Cities must learn to ride bikes

The Isle of Palms connector is popular with cyclists.

When an area makes an effort to accommodate bicyclists, you can expect bumps in the road.

In Charleston, for example, motorists have objected to a plan to convert a lane of traffic on the east-bound Ashley River bridge for bikes and pedestrians.

Commuters have bristled at the idea of lowering the speed limit on the James Island connector bridge to make it safer for bicyclists.

And most recently, walkers have opposed paving part of the West Ashley Greenway so that bikers can use it more comfortably and consistently.

Charleston by no means has a monopoply on the friction that becoming bicycle-friendly brings.

The borough of Queens, N.Y., recently started a six-month program to educate and enforce bicycling rules, which were put into effect five years ago. Officials say cyclists have ignored the rules. And given that they are the fastest-growing commuter group, that’s caused problems.

Businesses that deliver by bicycle will receive $100 to $300 fines if their employees fail to wear reflective vests with ID numbers, use approved helmets or carry identification and business cards. Bicycles must have lights and a bell.

In New York City, a lawyer sued to stop a bike lane that reduced three lanes of traffic to two.

But examples of successful bicycle initiatives abound worldwide and remind us that the bumpy path is worth the effort.

In Denmark, 22 local governments have coordinated efforts to establish bicycle superhighways. There will be 26, all emanating from Copenhagen. The first, an 11-mile route, opened in April to much enthusiasm. Already half of commuters in the Danish capital bicycle to work. City officials are hoping to increase that number and improve people’s health and the local air quality.

Unlike a superhighway for vehicles, it has stops along the way. So traffic lights have been timed to suit bikers at rush hours. There is an air pump every mile. Garbage cans are tilted for easy access. And superhighway bikers will likely be treated to some variation of the “karma campaign” in Copenhagen where city employees reward careful cyclists with boxes of chocolate.

The city of Charleston might look for similar ways to encourage safe biking along the West Ashley Greenway. Doing so could assuage some strollers’ fears and give bicyclists information that will serve them wherever they are riding.

A number of U.S. cities are creating “green lanes” to encourage bicyclists and keep them safe. Studies have shown that standard bike lanes painted on the edges of roads do not make riders feel safe enough. “Green lanes” are separated from motor traffic by curbs, planters, posts or parked cars.

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez recently touted efforts in Austin, Tex., Memphis, Portland, Ore., and Chicago. Federal funds have been used in many such efforts.

Washington, D.C., added a two-way green lane to 15th Street in 2010. Since then, bicyling has more than doubled.

The Lowcountry, which has made progress in accommodating bicycles, still has far to go. Planners can take some tips from areas that are further along in the process. Motorists and pedestrians can see that there really is room for bicycles.

And bicyclists can learn that abiding by laws and being safe and courteous go a long way to smooth some of those bumps in the road.