Saturday, October 22, 2005

GDOT Softening on Bike Lanes? (or) Is Crunchy Culture Coming to Greensboro?

I dropped in on one of GDOT's pedestrian, bicycle, and greenway master plan workshops last week and was pleasantly surprised by the good turnout: there were about 40 people there (many more than attended the workshop that John Hammer covered in this week's Rhino Times).

That might not sound like a lot of people, but it's a lot more than I usually see at these kinds of local policy wonk-o-ramas -- more even than attended one presentation of Greensboro's Comprehensive Plan, which was a much bigger deal than this.

What was more surprising: the workshop was in Summerfield, a northwest exurb of Greensboro. I had expected folks from this part of the county to be dedicated car commuters -- but no. It turns out that lots of suburbanites in NW Guilford County want more sidewalks, trails, and bike lanes. In fact, they want bike lanes or trails from the city out to their suburbs and exurbs.

Sometimes it's fun to have one's expectations exploded.

The attendees were also asking for the kinds of things that usually get asked for at these affairs, like more and better pedestrian crossings and better sidewalk connectivity between neighborhoods, and they were busily marking up maps the city had provided for that purpose.

There were representatives there from UNCG's Student Government Association, too, lobbying for non-car connectors between Greensboro's many colleges and universities.

The most surprising thing I heard was that GDOT's higher-ups may be softening their previous hard stance against bike lanes. The word I've always heard from that quarter is, it ain't gonna happen.

But now GDOT staff are making noises that sound more like, maybe could happen in some places as a part of the overall pedestrian / greenway / bicycle master plan.

In some ways, I think the presence of bike lanes would change the semiotics (how's that for a fancy $2 word) of our streets as much as they could improve safety for bicyclists.

Bike lanes are communicative: their presence is a visible sign of public approval -- even encouragement -- of alternative kinds of transportation, and, consequently, of unconventional ways of living.

The presence of bike lanes in a town shows an institutional approval of a certain kind of cultural "crunchiness" that seems (to me) to be bound up with a bohemian and / or university town ethic and aesthetic.

And that would be a big change for Greensboro.

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