In 1976 the City of Dayton built the first eight miles of multi-use paths along the Great Miami River, setting the base for the trail system we have today (City of Dayton 3). This first step was followed by efforts to extend the trail network and to make the community more bike-friendly. The hard work paid off in May 2010. The League of American Bicyclists awarded Dayton with the Bronze Medal for bicycle-friendliness. On their homepage the League names one of the reasons for the award as the tightly knit trail network which reaches every part of Dayton and gives citizens convenient access. Dayton has no intention at stopping at the bronze level, though. In its extensive Bicycle Action Plan the city aims to reach platinum status by 2025. So what is Dayton doing right and what needs to be improved?
The city offers a good variety of infrastructure for different purposes. Shared-use trails, bike lanes, and sharrows make it easier to get around by bike, but not all of them are complete or ideal. While the city is filling in the gaps by connecting bike-paths, some shortfalls of existing infrastructure should be assessed before more of the same is built. Let’s start with the shared-use, or multi-use, trails. Within the city there are 30 miles of shared-use trails, connecting to 240 miles of regional trails (“Bicycle Friendly”). Those trails are usually away from the streets, only crossing them on occasion, sometimes they run parallel to roads, but they are almost always separate. The trails are ideal for people who are uncomfortable riding in the street, or who are simply inexperienced. In a survey about bicycling habits conducted for this paper, 108 out of 134 people found the trails very safe, only five did not feel safe at all. The trails are the biggest asset for the city’s cycling program. Beginners can try cycling without fear, advanced cyclists can ride long distances without the distraction of motorized traffic. The disadvantage of the trails, within the city, is that they are often close to the rivers and therefore get flooded regularly. After the water is gone, trail users have to deal with a debris, mud, and garbage covered surface. Since flooding is inevitable, quick clean up is important to keep the trails functional. Dan Sahli, from Five River MetroParks, explained that the responsibility for the trails is split between the City of Dayton, the Miami Valley Conservancy District and Five River Metro Parks. Five River MetroParks uses truck-mounted equipment, employees, and volunteers to clean the parks as fast as possible, after flooding, the Conservancy District is sweeping the trails (Rodney).
From personal experience I can say that they are doing a good job. During Spring and Summer, I find clean trails within a couple of days after the water is gone. A downside for cyclists, who ride in the winter, is that the trails do not get plowed because Five River MetroParks wants to encourage winter sport on the snow covered trails (“Winter Activities”). Although, this is not a big issue, because inexperienced riders are unlikely to ride during Winter months and experienced riders can switch to the streets. After all, the trails are called multi-use for a reason. Another part of the infrastructure are bike lanes. Dayton was the first city in the Miami Valley to install bike lanes during extensive street resurfacing. The first lanes were put in place in the heart of downtown, connecting Monument Street and Fifth Street within two blocks East and West of Main Street (City of Dayton 5). An addition was made in late 2012 when the Brown Street construction was completed. The big advantage of bike lanes is that they pass places of interest. They improve business, because cyclists are often slower than cars, they have time to look around and discover new shops. Though, possibly the biggest advantage is that they give cyclists a dedicated spot on the street. There is no room for arguments, the lanes are clearly marked. Unfortunately, bike lanes present three main issues.
The first one is easily solved. Bike lanes, because they are usually on the side of the road, get dirty. Every piece of gravel, every cup that was thrown into the street, every chard of glass, ends up in the bike lane, creating a hazard for the cyclist. A car will not be affected by rolling over some gravel, but on a bike it could cause an accident. The lanes that currently present this problem are the one going West on Monument Street and the bike lanes on Brown Street. As mentioned earlier, that is easily fixed. By making sure the bike lanes do not get ignored when the streets are swept it is resolved quickly. Taking the Brown Street lanes daily, I can tell that the city has been cleaning the lanes, but the gravel is back within a couple of days. According to Andrew Rodney money is easily obtained to build infrastructure, but almost no money is available for maintenance. Secondly, bike lanes, next to the curb, are sometimes blocked by cars. The car driver has a quick errand to run and drops the car off on the side of the road. Andrew Rodney told me that this behavior became an issue on the new Brown Street lanes, especially in front of coffee shops and during inclement weather. The city is now working with the Chief of Police to patrol Brown Street more frequently during high traffic hours to catch offenders right away. The bike lanes next to parking spots, like the ones on St. Clair Street, Jefferson Street, and Perry Street, are often cleaner than the ones next to the curb. The debris collects in the parking spots. Those type of lanes carry a different hazard. The lanes are built directly into the door-zone. The door-zone is the space a driver uses up when he or she opens the car door to get in and out. Experienced riders know to look for brake lights and occupants to determine if a car door might open up, beginners could be caught off-guard. Their is no real solution for this issue. Wider bike lanes allow cyclists to avoid a car door without cutting into other traffic, smart cycling classes can help inexperienced cyclists to learn how to avoid getting doored.
Motorist education can help make car drivers more aware, but distractions can always occur. The bike lanes on St. Clair Street and Jefferson Street are rather narrow and a car door can block the entire lane. If space permits, it would be nice to see wider bike lanes for future projects. The last type of infrastructure is the so called sharrow. Sharrows consist of street markings of a bicycle and two arrows accompanied by a Share the Road sign. Sharrows have a huge advantage. They are cheap and easily installed. Some paint and a traffic sign is all a city needs, which is why they are a great way to get started if a community has no room or money to build lanes and trails, and just like bike lanes they do not leave room for arguing. They are also a good way if a bike lane ends and the cyclist has to transition into regular traffic. A great example for this form of use can be found on Wyoming Street, between Alberta Street and Brown Street. The only issue I have with sharrows is that they could give a motorist the impression that this particular road has to be shared while other roads are solely for cars. This is where education is needed. Education is a big part of the 2025 Bicycle Action Plan (18), but how can non-cyclists be reached? In Los Angles the public transit operator Metro started an advertising campaign with signs reading “Every Lane is a Bike Lane” (Hymon). Dayton might be able to run a similar campaign.
The city’s current focus, however, is the increase in cycling infrastructure, and the enforcement of bicycle related laws. To achieve the education goal, Dayton relies on bicycle advocacy groups, like Bike Miami Valley (Rodney). All in all, Dayton has done a great job making downtown more bicycle-friendly. The city continues to close gaps in infrastructure by installing bike lanes and sharrows in alignment with the regular repaving schedule (Rodney) and offers amenities, and bike events, like the Bike to Work Day Pancake Breakfast in May (“Bike to Work”). It seems to be harder to get the message out that people can ride their bikes in the city. In my survey, most cyclists stated they ride for fitness and recreation, commuting made the third place. That means most of them do not need bicycle friendly streets, but in order to encourage more people to ride, they have to know of the possibilities. Another indicator that the facilities are available, but few know about it, are the survey comments on bike parking. Three quarter of survey participants said they have no trouble finding a place to park their bicycles. The ones who did, named the suburbs, where Dayton has no influence, and downtown government offices, as well as the Oregon District.
As announced in The Downtown Dayton Partnership’s 2012 year end report the city added 93 bright blue bike racks to downtown with the intention to offer bicycle parking “within one block of almost every downtown destination” (“New Bike Racks”). People who ride their bikes through downtown regularly started using the bike racks very quickly, but many do not know about them. Brown Street currently offers only one bike rack, whether there will be more or not is evaluated by the city. My survey’s question for improvement suggestions received a very positive response. While educating motorists is a general concern and should be addressed more aggressively, and many survey participants would like to see a general increase of everything, they seem content with the efforts and happy with what is currently available. Dayton is going in the right direction.
Submitted by Uli Bredulli Hi, I’m Uli, my mom rode her bicycle until she was eight months pregnant with me, and my brother crossed the Alps on a bicycle, so I guess cycling is a family tradition. But don’t mistake me for one of those crazy militant car haters, OK? Some of my best friends have cars.