Plans move forward to bring bike lanes to downtown Huntsville

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville city leaders are working on a plan to make cyclists feel safer as they ride downtown.

Dennis Madsen, Director of Urban and Long Range Planning, said citizens have overwhelmingly asked for walkability and easy bike access downtown, and the city is ready to deliver. Through the Downtown Master Plan, the city it entering the initial stage of creating bike lanes on downtown streets.

Bike riders tell us this is one of the biggest steps the city could take right now.

"I believe that most people would ride if they felt safer," said Bruce Weddendorf. He is the Vice President of Straight to Ale Brands, but also an avid cyclist. Weddendorf said he rides downtown almost every day.

"I think it's the biggest deterrent to riding right now in Huntsville. The fear of traffic," he explained. "The encroachment on vehicle traffic on cyclists. I think we have a huge number of potential cyclists here. If they felt safer, they would get on their bicycles and ride  lot more."

He said he wants to see more people become able to take a bicycle instead of a car on their errands downtown.

There was standing room only at a Wednesday meeting at UG White downtown, where planners went through their vision to create bike space on downtown streets.

"There's a lot of folks who care about bicycling in Huntsville and I think the turnout definitely bears it out," said Dennis Madsen, Director of Urban and Long Range Planning.

The Plan

Leaders want to create more connectivity downtown, and any bike path would become part of a larger network.

It is described as a step-by-step process, street-by-street. The goal is to connect destinations that people want to go downtown, and in the future possibly connect into larger parks, trails, and neighborhoods.

"It's all about creating more and more lengths to get a fuller network," said Madsen. "The broader network you have the more people can take advantage of it."

Madsen said this effort would spread from the center of downtown throughout that community, but they don't want to stop downtown. If it works well, they could move on to other parts of the city.

How will it happen?

The first phase of the project's design may take a few weeks, but Madsen said the plan will soon be underway starting with Spragins Avenue.

"We're looking at Spragins really as a great pilot," said Madsen. He, along with the team working on the project, believes that Spragins Avenue has a smaller amount of traffic and can be a key connection between the Huntsville Depot and Big Spring Park.

Madsen and his team believe they can add bike lanes at Spragins through road striping at Spragins.

"You've got this opportunity to link one destination to another destination," Madsen explained. "Let's put these on the ground and see whether this works. If we have to make tweaks, it's much easier and less expensive to make any changes we see when we get into the usage. Hopefully we are doing enough homework on the front end that we don't have to make tweaks."

There are other ways to add bike lanes, but some may be more expensive than others. That's why re-striping is such an attractive option.

"It is much less expensive than doing a full rebuild of a road," he said. "And the lucky thing is we have built out our roads very wide, so we have a lot of space to work with."

Community Response

Bike riders are glad this effort is finally moving ahead.

"I think the community has been chomping at the bit for years to see more of that and so to finally see some traction and some movement in the right direction is really, really huge," said Ben Payment, the founder of Bikes and Brews Huntsville.

"Adding dedicated bicycle facilities that make it safe for families with kids, and bringing them into downtown, is big. And that's what they're talking about doing," he added.

Others agree this step is the best one to take right now, as it relates to the rest of the Downtown Master Plan.

"This is the most important part, and it's a good thing they're doing this first. I think this will have the largest impact and facilitate the rest of the plan actually coming to fruition. The connection, communication, and transportation are key to getting results here with the urban life," said Weddendorf.