Iowa City’s Bicycle Master Plan sets lofty and laudable goals.
The 2017 document proposes more than doubling the supply of bikeways, adding more than 100 miles of new routes, usually in the form of bike lanes on existing streets. Planners say the document is based on “objective analysis.”
Objectivity sounds great, except that cities are inhabited by humans, not objects. The chasm between objective analysis and community sentiment was on full display at a city hall meeting this week.
The Bicycle Master Plan proposes on-street bike lanes on Dodge and Governor streets south of Burlington Street, an area identified as a “network gap.” Adding a bike lane on even one of those streets would greatly improve connectivity between downtown and the south and east sides of town.
Unfortunately, those new lanes — painted on the existing street, no major construction required — would eliminate about 80 heavily used parking spots.
On Wednesday, the city invited residents from the area to offer feedback about the prospect of removing parking in front of their homes. The group of about 50 was overwhelmingly opposed the plan as proposed, and offered a long list of reasons it’s impractical.
Many homes there have no driveway, and they are double blocks with no intersecting street for about a quarter mile. They are served by alleys, but the city does not maintain them.
At least one resident said he would be forced to pave over garden space in his backyard to build an alley-access parking spot. He rightly suggested that would be antithetical to the city’s values.
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Several members of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Governor Street voiced reservations. Even if the city accommodates them with temporary street parking during services, they worry nearby residents would claim the spots before congregants.
Notably, most attendees appeared to be long-term residents of Governor Street. Dodge Street, two blocks closer to campus, is populated largely by short-term renters and students. Confoundingly, the meeting was scheduled between the university’s summer and fall sessions when many affected students are not in town.
I am a strong supporter of bike lanes. Since the government spends vast sums of taxpayer money on automobile infrastructure, it’s only fair to similarly accommodate bicycles, which are much smaller, cleaner and quieter.
I’m also skeptical of ample free parking. It takes up an enormous amount of space, and indirectly incentivizes people to own more cars than they otherwise would.
City planners should hold those values high in new developments and major projects, but changes to existing infrastructure must incorporate many other factors. Significantly reducing parking stock in established neighborhoods would impose real and unexpected costs on neighborhood residents.
Iowa City politicians have a knack of setting bold, progressive goals. Just last week, the City Council approved a resolution declaring a climate crisis, and giving staff 100 days to devise recommendations to curb the city’s carbon output by 45 percent.
Sometimes, those worthy goals clash with the messy realities of local democracy.
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