Bicycling advocacy moves forward in Syracuse

Supporters of alternate modes of transportation come in all shapes and sizes. Original graphic: click image for details.

Rain, snow or shine, a doctor and professor at Upstate Medical makes a point to ride his bicycle to work at least a few times a week.

For Mike Lyon of Memphis, located between Jordan and Baldwinsville, the trek is about 15 miles – and difficult. “I’m just healing,” he said.

Lyon, treasurer of the Onondaga Cycling club, said he has actually been fortunate in the last 16 to 17 years of riding, as he pointed to scabs on his elbows.

“The city kind of does lip service to the bike stuff,” Lyon said. “There aren’t enough people who are willing to put the time in to really push the administration to make changes when they have more important things for them to do.”

That attitude may change as the city looks to develop and improve alternate modes of transportation due to an increase in the popularity of bicycle riding for recreational users and commuters like Lyon.

Click image to view the entire plan.

The city’s first open meeting took place on July 13. Residents heard from CNY Pathways, a group made up of public officials and Central New York citizens, which has devised the “Citizens’ Strategic Plan – A Road Map for Action.”

The goals of the plan are to increase safe transportation for cyclists, walkers, hikers and wheelchair users, to educate all travelers on sharing the road, and to encourage accessibility in communities for pedestrians and cyclists.

Paul Mercurio, transportation planner for the City of Syracuse, said that he was involved in crafting the plan in order for it to be more productive in implementation. “I wanted to make sure what comes of this was good solid recommendations that will be useful,” he said.

To execute the plan, the group suggests increases in pathways, signage and bicycle parking, as well as research, evaluation, mapping, repairs, education, promotion and programming.

“The plan isn’t just about paths,” said Chuckie Holstein, executive director of Forging Our Community’s United Strength Greater Syracuse. F.O.C.U.S. is a program that seeks to promote community betterment, and cycling is one of their latest projects.

Holstein said the plan was citizen-driven. “For me, when citizens become engaged and involved with something near and dear to their hearts, then things get done.”

Deborah Scott, office administrator for F.O.C.U.S, said that the plan got its start when a group of cyclists came to them and asked for help in improving and connecting the county’s bike trails. Hikers, walkers and wheelchair users joined in the conversation, too. “It’s a really cool group,” she said. “It’s quite large and diverse.”

“I see bicycle riders across the generations,” Holstein said.

Trish Dugan, co-owner of Syracuse Bicycle, has noticed a significant trend toward bicycle riding in the area.

“I would say there’s been a huge increase in people riding for health and fitness,” she said.

Dugan and Syracuse Bicycle organize and participate in a number of programs for cyclists. A few years ago, Dugan started Women on Wheels, a free program designed to make women feel more confident on the road.

Dugan said participants in that group range from “hardcore triathletes to one 70-year-old who does it to stay fit. Others want to take their kids for a ride or go for a spin around the block.”

The plan, while in its preliminary stages, will attempt to provide for all types of travelers, including motorists, Mercurio said.

“My perspective is mode-neutral,” he said. “I’m not promoting any specific travel choice, but the reality is that we’ve been pro-motorist for 50 years. It might sound like I’m pushing bicycling or in other instances walking, but it’s about the public at large. That’s why I’m pushing for that master plan.”

The first big change the city will see is the inclusion of a cycle track as part of the “Connective Corridor” construction occurring in the University area.

The city will also move toward connecting, improving and finishing existing trails on the lakeside. Lyon said he thought it had been about 15 years since the Loop the Lake trail had begun construction. Holstein acknowledged the Syracuse portion of the Erie Canalway Trail was the “least desirable.”

“The simplest, most cost-effective way to move forward is to paint down lines,” said Mecurio, “But it’s also good to have a bigger plan, so when the funding is there, we can go after it. The plan gives us a leg up in the game.”

Smaller steps have already been taken toward improvements in bicycle transportation.

“Several recommendations in the plan are already in the works,” Holstein said. Two interns with F.O.C.U.S. are working on a mobile phone application, which will be completed in the fall. CNY Pathways will also launch a website with health tips, maps, trail paths and accessibility information.

Lyon said that parking for bicycles is already provided in several locations, too. The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry has wall-mounted bike racks. “Those alcoves are packed with bikes. Every single place you can put a bike has got a bike in it,” Lyon said.

The city has increased “curb cuts,” which allow smooth transition from the sidewalk to the road. The Centro city buses have bike racks on their fronts.

Lyon said he noticed new markings on Water Street that alerted motorists to bicycle traffic. “It’s nice they put the markings up. It’s nice they put the signs up,” he said. “But the lane itself has pot holes in the middle of it and it stops. Its very difficult getting through the center of the city, and people around here aren’t used to seeing bikes.”

Syracuse has looked to a number of other cities for cycling practices. North American cities have shown an increase in cyclists in the last 30 years, according to a study by Rutgers University and Virginia Tech. In 1980, 468,000 people commuted by bike in the United States. In 2009, 766,000 bicyclist commuted.

To view the full report, click the image.

Mercurio said he considered New York City for its proximity and Montreal for its similarity in weather, but he also checked out Copenhagen and San Francisco.

By far, though, Portland, Ore., stood out as the example.

“It’s an unbelievable place for bicycling,” Lyon said. “They have a bike highway. They have what they call the bike nazis. It’s the Mecca. But it’s a different city. They bike all year long. It’s difficult here.”

“That whole city’s on bikes,” Dugan said, but she didn’t think the weather should inhibit cyclists. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear,” she said. “There’s a lot you can do.”

Mercurio said weather was a consideration for CNY Pathways. “Throughout the plan we make acknowledgements to our four-season climate,” he said. “It’s not that we can’t make this happen, but how do we make this happen.”

While the weather won’t stop Syracusans, safety is a major concern in moving forward.

“When we began putting together ideas, I asked a group of about 20 people how many had been hurt on bikes,” Holstein said. “Over two-thirds raised their hands.”

“It’s an issue for both sides,” she said. “I’ve often had a bicycle rider swerve out into the road in front of me driving. Neither one is innocent. Both are guilty.”

Lyons said he wouldn’t mind further enforcement of laws on cyclists. “I see a lot of things that are just wrong: riding the wrong way down one-way streets or zig-zagging and not caring,” he said.

“It has to be a two-way street,” Dugan said. “The biggest thing that should be part of the plan is spreading awareness to everyday motorists.” “There has to be something to along with it – public education – you can’t just paint a line down the road.”

The next meeting regarding CNY Pathway’s plan will take place Aug. 3 at 7:30 a.m. in the City Hall Commons Sustainability Showcase Atrium. Mercurio said the meeting will take the public through the steps of what actions his group recommend taking.

This article includes some corrections after feedback from a professor.

Creative Process: This article was a new and exciting experience for a number of reasons. To begin, it was really the first serious, researched newspaper I’d ever had critiqued by a professional. It was also my first attempt at approached the Syracuse community.

So, naturally, I learned a lot from writing this. There are definitely some things I would have done differently and see room for improvement. Mostly, the article needs statistics and numbers, which I didn’t come by easily, but could have searched and pressed harder for.

Though it wasn’t perfect, it was an immensely positive experience. From the first phone call I placed, I was welcomed with enthusiasm and willingness. The people I interviewed for this article were incredibly helpful. This is certainly the type of article I can see myself covering in the future, and it was a pleasure speaking with everyone involved.

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