PROVO — Provo is not well-known for its bicycle-friendly infrastructure, but that may be changing soon.
The city is likely to approve an extensive new series of bike lanes by as early as April.
The Provo Bicycle Committee has been considering its options for a Master Provo Bike Plan since December 2011, when it received a county grant for the project.
“We’ve been working with our contractors to understand how we can financially sustain these new lanes without raising taxes,” Provo City Councilman Sterling Beck said. “For a city politician, that’s music to my ears.”
The plan proposes bike lanes on several major arteries in Provo, including University Parkway, University Avenue, Geneva Road, Freedom Boulevard, Center Street, 900 East, Bulldog Boulevard and 500 West/State Street.
Beck says roads such as 900 East, 500 West/State Street and Bulldog Boulevard are especially difficult to navigable except by car.
“Even with short, one-mile trips that are very doable, residents typically choose to drive,” Beck said. “They don’t even think of walking or biking because they don’t feel safe out on the road unless they’re in a car.”
Dave Dean, an avid biker and technician at Provo's Mad Dog Cycling, frequently avoids South State Street on his commute to work.
"Safety's a real priority for me," Dean said. "I've had too many close calls on that (road). … It takes another three to five minutes but it's worth it."
Travis Meservy commutes daily to his classes at BYU. He tries to pick his commute time wisely and sticks to the roads that already have bike lanes in place.
"I stay away from 900 East," Meservy said. "I also like to avoid streets like University Avenue during rush hour. The traffic flow is too much."
The City Council has been consulting the Utah Department of Transportation, the Utah Transit Authority and even neighboring cities Orem and Springville about how to work out the various logistical challenges of providing new lanes. Council members are expected to approve the plan by late April or early May, but not before negotiating with business owners in Provo’s downtown district who are concerned about parking.
“The City Council (will be) taking care of the political decisions above and beyond what we’ve done so far,” said Casey Serr, the chairman of the Bicycle Master Plan Steering Committee and the city engineer in charge of the project. “We had the easy part.”
But advocates for more bicycle transportation say the city’s open houses have yielded mostly positive feedback.
“There’s been your typical vetting process, but most businesses have been very supportive of our plans, and I’ve only heard good things from the council members. They’re very excited about it,” said Zac Whitmore, who chairs the volunteer-run Provo Bicycle Committee. “I don’t know for 100 percent sure who is going to vote for which way, but I’m very confident.”
Transportation advocacy groups such as Bike Provo have asked for additional bike lanes for the past three years, saying the city needs to update what they consider to be outdated safety conditions for bicyclists.
“There’s so much work left to be done, but I think the plan is a good groundwork,” said Andrew Ungerman, a volunteer with Bike Provo.
City officials recently visited Boulder, Colo., to use that city as a model. Boulder is well known for placing a high priority on bicycle transportation and has a population size, land area and elevation that are all similar to Provo’s.
“It was a really eye-opening trip,” Serr said. “It helped us to see the results more than we would on paper. The main thing we noticed was how much of a priority (bicycle accessibility) is and how dedicated they are to allocating resources into it.”
Ungerman is especially looking forward to biking on University Avenue, which he says is long overdue for more accessibility.
“Provo has really been lacking an ideal north-south bike route,” Ungerman said. “The city’s done a good job of identifying which routes are needed the most.”
Bicycling gurus like Whitmore say the plan will make Provo more livable and turn the college town into a destination city.
Bicycles are an agent for change both figuratively and literally,” he said. “It opens up people’s options and you get a lot more community involvement, as opposed to cars, where it’s about getting from point A to point B.”