IMAGE/CITY OF RENO: The pilot bike routes program is slated to connect downtown Reno to Midtown. But critics worry that students and others will travel southward to those paths on Virginia Street north of downtown, (blue circle), where there are no protected bike lanes.

As if by sorcery, a bicycle lane will appear next month on Virginia Street in downtown Reno.

But it’s not the protected university-to-Midtown cycle track –  stymied last summer by the intervention of downtown casino interests — that has been planned for years on Center Street. Instead, the pop-up pilot program will connect Keystone Avenue to Evans Avenue/University of Nevada via Fifth Street and downtown Reno to Midtown via Virginia Street.

Bicycle advocacy groups and riders were caught by surprise when city officials announced the project. The Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance, which has been a big part of the planning for the now-stalled Center Street project and other bike-route plans, got 20 hours notice before Reno city officials announced the pilot program April 7.

“In general we really like bike paths, but we need time to look at the plans,” said Kyril Plaskon, president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance. “It’s not like when we hear ‘bike path’ we’re going to jump up and down and scream from the rooftops without knowing the details.”

Plaskon noted that city officials apparently had been meeting with Regional Transportation Commission staff and representatives from the Downtown Reno Partnership for months without involving bike riders in the discussions.

“Publically, (officials) like to tell people they are engaging with us, but then we don’t get word of what’s happening until after the decisions are made,” he said. “For this month’s Bike Month, we would like the RTC and the City of Reno to improve their communication skills with cyclists and people who ride bikes.”

‘Micromobility’ touted

Reno officials said the purpose of the pilot program is “introduce micromobility-specific infrastructure to Reno’s downtown.” Micromobility refers to a range of small, lightweight vehicles such as bicycles or scooters that typically operate at speeds of about 10-20 mph and are driven by the user. The bike lane improvements, which are scheduled to be completed by the end of May, would include bike rails (barriers), reduced lane widths, cycle tracks, lane closures, restriping and protected intersections.

The project will connect Keystone Avenue to Evans Avenue/University of Nevada via 5th Street and downtown Reno to Midtown via Virginia Street. The downtown portion of the pilot track would be in service until October, when results of the city’s “Placemaking Study” of the downtown core is scheduled to be complete. That study is aimed at finding out what improvements and amenities people would like to see in the downtown core.

The Center Street route, the result of years of deliberation and planning, was put on hold after downtown casino interests in November 2020 asked officials to reconsider the route’s effect on their properties on Virginia Street. Planners say the pause in the project is necessary to make sure all possible options for bicycle routes between the University of Nevada, Reno and Midtown are examined. A subsequent traffic study concluded that a bikeway on Virginia Street would result in gridlock downtown, because the street is narrow and would became a bottleneck with the addition of bike lanes.

 But the pilot bike lane will go down Virginia Street anyhow.

‘Islands of bike paths’

Plaskon noted that the Center Street cycle track was initially slated to be complete this month. Instead, it’s been on hold at 30% of its design phase since July.

“It’s a struggle to get a protected bike path (on Center Street) studied and approved; it takes years and years. But the instant the casinos want a bike path it appears as if by magic overnight, with no studies or anything, except studies saying it won’t work.— Kyril Plaskon, president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance.

City officials are promoting the pilot cycle track program as a way to “make it easier for the public to take advantage of more sustainable ways to visit downtown, the Truckee River, and surrounding local businesses while enhancing road safety for micromobility users.” Officials said they will be collaborating with and soliciting feedback from stakeholders, including the University of Nevada, Reno’s bicycle community, downtown businesses, micromobility users, and drivers “to help shape the future of Reno’s ever-improving downtown.”

PHOTO/DAVE ROBERT: A cyclist maneuvers among the traffic lane on Virginia Street in Midtown Reno.

Plaskon said the Bicycle Alliance is in favor of more bikeways, but members need time to look at the city’s proposal and talk to cyclists. One concern, he said, is that the Virginia Street segment of the bike path starts in downtown, but the segment of Virginia Street between the university and downtown has no bike lanes.

That could be an issue soon, because bike paths will get more crowded after the Reno City Council grants final approval to a plan to allow Bird, an electric scooter rental company, to begin operations. Bicyclists and scooter riders may use that unprotected section of Virginia Street to travel from UNR to the bike lanes through downtown Reno.

‘Some good elements’

“There are some good elements; it’s actually connecting to other bike paths,” Plaskon said. “It’s not stand-alone islands of disconnected paths, which is kind of the standard development method that’s gone on in the city. … It’s a start. It’s not protected and that’s what people want, but it’s what the casinos want, so it’s happening.”

In its response to the city, the Bicycle Alliance told officials that members want to know “how the proposal fits into the larger picture of equitable multimodal community, the level of protection, the connectedness, and consequences for any existing or proposed bicycle infrastructure. … We appreciate the City’s effort to focus on buffered paths and the pilot appears to be a step in the right direction for bike month. We encourage the city to focus on creating connected low-stress bicycle facilities that have the physical separation that make riders of all abilities feel safe.”

Bicycle Alliance members hope to meet with city officials to get more details about the pilot program. Other bicycle advocates also want to know more about the plan.

PHOTO/DAVE ROBERT: The bike lanes in Midtown Reno are shared with motor vehicles. Some cyclists won’t use them.

 More details needed

“So after how many years, meetings, opinions on Center Street, we now have a pilot project for several protected bike lanes?” asked Kurstin Graham, manager of the Reno Bike Project. “It is going to take a lot more (than) spin to get excited about this.”

Even so, he added, “I really hope we can see some action regarding protected bike paths. I hear cyclists comment regularly at the Reno Bike Project that they would ride more if they felt safer. I personally change my daily commutes when I notice changes in traffic patterns as well as streets that have chronic bike lane blockage or inconsiderate drivers.”

City officials said they will collaborate with and solicit feedback from stakeholders such as the University of Nevada, Reno’s bicycle community, downtown businesses, micromobility users, and drivers “to help shape the future of Reno’s ever-improving downtown.” The pilot project is scheduled to go live by the end of May 2022. 

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