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The future of bicycling in Lincoln could include 144 miles of on-street upgrades — bike routes and bike boulevards, bike lanes and buffered lanes and separated lanes and side paths.

Just not all at once.

It could take years for the city to find the funding to make the new Lincoln Bike Plan’s recommendations reality, though planners now have a list of 135 prioritized projects.

“This plan might not be fully realized within the next 10 to 20 years," said Kellee Van Bruggen, a city transportation planner. "But it helps prioritize what the needs are.”

Van Bruggen and a consulting firm have been drafting the plan since May, drawing heavily on help from the cycling and noncycling public through open houses, online surveys, calls and emails.

The result: A 52-page draft plan that will guide the city’s construction of on-street bike passages. But not just yet, because the city is seeking more public comments through the end of the month.

After that, in early 2019, a final plan will be unveiled and considered for inclusion in the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Long-Range Transportation Plan.

The Bike Plan doesn’t recommend additional trails, which are built and managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. Instead, it focused on adding to the existing 95 miles of bike routes and lanes on city streets.

To prepare the plan, the city’s consultants started by asking cyclists where they ride, where they find problems, where they’re uncomfortable, where they want to go. They also studied the width of roadways, traffic volumes and speeds, and desired destinations.

In August, they released a proposed network, a list of projects covering all corners of Lincoln, though most are concentrated in the central part of the city.

The draft plan released this month identifies the most-pressing projects, includes per-mile costs of the lanes, routes and other bikeways, and takes a separate look at cycling problems and plans downtown.

135 projects

Bike boulevards: 0 miles now; 11 miles proposed — Suitable on quiet residential routes, they use traffic-calming treatments — diverters, speed humps, medians, pavement markers and signs — to promote cycling and prevent non-local vehicles from cutting through.

Bike routes, 51.9 miles now; another 47.7 miles proposed — Marked only with signs, and vehicles and cyclists share the streets.

Separated lanes: 1.3 miles now; 5.5 miles proposed — Bike lanes physically separated from vehicles, like the $3.2 million N Street bikeway. But they don’t have to be as elaborate, because pylons, potted plants and parking spaces can serve as barriers.

Bike lanes: 2.5 miles now; 11.4 miles proposed — Lanes set off by a painted stripe, like the ones on 11th and 14th streets downtown.

Buffered lanes: 0.2 miles now; 10.5 miles proposed — Similar to bike lanes, but with 3-foot painted buffers between cyclists and vehicles.

Side paths: 43.3 miles now; 58.1 miles proposed — Wide sidewalks that can accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, like the stretch along the east side of South 84th Street.

Intersection enhancements: 23 proposed — Can range from a crossing beacon to a bridge.

Setting priorities

With a 135-item wish list, the consultants had to start somewhere.

So they ran proposals through several criteria. They counted the number of comments identifying areas with barriers to bicycling or places that needed improvement. They looked at a site’s potential demand by bicyclists, and the number of crashes and level of traffic stress.

They also considered connectivity — would a project bridge existing bikeways or major destinations? And they weighed social equity, giving priority to areas with concentrations of lower-income residents.

The consultants then analyzed the cost and ease of each project. Simpler fixes could get made quickly; complicated projects would require more legwork.

“The more challenging ones, we would want to take a step and talk with the public on project-by-project basis,” Van Bruggen said.

It also made sense to work with Public Works to piggyback bicycle projects with planned street reconstruction. That saves engineering costs, she said, and it dictated what will likely be the first eight bikeway additions, starting with bike lanes on West Dawes, Fairfield and North 63rd streets.

Focus on downtown

Planners have bold plans for biking downtown, but first they pointed out a problem that needs an immediate fix:

The 11th Street bike lane creates confusion because it shifts from one side of the street to the other at L Street.

“Motorists and bicyclists have identified this as an unsafe situation at which the anticipated bicycle movement is unclear,” according to the plan.

They call for a clearly delineated conflict zone — marked with green paint and signs — moved one block north, to M Street.

Downtown is getting its own master plan, and the city has suggested converting some of the one-way streets to two-way travel.

If that happens, the bike consultants recommended adding bike lanes on 13th, 16th and 17th streets, and eventually losing the lanes on 11th and 14th.

But that likely won't happen in the near future, Van Bruggen said.

The cost per mile

The Bike Plan doesn’t give per-project cost or an overall price tag. That would be premature, Van Bruggen said, because the draft is a high-level planning document, and the city won’t know actual costs until engineers study each project.

But the plan does include general estimates:

* Bike routes: $19,000 per mile.

* Bike lanes: $49,000 per mile.

* One-way buffered lanes: $39,000 per mile.

* Bi-directional buffered lanes: $79,000 per mile.

* Separated bike lanes: $1.9 million to $4.3 million per mile.

Plenty of opinions

Since the process started earlier this year, the city has fielded 1,100 public comments, the majority from cyclists.

Many were specific, pointing to problem areas: Please build a bike/pedestrian bridge over the North Cotner/Vine streets intersection. A tunnel would also be welcome. Thank you.

Some were critical of on-street cycling: Looking at these proposed routes, I'm beginning to agree with LIBA that the city hates motor vehicles. These routes through the older parts of town are ridiculous and dangerous.

Some were supportive: Not only will a bike network help draw and keep young people in our city, it will also help those who can't afford or can't drive cars for whatever reason.

And some were head-scratchers: Improve the weather so it would make sense to ride a bike in the summer and get rid of winter.

The city wants more opinions, at least until the end of the month.

“We can look at the data and set up a network that we think might work,” Van Bruggen said. “But we certainly want to hear from people who live in these neighborhoods, and how they feel about these proposals.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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Peter Salter is a reporter.

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