rode home from work yesterday in the rain, I was glad to place my backpack inside the Conestoga. This cover will make winter commuting a joy for my kids by protecting them from the elements. It increases the visibility of my already highly visible orange steed. Making the ride safer and showing off the fact that cycling, part of this idea of micro-mobility, is a realistic and viable car alternative.
“[Micromobility] is really anything other than a car,” said Ky Plaskon, Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance president. A long-time commuter who used to make the pedal from Reno to Carson City, he understands the impotence of cycling-centric infrastructure.
Over 90% of all space on the region’s roads is dedicated to vehicles. However, an average of 30% of Nevadans don’t have a driver’s license. About 30% of fatal accidents are micromobility related. In essence, if we want safer roads, we need to invest more than 30% of our resources towards design, implementation, and management.
Reno is one of the few cities nationwide without a dedicated bicycle lane through the downtown area. In my conversation with Plaskon, he raised a valid point about cyclists who commute through town: we are always rushed and trying to get from points A to B as fast as possible to reduce the risk of a collision with a vehicle.
“When you’re a dedicated cyclist, you’re in this constant stress mode of [being] the defensive or offensive,” explained Plaskon. From experience, I know this to be true. I ride slower in a protected bike lane like the Virginia Street pilot project. I took my time because I felt safer. Without that added protection, more people will choose a car over a bike.
Last week, I reached out to the city to learn more about the micro-mobility study they implemented this summer downtown in hopes of providing some numbers.
“We are currently analyzing both the surveys along with data on ridership (speed, volume, conflicts, etc.), and we will be finalizing the project report in early spring 2023,” explained Catie Harrison, an engineer for the City of Reno. RTC will use the data in their Active Transportation Plan update.
The city is hosting a public engagement session at six p.m. tonight at the McKinley Arts Center. There will be an urban design consultant there to help “summarize the data collected through the more than 2,700 Virginia Street Placemaking surveys that community members submitted earlier this summer.” Together they will gather feedback from the public in hopes of drafting a community-driven vision for Virginia Street.
Part of this placemaking study was the Virginia street cycle track, which was confusing. Most of the time, I felt safe, while at other times, I did not. It was sometimes chaotic, from dodging city vehicles parked in the lane to tourists driving through the cycle track.
At one point, I had to weave out of the way of a gang of motorcycles who poured into the cycle track en masse and left me little room to navigate the lane. I felt safer riding northbound than southbound because I did not have to cross lanes of traffic. The minimal signage was placed in odd locations, which may have led to the car drivers’ confusion.
Overall, having the experience was key to moving Reno in the right direction. The Virginia Street cycle track showcased that Reno needs a safe and effective bike corridor through the downtown area, despite the casino’s demands. Furthermore, this corridor must be part and parcel of a region-wide safe cycling infrastructure if we want Reno to be a sustainable community.
The daily routine
Riding a bike brings me mental clarity akin to meditating. This may be why my meditation game is lacking. I am not as relaxed on days I forgo riding a bike. I purchased an e-cargo bike back in April. With a bad back, the extra battery boost helps keep me pedaling on and eases the strain on my back.
This bike has me enjoying a bike ride as if I was ten years old again, and I often find excuses to go for a ride.
With almost 1,400 miles on my metal steed in seven months, I am madly in love with this bike. Even a frustrating tire recall could not sever the connection. Nor will a lack of direction amongst the City Council and RTC about bicycle infrastructure stymie my pedaling.
If more people ride bikes, the city and RTC will start seeing the community want more cycling infrastructure. We must pedal towards the world we want.
Cycling has become part of my daily routine. My two daughters love the bike. Both eagerly pick the bike over the car. They sing, dance, and giggle while on the back.
Occasionally, a cry bellows out from the bike when a stuffed doggie bounces up and out of tiny hands, flying away from the bike.. Or a squeal of joy when we cruise by a dog or cat.
Zoomies are not quick virtual meetings but a quick pull on the throttle and zip around a corner. Bumpies rattle our helmet-draped heads. A waterfall is a hill that we speed down.
What matters is that my kids are growing up with a bike as a reliable and realistic form of year-round transportation.
I am hopeful the city council can bring real infrastructure to the region. RTC can implement a region-wide plan that shifts the focus away from automobiles to sustainable transportation, such as bicycles. I know this is all possible with current projects underway, such as the Oddie Boulevard renovations.
Years ago, I acquired a sticker; I don’t know from where or who, but I refrained from sticking it to anything. It moved from house to house and box to box, never really having a true home. I recently came across the sticker as I was organizing my office. I instantly knew where it needed to go. I gleefully went out to my bike and affixed the black and white sticker to the rear part of the frame.
In capital letters, the sticker reads, “One Less Car.”
This story was published first with The Sierra Nevada Ally.