A transformation of three city blocks into a bicycling connector on which bikes and cars will co-exist equally “wasn’t so simple as just slapping down some green paint,” as Dennis Madsen puts it.
The makeover of Spragins Street in downtown Huntsville, with its new green stripes and bike silhouettes, has been the product of months of planning and discussion, expert advice and new technology.
The latter includes small radars so sophisticated that they can detect bicycles and trigger traffic signals to give cyclists the right-of-way.
As the Spragins cycle track is officially unveiled, it’s a milestone event, yet still just a small step for the cycling community and future transportation in Huntsville.
This is a test case we can apply to bigger, more impactful projects throughout the city.”
The cycle track extends from the Huntsville Depot Park to the cul-de-sac where Spragins pours into Big Spring Park. It crosses Monroe, Holmes and Clinton avenues.
It has a dedicated lane for cyclists, well-marked with the green paint, silhouettes and protected by traffic pylons that prevent motorists from making wrong turns into the bike lane.
Madsen, the Manager of Urban and Long Range Planning for the City of Huntsville, notes that the short track completes a connection to a large – and growing — downtown bike path. The Huntsville Depot will open up part of its property, enabling cyclists to travel from Bud Cramer Park, through the Lumberyard and all the way through Big Spring Park to Twickenham Square.
Meeting the demand of cyclists
The BIG Picture initiative, led by the City of Huntsville Planning Department with input from residents, drew considerable interest in cycling, both recreationally and as a commuter option for a younger generation moving downtown and to surrounding neighborhoods.
While the BIG Picture and the Downtown Master Plan included the foundation for the bike network, the City of Huntsville enlisted “the company that literally wrote the book,” as Madsen says, on bicycle guidelines in urban areas. Alta, a global company with offices in Memphis, worked with the Planning Department, City Engineering and the Traffic Engineering Department to implement this cycle trail.
The cycle track is a pilot project on Spragins Street that emanated from public requests through The BIG Picture master planning process for better and safer cycling routes.
Posted by City of Huntsville, Alabama – Government on Friday, 15 December 2017
“It was important as a pilot project” to have Alta’s expertise,” Madsen said. “This is a test case we can apply to bigger, more impactful projects throughout the city.”
“It’s a great start,” says Ben Payment, an active member in the Huntsville cycling community and organizer of the popular Bikes and Brews events. “They are doing it right. They consulted with Alta, (so) they got the right people to help the design on the front end, and that should help expedite future cycle tracks. They’ve gained expertise and knowledge.”
State-of-the-art traffic devices in use
Alta’s experience was particularly helpful in the Traffic Engineering Department, says Dan Sanders, who is its director.
There are special bicycle signals that will be “tripped” by the radar focused on the bike lanes. The signals indicators are bicycle silhouettes – much like pedestrian stick-figures on crossing zones – of red, yellow and green. The bike-specific signals will turn green before the accompanying motorist signals turn green.
Obviously, safety is of paramount concern as the track opens.
“First and foremost, pay very close attention to the traffic signals,” Sanders says. “Bicycles are going to be a factor in our downtown development and motorists need to be cognizant of that and watch out. For cyclists, realize that drivers may not be expecting you, so be extra cautious.”
A connected bike path through Huntsville will not only serve the Point A to Point B demands, but will also as a recreation alternative for the growing number of downtown residents.
Payment says that “15 percent of people will ride a bicycle any time, anywhere, in any weather. Twenty-five percent just never get on bicycle at all. And about 60 percent would do it if they had no reservations on safety or convenience. I think having such a dedicated safe cycle track, separated from cars, attracts that casual cyclist demographic.”