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Residents react to Kalamazoo’s pop-up bike lanes

The pilot project runs along several streets downtown.

“The thing about riding a bike in Kalamazoo is that you have to have your head on a swivel,” said avid cyclist Mark Wedel. He said he rides downtown a couple of times a week.

“I have a set route that makes me feel like I’m not going to die.”

When he has shopping to do, Wedel said he usually avoids bike errands in Kalamazoo, preferring to stick to more established bikeways in Portage.

“I’d much rather go spend my dollars in Portage on my bike than downtown Kalamazoo,” said Wedel. “It feels safer anyway.”

But Wedel said a Saturday ride on Kalamazoo's North Side, along the Westnedge and Park pop-up bike lanes with protective plastic posts, was “amazingly pleasant.”

“It was quiet, like Saturday noon, so not a whole lot of rush hour traffic or people going to 131,” Wedel said. “It was an amazing riding through the North Side and seeing it as a quiet neighborhood.”

Galilee Baptist Church is on the North Side, along the same Westnedge pop-up bicycle lane the Wedel found pleasant. Wilfred Dennie, the church treasurer, said the temporary bike lanes have calmed traffic, but it’s not pleasant for drivers.

“It's great it’s slowed down traffic, but it also has created a problem,” Dennie said, who worried about winter snowplows.

“Parishioners and people visiting the church for events will park, or try to park now, on Westnedge Avenue and those poles now have made it very difficult for people trying to parallel park.”

Dennie said he’s seen people straddle multiple lanes as they try to figure out how to maneuver around the plastic posts.

“They don't want to drive too close to them. So instead of staying in their lane,” Dennie said, “they'll drive right in the middle of the road and they’re blocking two lanes of traffic.”

Even still, Dennie said he thinks most people support the city’s plan to make the road safer for everyone. His recommendation to the city is to remove the plastic posts and leave the pavement markings and signs. He said drivers will get the idea.

Commuter Rachel Bair said she hasn’t tried the Westnedge-Park pop-up. She’s reluctant – she said the cars go too fast. But she loves the bike lane with wave-shaped barrier on Lovell.

“It makes me feel like I’ve got my space, the cars know I have my space. I know where I’m supposed to be at the intersections. And so do the cars, and the cars aren’t traveling fast enough that I feel very threatened.”

The “Bike Wave” is a flexible barrier that separates bikes from traffic. ModeShift Kalamazoo helped the city borrow the barrier from the League of Michigan bicyclists to test it out in Kalamazoo. The League offers the Bike Wave free of charge for cities to try out. Data from the Lovell project shows on average, one person rides the route every four minutes.

Bair said the Bike Wave inspired her to trade her winding side-street commute for a more direct route on Lovell. She knows the flexible barrier won’t stop a car but she feels safer with the visual reminder to drivers. Bair said drivers should think of it like a construction zone.

“We put up infrastructure, we put up bollards, we put up signs and make it clear where drivers are supposed to be and where those construction crews are supposed to be,” Bair said. “And I kind of see bike lanes, especially ones with bollards and the bike wave, as an equivalent to that.”

Bollards are protective posts, like the ones on Westnedge and Park where the temporary bicycle lanes will be up until spring 2023. To give your opinion on these bike lanes, take the survey on the Imagine Kalamazoo website.

The Bike Wave was installed in August and will be up through the end of September. ModeShift Kalamazoo said a survey will likely be posted in Open Town Hall in the next few days.

Updated: October 6, 2022 at 10:37 AM EDT
Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.