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story.lead_photo.caption A man pushes a bicycle onto the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge in North Little Rock on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 in North Little Rock. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Staton Breidenthal)

Adding more bicycle paths in North Little Rock has been a point of emphasis over the past several years, but as development within the city skyrockets, changes are being considered to make sure the two concepts can coexist on the same road.

The North Little Rock City Council is to vote today on an ordinance that would amend the city's 2014 Master Street Plan to allow construction of a bike lane adjacent to River Road.

Currently the Master Street Plan calls for a bike path from the railroad spur trail along 15th Street west of Pike Avenue to Riverview Park. The problem is that that path runs through the Esplanade Apartments development.

The developer of the complex has proposed instead to construct a bike lane adjacent to the development, and the proposal was approved Oct. 13 by North Little Rock's Planning Commission.

By the city's definition, a bike lane is a portion of the roadway within the right of way designated by striping, signing and pavement for the preferential or exclusive use of bicyclists, said Chris Wilbourn, chief city engineer.

Wilbourn said that doesn't include a bicycle logo and the two chevrons -- the white arrows above the logo -- painted on the street. The logo and the chevrons together are known as a sharrow, which indicates cars and bicycles are meant to share the road.

"There are many terms when it comes to things like this that I bet the most avid bicyclist doesn't know about, but they are important details," he said.

Wilbourn said the bicycle plan is an integral part of the Master Street Plan, but changes must be made because of development in the Rockwater and River Road area. He said the current master plan shows that River Road is a shared use road, which means cyclists share the road with vehicular traffic.

"With the new development we are trying to look at ways to separate the cyclists and bicycle traffic from the vehicular traffic," he said. "We want to separate them, so therefore we want a bike lane going down River Road in the future.

"We have applied for grant money to make that happen. Having your Master Street Plan match what you want to do in the future is important for the grant."

Wilbourn said the amendment is being done because of potential safety issues.

"When the development of Esplanade Apartments is complete, the traffic on that road will increase exponentially and that is something that wasn't accounted for in the original plan," he said.

Wilbourn said the Master Street Plan can be considered a living document because it's always being updated.

"In this case, the bike plan amendment is being based on the upcoming development being done right now," he said. "Bike trails and the biking system is very attractive and adds to the quality of life within our city."

Mayor Joe Smith said officials realized 15 years ago how important bicycling could be to the growth of the city.

"The development of the River Trail shows how this was thought out before I was in office," he said.

The League of American Bicyclists awarded North Little Rock a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2009, and officials created a Bicycle Plan in 2013 to continue to make the area bicycle friendly.

Paths, routes and lanes for bicycles now stretch across the city, particularly near the river, but North Little Rock also has seen development take hold near scenic areas around the river.

"I always knew we had prime real estate on the river and that it would turn into something special," Smith said. "It just happened quicker than I thought. I am glad it happened in my administration, but we must remember the bike trails were set there years ago."

Smith said it's important to preserve bicycle safety measures that he believes helped the city achieve the position it is in now.

"They must absolutely co-exist because one of the huge attractions of this city is the river trail and the river biking trails," the mayor said. "For some it's the number one draw for residents who decide to make their home here."


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