Protected bicycle lanes may become a reality on some St. George streets

This 2019 file photo shows the effects of a partnership between the city of St. George, Southwest Utah Public Health and Spin to set up a temporary protected bicycle lane on South Main Street to evaluate the potential for a permanent lane, St. George, Utah, Oct. 22, 2019 | Photo by David Louis St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Over the next two days, one of the most traveled streets in St. George will be the site of a demonstration project to evaluate the potential for a protected bicycle lane.

Ivins resident Tennis Olson (left) and Franz Kelsch from Washington share a few words prior to a bicycle ride Tuesday on the city’s temporary protected bicycle lane on South Main Street. St. George, Utah, Oct. 22, 2019 | Photo by David Louis St. George News

Starting today and lasting through Wednesday, motorists will notice a temporary barrier closing off one lane of traffic on the northbound side of south Main Street, beginning at the Black Bear Diner and ending just past the Megaplex Theater.

The goal of the project is to determine if the temporary bike lane may someday become a permanent one, Marc Mortensen, director of St. George city support services, told St. George News.

“Our public works and traffic division will monitor the traffic flow during the two-day demonstration and see what happens there,” he said. “We want to see how vehicles react. There is a lot of analysis we are going to do during the next two days. If this is something that the council is interested in proceeding with then we would get a cost estimate, but we just don’t have that yet.”

If the protected bike lane does become permanent, to create the separation from the traffic lane the city would install a curb, vertical post or a combination of both.

“Our trail system is great, but it doesn’t take cyclists, especially commuters where they need to go,” Mortensen said. “Sometimes it could be going to work or to the grocery store or to an appointment. The city’s Interactive Transportation Plan calls for protected bike lanes in areas where we have the room to do them, and also if the volume of traffic warrants a protected bike lane.”

City officials know bicyclists feel comfortable riding on the St. George trail system because it is completely separated from traffic. The hope is the comfort level will translate to a protected bike lane in an urban environment.

St. George Mayor Jon Pike kicked off the inaugural bike ride during a two-day demonstration project to evaluate a protected bicycle lane on South Main Street. St. George, Utah, Oct. 22, 2019 | Photo by David Louis St. George News

St. George Mayor Jon Pike is excited about the demonstration project.

He said the city is moving in the right direction to help bike riders and scooter aficionados navigate through town.

“We are an active, and certainly promote ourselves as an active, community,” Pike said. “This is putting our money where our mouth is, and it says we want to show visitors and locals as well that we will walk the walk and talk the talk.”

According to a 2019 study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico, separated or protected bike lanes equal safer streets.

The study looked at 12 metropolitan cities and determined that those with protected bike lanes had 44% fewer deaths than the average city.

The researchers found that cities with bike infrastructure, such as barriers that separated bicycles from automobiles, rather than shared or painted lanes, significantly lowered fatalities.

In Portland, where protected lanes are installed, bike commuter traffic increased from 1.2 to 7% between 1990 and 2015. Bicycle fatalities during that time period dropped by 75%.

Other metropolitan cities also experienced a decrease in fatal crashes with protected or separated bike lanes.

The study determined that several cities, like Denver, where the fatality rate fell by 38.2%, Seattle by 49.3% and San Francisco by 40.3%, benefited from the installation of protected bicycle lanes.

The testbed location for the St. George project is an ideal starting point since lower Main Street connects to the trail system along with funneling bicycle and scooter riders into downtown.

“Our Interactive Transportation Plan, in fact, calls for a road diet (or the reduction of lanes) on that section of the road on Main Street,” Mortensen said.

Based on a traffic count performed by the city last spring, around 10,000 vehicles travel southbound on Main Street per day, and 6,000 traveling northbound, Mortensen said. The city wants to evaluate the stacking distance of the vehicles because of the lane reduction as part of the bike lane experiment.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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