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Northwest Arkansas leaders study ways for cars, bikes to safely share roads

by RON WOOD NWA DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | June 14, 2021 at 1:01 a.m.
Karen Mowry (left), crosses W. North Street with other cyclists Friday, June 11, 2021, after the light change in Fayetteville. Cyclists and pedestrians are at an obvious disadvantage versus cars, so engineers and planners are designing streets that make things safer by decreasing the chances of them coming into direct contact. Check out nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

Northwest Arkansas’ explosive growth in cycling combined with the increasing number of cars as the population climbs means more incidents of cars hitting bikes, sometimes with tragic results.

Engineers and planners are designing streets to reduce the chances of cyclists and pedestrians coming into contact with cars. The initiative is called complete streets.

“It’s real important to think about all the users,” said Matt Crafton, president of Crafton Tull Engineering. “Complete streets is just a term for incorporating people who are walking, people in wheelchairs, people on bikes as well as cars into that street.” Crafton spoke on a panel last month at the Safe Roads Summit, hosted by the Arkansas Good Roads Foundation in Bentonville. The summit focused on cycling safety and integrating cycling into everyday travel.

“We’re working to create a world-class network of recreation and active transportation infrastructure,” said Paxton Roberts, executive director at Bike NWA. “The most important thing is that we create safe ways for people to leave the front door of their house or their school or their work and get to where they want to go.” Bike NWA is a nonprofit cycling advocacy group founded in 1999 to promote cycling and safer infrastructure.

Roberts, at the cycling summit, said safer infrastructure will lead to more people commuting by bike.

“If we don’t have safe places to ride, we will never see those numbers,” Roberts said. “We can encourage people all day long, but we have to have a place to ride. We have to make it easy and convenient to ride your bicycle to work or ride your bike to school.” Joe Allbright, senior director for corporate real estate at Walmart, talked at the summit about how the retailer’s new campus in Bentonville is being designed with walking, biking and the outdoors in mind.

Walmart is hoping that up to 10% of its workforce will use alternate transportation every day, Allbright said. The company plans to provide showers and covered bike parking to encourage its thousands of employees who live within 5 miles of campus to pedal to work. The Northwest Arkansas Razorback Greenway will pass through the Walmart campus, and it’ll be about a 7-minute trip downtown by bike.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission earlier this year completed its 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which is a long-range look at the region’s transportation needs and strategies including highways, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

The plan emphasizes complete streets — roads that include sidewalks, bike lanes and public transit accommodations, according to Tim Conklin, assistant director.

Creating complete streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads, according to the nonprofit National Complete Streets Coalition. Communities must direct their transportation planners to design the entire right of way to prioritize safer and implement slower speeds for all who use the road, rather than high speeds for motor vehicles.

A complete street may include: sidewalks; bike lanes or wide paved shoulders; special bus lanes; accessible public transportation stops; frequent and safe crossing opportunities; median islands; accessible pedestrian signals; curb extensions; narrower travel lanes; and roundabouts, according to the coalition.

Each city in Northwest Arkansas with a population of more than 1,000 has its own bike and pedestrian plan. The 2045 plan also envisions walkable communities.

Conklin said the Northwest Arkansas Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan sets up an overall vision for a bicycle and pedestrian network in Northwest Arkansas.

The Arkansas 112 corridor project is one example of how the region is working to make a major roadway safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Proposed changes would make the road a limited access, four-lane, divided highway with raised medians, roundabouts and a 10-foot, multiuse sidewalk.

“We’re working on the Highway 112 corridor, which has federal Highway Administration proven safety countermeasures to reduce fatalities and serious injuries for those using the roadway driving,” Conklin said. “But, it will also potentially create an 18-mile, off-street side path.” “I think, as a region, we all recognize that we need to create our roadway networks and our bicycle and our pedestrian networks in a manner that reduces fatalities and serious injures,” Conklin said.

“One of the things with regard to the numbers of serious injuries and fatalities is that we really don’t know the rate of those injuries and fatalities because we don’t have the mileage like we do for automobiles. [Incidents aren’t] increasing dramatically but, overall, one fatality or serious injury is too many.”

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