Safer bicycling? City proposes two protected lanes through uptown Charlotte

Bike share rack buffers bike lane, right, from traffic lane, left, in Manhattan. Photo: Martin Zimmerman

The City of Charlotte is proposing creating two protected bicycle lanes through uptown Charlotte to connect the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, part of the Cross Charlotte Trail, to the Irwin Creek Greenway on the other side of uptown.

Vivian Coleman of the Charlotte Department of Transportation’s Uptown Connects study told a Charlotte City Council committee on Monday about both proposed corridors:

  • Belk Greenway Connector. This runs roughly along Stonewall Street near I-277 from the Little Sugar Creek Greenway at the Metropolitan development to beyond the Bank of America Stadium. The route would go through Pearl Street Park and, planners hope, include developer-dedicated land from a number of projects planned or under construction along Stonewall. This proposal is for a combination shared-use path and protected bike lane.
  • Fifth-Sixth streets. This runs along Fifth and Sixth streets, each a one-way street, with two-way bike lanes protected from traffic. The route would start where the Little Sugar Creek Greenway ends at Seventh Street and use part of the right-of-way of the spaghetti-bowl junction of U.S. 74 (Independence Boulevard) and the Brookshire Freeway. It would follow Sixth Street as far west as Elmwood Cemetery, then curve over to Fifth Street to get to the Irwin Creek Greenway.

 

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Members of the council’s  Transportation and Planning Committee listened but took no action. The proposals would need to be funded through the city’s capital projects program, so more discussion is likely to occur during that process.

The city’s transportation policies emphasize offering more alternative transportation routes rather than depending almost exclusively on motor vehicle traffic, to help fight ever-increasing traffic congestion. A number of surveys, including one from the city’s Bicycle Program have found many local residents saying they would like to bicycle more but feel unsafe riding on busy city streets with no bike lanes protected from traffic. A protected bike lane puts something – it could be bollards, planters, parked cars or some other barrier – between traffic and bicyclists.

The study of uptown connections arises from the lack of bicycle lanes through much of uptown and because people riding bicycles on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway have no comfortable way to ride into uptown to venues such as Discovery Place, ImaginOn or other popular destinations. Nor is there a comfortable and easy way to ride from that greenway to the Irwin Creek Greenway on the west side of uptown, near Ray’s Splash Planet. Charlotte Center City Partners, an uptown advocacy group, as well as the nonprofit Sustain Charlotte have urged the city to study how to create a protected bike lane through uptown.

The route along Fifth-Sixth would remove one motor-vehicle traffic lane as well as some parking spots, Coleman said. She and CDOT Director Danny Pleasant said the city believes the tradeoffs will be worth it. 

However, as City Council member Kenny Smith noted, the public input CDOT has received so far – including two public workshops, stakeholder interviews, property owner outreach and meeting with cycling advocates – from community members interested in the bike lane project probably didn’t include people who simply want to drive into uptown and aren’t interested in cycling.

Coleman did not give specific traffic counts for the streets affected. Traffic counts (click here to download counts from 2012 to 2015) from 2013 show generally 5,000 to 7,000 vehicles per day on Fifth and Sixth streets with heavier traffic – up to 10,000 – on Fifth Street as it nears Interstate 77.