CEDAR RAPIDS — Changes coming to the Third Avenue Bridge near the Linn County Courthouse could reduce conflicts between bicycles and vehicles, city officials said this week.
The bridge has angled parking spaces separating vehicle traffic from bike lanes, but inevitably some vehicles don’t recognize the bike lanes are there and pull through to the curb, thus impeding the path of bikers. This spot is viewed as one of the biggest challenges as the city works to enhance bike facilities.
“Parking in the bike lanes is a problem,” said Kevin Kirchner, president of the Linn County Trails Association. “All it takes is one car going in the bike lane to prevent bikes from going through there. The changes coming on the bridge are going to eliminate that.”
The plan for the bridge is to ditch angled parking in favor of parallel, which was the model before the flood of 2008, and add planters and benches to separate bikes and vehicles. While the buffer should make the road safer and more intuitive for bikers and motorists, the addition is also a function of repurposing the space of the wide roadway that serves a much smaller volume of vehicles than it once did.
Kirchner said the changes on the bridge and beyond on Third Avenue, which will offer 1 mile of protected bike lanes from Sixth Street SW to Eighth Street SE, should be well-received by cyclists. With the launch of an e-bike and e-scooter share next month, the new accommodations could encourage more people to bike around downtown.
“You could hop on a bike share or your own bike and get to shops, to restaurants or to work downtown,” said Ron Griffith, a project engineer.
City officials hope the new layout is well-received by motorists, too.
“Motorists will be pleased,” said Doug Wilson, Cedar Rapids Paving for Progress manager. “They will be able to see better and won’t have to back up into traffic. We’ve tried a lot of different things to make parking work well. Now we are back to parallel.”
Other bike facilities are coming farther east on Third as part of the last leg of a historic conversion of the city’s downtown one-way street to two-ways. Raised medians will serve as a buffer between bikes and cars from First Street SE to Eighth Street SE, said Jennifer Selby, a project engineer.
The medians more clearly delineate where to park and where the bike lane is, Wilson said. The medians are easier to maintain than painted lines and help prevent dooring — when a parked vehicle’s door is opened into a cyclist — Griffith added.
The bridge portion of the project, which is underway, costs $1.9 million and is expected to be complete this summer. Additional changes on Third Avenue are expected to begin in the summer and be completed in the fall. The cost of the full scope is estimated at $4 million.
Overall, Third Avenue will have one lane of vehicle travel in each direction and one lane of bicycle traffic in each direction from Sixth Street SW to 19th Street SE. It will be more seamless than the hodgepodge of one-ways and two-ways currently in place, Griffith said.
Key features include:
• The overall number of parking spaces on the bridge will reduce from 82 angled to 62 parallel, although 68 parallel parking spaces were added on First Street SW from First to Sixth Avenue SW in 2017.
• A hardy variety of trees such as hackberry, hornbeam and elm will take root in the planters on the bridge in 2020.
• A center left-hand turn lane will be added on Third from Fifth Street SE through 10th Street SE.
• No buffer will separate bike lanes and vehicle lanes between Eighth Street SE and 19th Street SE, as Third enters the residential Wellington Heights neighborhood, because of space constraints.
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