Iowa City bike plan include expanding access to facilities and programming

Photo by Zak Neumann

City officials hope to focus on making biking more accessible to all Iowa City residents as a part of the bicycle master plan — an ongoing effort to make the city more bike friendly and up its status from gold to platinum under the League of American Bicyclists.

The Iowa City Council got an update on the master plan during its Tuesday work session. The plan includes creating new bike paths, improving bike lanes, providing educational materials and creating outreach programs. The plan projects 66.4 additional miles of bike lanes and trails constructed through 2027 for a total cost of nearly $14.5 million. That figure does not include year-round or long-term maintenance such as snow removal or pavement resurfacing.

“The fundamental purpose of the plan is to make bicycling much more attractive to the sixty or more percent of people who’d like to bicycle but don’t because they don’t think it’s safe enough or don’t know the network enough to be able to travel around easily,” Mayor Jim Throgmorton said, praising the plan.

City Council Member Kingsley Botchway said some Iowa City bicyclists he spoke with, “think that the access currently — even dedicated bike lanes — are still not safe.”

More bike lanes, wider bike paths and additional trails would help safety issues, however Kevin Neill of Alta Planning and Design said community feedback showed bike safety is more than infrastructure, it is about programs and policies.

“We have to create programs and policies to educate about the benefits of bicycling and make it something they think they can actually do,” Neill said.

Neill and others involved in developing the master plan hope to organize bike safety instruction and outreach education programs that include underserved populations. The group plans to use research into the demographics and household incomes of Iowa City to develop and expand the biking network to reach people who currently don’t have access to bicycling facilities.

“Inclusivity and justice are key elements to our strategic plan,” Throgmorton said, adding that the goal is to “make sure whatever we do to our bike system enables people who don’t typically use bicycles to be able to do so as much as any other person in the city.”

Neill said the U.S. Census reported around 3.7 percent of Iowa City residents over 16 years old commute to work on a bike. Platinum-level bikeable cities typically come in with five percent biking commuters.

The Biking Strategic Plan focuses on anyone who bikes, not limited by age or purpose for biking.

In a survey of middle school students at South East Junior High, students defined biking as a source of freedom and independence, and responded that speed was one of the things they enjoyed about biking.

Neill said the young, diverse population from South East Junior High highlighted important values that are often forgotten.

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“When kids talk about riding bikes they don’t think about the same things as a bicycle planner might, about things like shared-use path design or bicycle facility types,” Neill said. “For them it’s about speed, it’s about freedom, a sense of independence. For many of us we’ve forgotten that’s what makes bicycling really exciting.”

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