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As Bike Lanes Get More Elaborate, Some Question Their Value

During a sweltering summer afternoon, Metro workers are on their hands and knees spreading green goop that smells like a brand new rubber eraser on parts of Louisville’s bike lanes.

The goop is methyl methacrylate paint -- MMA for short -- and it colors the crossing area near intersections green. The crossing area is the conflict zone where cars have to merge across bike lanes to turn off the street.

Recently, Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Chestnut Street got the green paint treatment, and Sixth Street got it last year.

“We’re following national guidance on this,” said Rolf Eisinger of Bike Louisville, Metro’s department tasked with improving the city’s bicycle friendliness.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has delineated green as the color for bicycle infrastructure. Other colors like blue are used solely for signage for people with disabilities. 

NACTO also recommends that cities place “Yield to Bicyclist” signs near crossing areas, suggesting to motorists that bicycles have the right of way along the lane.

The Kentucky State Police reported in 2014 that motorists’ failure to yield right-of-way caused 52 collisions. A study conducted by University of North Carolina researchers showed that 50-70 percent of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions occur at intersections or intersection-related locations.

The study also showed that painting the crossing area green prompted motorists to use turn signals more often and inspired bicycle riders to scan for approaching vehicles more regularly. 

Mayor Greg Fischer proposed $500,000 for bicycle infrastructure in this year's budget, but Metro Council slashed the allotment to $350,000. The original figure was formulated with guidance from the Bicycle Master Plan created by Bike Louisville.

Metro Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, a Democrat who represents District 3, said she's not against bicycling but opposed the $500,000 allotment in favor of more funds going to external agencies that provide social services, such as programs for at-risk youth. She said they can help keep students busy and off the streets.

“When you’re talking about $500,000 for additional bike lanes versus having money in the budget for these summer programs, there’s no comparison as far as I’m concerned," Woolridge said. “It’s a people thing more so than bike lanes.”

Woolridge said more dialogue on bike infrastructure will happen when Algonquin Parkway is eventually reduced from four lanes to a turn lane, two traffic lanes and two bike lanes. Glasser said the road diet fits perfectly with the “complete streets” vision for safer, more multi-functional streets.

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