CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids is on track to have grown its network of trails and bike lanes by nearly 30 percent in a three-year period ending later this year.
That’s 18.8 miles of new bikeways, bringing the total to 64.6 miles in the community. And $37 million worth of trails — 32 miles — are in the pipeline over the next five years, according to data from the Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization and the city of Cedar Rapids.
“I think we are in the golden age of recreational trail construction,” said Tom Peffer, a lawyer who is president of the Linn County Trails Association. “I’m not sure what will happen after five years from now, but the next five years are going to be pretty exciting.”
With the nice weather and Bike to Work Week promotions this week, cyclists were out in force Wednesday, and several said efforts to make Cedar Rapids an easier city in which to bike are paying off. Expansion of the trail system is prime evidence, they said.
“I think we’ve made huge strides in the last 10 years as far as being bike-friendly,” said Marty Hoeger, a Cedar Rapids City Council member and cyclist. “I think we still have a ways to go. We need to find ways to connect suburban areas and find safe routes to bike trails, so families don’t have to pack their bikes up, load the family in the car and drive somewhere to bike.”
Bikeways include recreational trails, bike lanes, wide sidewalks, urban shoulders and share-the-road segments.
Designated places for cyclists, improved signs and wayfinding on trails, education for both cyclists and motorists to coexist and the ability to get to more places by bike are other examples of how Cedar Rapids has become more bike-friendly, cyclists said.
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One of the biggest improvements is the ability to bike through downtown, one couple said. Downtown is in the middle of the most popular local trail, and had long been confusing and left some feeling nervous about traffic.
Tim, 44, and Anna Gnade, 28, pedaled through downtown on their way to the New Bohemia District as part of a 10-mile loop while towing their children, Cooper, 4, and Quinn, 1, in a bike trailer.
“I like that the roads are ready for cyclists now,” said Tim Gnade, of Cedar Rapids. “I remember coming downtown used to mean make your own trails.”
This month, Second Avenue reopened from First Street SE to Seventh Street SE as a two-way street with bike lanes on each side.
Milemarkers are being posted every half mile along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and the Sac and Fox Trail. The signs include U.S. National Grid numbers so in an emergency, rescuers would have an easier time locating someone, and a phone number for the local parks department and website for the Grant Wood Trail where cyclists can report maintenance issues.
“Something citizens always ask for is milemarkers,” said Brandon Whyte, a planner for the Corridor MPO. “They really have wanted that for general usage of the trail to know how far they’ve gone and where they are at.”
After building 9 miles of bikeways in 2017, another 4.6 miles are on tap this year. Larger projects include an Edgewood Road NW trail from O Avenue to Ellis Road NW, the Sac and Fox Trail from Indian Creek to Trailridge Road SE, and the Memorial Drive bikeway from Mount Vernon Road SE to Bever Ave SE.
Longer-term plans include several east-west bike trails including along Collins Road NE, Cherokee Trail from Morgan Creek Park to Cherokee Park to the Cedar River and making progress on completing the CEMAR trail from Cedar Lake to Marion.
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Investment has fueled trail expansion. Linn County’s voter-approved water and land legacy conservation bond sets aside $6 million of its $40 million for bike trails.
And the Corridor MPO has diverted from the standard practice of devoting 95 percent of its federal transportation dollars to roads.
It directed that 80 percent — about $4 million annually — go to trails from 2016 to 2020.
The panel voted to allocate 30 percent to trails in the next funding cycle, from 2021 to 2024, which still provides $1.67 million to trails each year, or enough for one big trail a year, Whyte said.
Linda, 66, and Doug Bader, 60, of Cedar Rapids, have been biking for decades and are appreciative of bike lanes downtown, but yearn for a true bike network.
“When it comes to bike lanes, there’s been a lot of progress, but we mainly have one trail that goes north and south,” Doug Bader said. “It would be nice to have a trail system.”
Linda Bader added, “If you want people to bike to work, they need places to get there.”
Others said trail maintenance and uneducated drivers remain a concern. City staff noted a concerted effort is being made to keep trails clear on a daily basis. Some cyclists noted Cedar Rapids has a ways to go in reaching the status of a Madison, Wis. or Portland, Ore., which are considered the U.S. gold standards for bike friendly communities.
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