If you are a cyclist in Charlotte who hasn’t been living under a rock, you will have heard of or seen our latest bit of cycling infrastructure. It’s been touted as an awesome connection from the Little Sugar Creek Greenway to the Irwin Creek greenway on the other side of town. I had a bit of time today after a bike riding lesson. So I scouted it for an upcoming ride, and spent some time riding it in both directions all the way to where the finished construction ends at the train tracks at Imaginon/Seventh Street Station. It ended up that I wanted to write a bit of a review from an educational standpoint, just because I tend to ride everything from the point of view of how would I ride this with children.
Above is the first section of the cycle track, as you leave the greenway at seventh street. You don’t have to cross traffic to get to it, you can just hop right on. The only issue with this is that because you have hopped right on going opposite traffic on the wrong side of the street, there’s really no way to get anywhere to the right/north of 7th. Which is fine if we assume that’s what you want, to go directly towards uptown, and not use any of the wonderful connections that exist to get north of town, which only seasoned riders would know about in the first place.
So on seventh street I crossed the bridge and went through the underpass, where I faced my first point of confusion. The lane ends. It appears in the way it ends that you’re required to jump a sidewalk here, or take that left into the parking lot behind the building at seventh and Mcdowell. That’s fine, it goes all the way through, nearly to the corner of Mcdowell and 6th where you can get back onto the cycle track. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about bikes is that you can take routes cars can’t, so I was okay with that option. But again, It’s important to remember that once you pull out of the parking lot, you still have to ride a few feet on a sidewalk facing traffic before you get to the corner. At the corner you can cross over, and get onto the bike lane and continue your ride. The first part of the bike lane is one way, like most lanes, but at the corner of N. Meyers, it transitions into the two lane cycle track that was promised. I forgot to mention that on the seventh street portion, the way it is currently marked, it’s unclear if it’s a one or two way track. I’m hoping signage and road markings will improve to reflect what should happen in both directions.
Once you are on the two way portion of the cycle track it’s pretty clear what should happen. There are a few important things to remember. The first important thing to remember is that you should ride a cycle track that’s next to parking garages and pull outs the same way you’d ride a sidewalk. Never assume you are seen. The bright green paint they laid down all along sixth street isn’t to make the cycle track look super cool. Bright green paint actually marks the danger zones that exist on the track. Those pesky intersections of cars and bikes where many of us get hit. Those are to warn both you (and hopefully the driver as well) that everyone needs to be paying attention.
The other thing to remember is that people on scooters are already using this bike way as one would use a multi-use path. If you’ve done any riding on the greenway, you may tend to recognize the pattern. People who travel in groups love to travel side by side and take up the whole road in mixed use areas, which means anyone passing has to make some sort of noise to get around–sometimes loud noises, if a person is using headphones and unable to hear. Twice on the two way cycle track today, people on scooters were using both lanes, which would seem to indicate that this will be a mixed use track, and one needs to watch out for folks who don’t want to use it as suggested. But that’s kind of the case whether you are using road, mixed use path or bike lane.
I’m kind of holding off final judgement until all the signs and markings are in place, For now this infrastructure gets a “Meh.” I mean it’s alright. To a person who is experienced and confident riding in traffic, and knows all the best routes through the city, it is a limiting bit of infrastructure. However I can envision circumstances in which I would ride it or suggest it to someone as a route (with qualifiers). It’s also important to remember that it might also be the one reason someone begins bike commuting to their uptown job, and for that person, it may feel like a pretty awesome way to go. So much depends on perspective. In all, i’m all for using the various methods within our reach of getting more people in our city active, healthy and comfortable with riding bikes.