Photography by Melissa McReynolds

Citizens are pushing for more emphasis on cycling and other forms of alternative transportation as city officials prepare to update their Alternative Transportation and Greenways System Plan.

Improving conditions for bicycling in Bloomington was the top priority expressed by the public during the city’s alternative transportation workshop last month.

The city’s planning office will use the feedback to update the city’s Alternative Transportation and Greenways System Plan, which has not been revised since it was originally adopted in 2001.

According to the original plan document, the plan’s goal is to “mitigate traffic congestion and improve the health, fitness, and quality of life of its residents,” and includes bus and pedestrian options as well as cycling. In addition to bike paths and signed routes, the plan includes “sidepaths” – a wide sidewalk open to bicycles – and multi-use trails that would be open to any non-vehicle traffic.

It was cycling, however, that received the most attention at workshop, which was attended by about 20 people. Planners heard repeated calls for better bicycle access to College Mall and the west-side retail area, the city’s main shopping hubs. The obvious routes are dangerous, participants said, and getting to those routes from outlying neighborhoods by bicycle is difficult.

Other suggestions included the creation of an east-west cycling route on the south side of town, replacing street parking with bike lanes on busy roads, making Walnut Street a two-lane road through downtown by reserving the third lane for bicycles, and building an “island” that would allow cyclists and pedestrians to cross the intersection of Tenth Street and Route 46 in two stages.

Participants also urged the city to create short paths linking cul-de-sacs and dead-end streets to connect neighborhoods and create safer routes to schools.

“There are so many very short paths that could connect neighborhoods extremely well,” said Buff Brown of the citizens group Bloomington Transportation Options for People. “I think those are where we get the best bang for our buck, rather than all these non-connecting paths.”

To encourage people to cycle more often, participants suggested that the city install covered bike parking for use in inclement weather, pay attention to steepness when planning a route, focus on roads that cars use the least, and plan with children in mind.

Resident Geoff McKim also urged the city to enforce traffic laws – especially with cyclists.

“If you talk to motorists, many of them have almost a visceral hatred for cyclists … because cyclists are perceived as not obeying the laws,” said McKim, who is a cyclist.

Cyclists need to follow the rules of the road if they want to be seen as legitimate users of the road, he said.

Not everyone was content to focus on cycling. Yvette Rollins, a county resident representing the Indiana Horse Council, wanted the city to remember its equestrian residents.

“The city is encroaching on the farms now,” said Rollins after the meeting. “The horses are in your backyard. For the city not to include the equestrians is narrow thinking. There’s a real need for these people to be able to go out and enjoy nature like the cyclists and pedestrians do.”

Although public transit is part of the city’s alternative transportation plan, no one offered comments about the bus system at the workshop. City planners noted that an informal survey they conducted last month at the Monroe County Public Library showed that respondents had no interest in riding the bus.

McKim urged the city not to be fooled, since transit attracts “a very different demographic than cyclists.”

“I think it’s up to the city to go out and seek the input of those people, and to make sure plans do include their needs, even though they might not be as vocal and as inclined to come to public meetings as we are,” said McKim.

In addition to taking spoken comments, planning staff asked participants to complete a priorities survey and to draw new routes and make notes on oversized city maps.

“I think we got some great guidance,” said Scott Robinson, senior long range/transportation manager with the city. “We expected a lot from people. It’s always hard to pull that type of information from the public.”

Robinson’s office will present the revised plan to the city’s plan commission on Oct. 8. The commission will consider the plan at least one more time after that, during its November meeting, before voting on whether to recommend the plan to the city’s common council. The public will have the opportunity to offer comment at both meetings.

Robinson said his office also welcomes additional comment from the public.

“We’re always open to people coming to chat with us,” said Robinson. “I always hope that people get involved earlier rather than later, (when) it gets harder and harder to make changes.”

Charli Wyatt can be reached at .