PHOTO/DAVE ROBERT: A bike rider cruises on the sidewalk along Virginia Street in Midtown. The cycle lanes there are within the vehicle traffic lanes, and some riders avoid using them.

The proposed Center Street/University Way Cycle Track—derailed two years ago after casino interests and local officials suddenly pivoted to focus on a “placemaking” study of Virginia Street—may yet get back on course.

The Reno City Council in May accepted the results of a the placemaking study, which mentioned the Center Street plan just once in the 143-page report. Advocates of the Center Street route feared that the proposed project—a protected bike lane linking the University of Nevada, Reno, with Midtown—was sidelined for good. But some City Council members assured proponents that the Center Street project is still on the table.

Although some city officials favor abandoning the project, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and Councilwoman Naomi Duerr supported Center Street and Sierra Street as possible cycle routes. Council members Meghan Ebert, Miguel Martinez and Jenny Brekhus also said they favored a closer look at bike-route alternatives.

“We’ve looked at this (Center Street) cycle track for far too long,” Schieve said. “I want to get going on it. It’s 30% engineered. I haven’t seen anything compelling enough to me that we shouldn’t do it.”

Ky Plaskon, president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance, said the long-studied Center Street/University Way project is the city’s best option for a safe connection between UNR and Midtown.

“It is time the city of Reno staff lifts their opposition to this major downtown safety improvement project,” he said. “A sense of place means safety now, not years down the road. If we are going to have a safe downtown and be a bike-friendly city, the city needs to finish what it started with the Center Street Cycle Track.”

The Center Street project began after officials decided not to install bike lanes (and preserve parking spaces) on Virginia Street as part of Midtown’s redevelopment. A 2019 feasibility study by Headway Transportation concluded that: “Overall, the two‐way cycle track on Center Street offers the greatest safety and best connectivity improvement for the cost. The separation from vehicle traffic and directness of the route makes this facility the most attractive to bike riders of all abilities. It was also chosen as the best alternative by the RTC board and the Reno City Council.” The study rejected the Virginia Street alternative because it has “fatal flaws.”

The project, 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 said the “pause” in the project was necessary to make sure all possible options were examined, including creating bike lanes on Virginia Street. A subsequent traffic study concluded that a Virginia Street bikeway would result in gridlock downtown, because the street is narrow and would became a bottleneck with the addition of bike lanes.

Nonetheless, the city in April of last year installed a pop-up bike lane network that connected Keystone Avenue to Evans Avenue/the University of Nevada via Fifth Street—and downtown Reno to Midtown via Virginia Street. The Fifth Street lanes remain. The Virginia Street experiment, now dismantled, resulted in complaints from street-side businesses that experienced a downturn in revenue, and from drivers who objected to the city’s core thoroughfare being reduced to a narrow one-way street for vehicles. Even so, some city officials oppose the Center Street alternative.

Kerrie Koski, Reno’s public works director, told council members that a Center Street/University Way route would be dangerous, because freeway ramps intersect the route. “That, to me, is potential for a disaster when you’re putting a cyclist through that intersection,” Koski said. “We have a lot of crashes in that particular area.”

Koski also has said that creating a two-way cycle lane on a one-way street would be hazardous to both cyclists and drivers. In previous studies, however, the one-way nature of the street was considered an advantage for the route.

Ky Plaskon noted Reno officials link the installation of bike lanes to street-repaving projects, exponentially increasing the costs of construction and making RTC/Reno’s grant applications “so way out of line with other funding requests.”

Plaskon noted that other cities have networks of bike routes with lanes that bisect freeways—and they are made safe with traffic signals. On a recent visit to Washington, D.C., for the National Bike Summit, Plaskon said, he saw first-hand that the city’s extensive network is well-used. Studies that indicate the bikeways have markedly increased the number of residents and visitors using bikes for daily commuting, short trips and sight-seeing.

“Washington, D.C., has millions of tourists going from place to place on very busy streets, and they have two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets that work perfectly there,” Plaskon said. “They do these two-way cycle tracks all over the world. I don’t know why it’s so hard for Reno to do just one.”

The Center Street route also would require “more removal of on‐street parking than the other options,” the 2019 Headway report noted, and that’s become a sticking point for businesses on that route.

City supports cycling network

Reno officials and the Regional Transportation Commission have supported the creation of protected bike paths in the Truckee Meadows and have applied for federal grants to help pay for them. The RTC last year applied for a $50 million grant from the federal Safe Streets and Roads for ALL program, but wasn’t among the 511 communities nationwide that got the grant awards in February. Of the awardees, 400 requested less than $1 million; the RTC’s $50 million proposal put it in the top three among community requests.

The RTC and local government officials are asking for $62.5 million from a federal grant program for street work, including downtown micromobility (improved walking, biking and transit connectivity) projects. Those potentially would include nine protected cycling routes, including Virginia Street.

Plaskon noted Reno officials link the installation of bike lanes to street-repaving projects, exponentially increasing the costs of construction and making RTC/Reno’s grant applications “so way out of line with other funding requests.” He noted that the communities who are succeeding in getting Safe Streets grants focused on smaller projects. For example, some of the funding proposals that were awarded are for comprehensive safety action plans, he said, “something the RTC needs for our schools.”

The city built a protected bike lane and repaved Fifth Street for the pilot project in less than four months at a cost of less than $400,000, he noted. “If you look at Center Street, for example, and (the city) is looking at $4 million to install the bike path, and then they add $6 million in road improvements. That’s clearly a road project, not a bicycle project. … They are road projects in disguise.”

City officials say they will come up with a cycling network plan in June or July.

“Whether that plan will happen or not, with these huge costs, it could take years,” Plaskon said. “If they got the massive ($62.5 million) federal grant they applying for, that could make it happen, but if they don’t, it’s really unclear whether anything would happen at all.”

Building protected cycle tracks should not have to wait for major road reconstruction projects, he said, noting that a safe route from UNR to Midtown is a basic, urgent need.

“What they are coming up with as a (bike) network plan looks pretty good,” Plaskon said. “What it’s missing is multiple university-to-Midtown routes, and that’s the really high-need area. … (Now), the students are riding everywhere; they are all over Sierra Street and Center Street/University Way, and there’s no protection on those streets. These are high-needs, dangerous roads, and the city is doing nothing but delaying.”

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  1. Still wondering how a one lane, oneway street, with business parking and large bus stops along the way is going to fit a two-lane bike path on it? Ky Plaskon is selling you a bag of magic beans. has been distorting the truth for a while now? Maybe ask him some pertinet questions on the actual numbers of bike riders an commuters? Last time he was asked he said thousands of families bike downtown. Would love to see the pictures or something that even scratches that number.

  2. Ky seems to be the only sane person in this conversation while the city bows down to their equivalent of God, worshipping at the Crap Table. No matter that downtown is a breath of exhaust and no fresh air. Here’s the oxymoron, people who claim they don’t smoke are causing far more harm to humans when they drive. Yep Buckaroo, if you drive a gas vehicle, you SMOKE!

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