Locals, K-Staters look to improve bicycling

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Plans continue to make the K-State campus, as well as the city of Manhattan, safer for cyclists as bicycles continue to appear on the road. Taking action to accommodate cyclists in Manhattan is not a new idea, but rather a continually developing process.

“It’s becoming more and more popular for people to be riding their bikes to school and to work,” said Melanie Apel, employee at Big Poppi Bicycle Co. and K-State alumna.

Apel recalled one experience she had while riding her bike on a neighborhood street in town. She had signaled with her arm that she was slowing down.

“Instead of the car behind me slowing down and waiting for me to turn, he sped up to go around me and almost hit me,” Apel said.

It is the increase in cyclists that prompted Ben Champion, director of sustainability, to pursue a safer biking environment on campus.

“It’s going to take some time to really make a difference,” Champion said. “The Parking Services committee has now created a subcommittee for bicycling.”

Champion looked to the League of American Bicyclists, a nonprofit membership group, for guidelines on what bicycle-safe campuses look like. Champion said two of the five areas that the league focuses on in determining bicycle safety are enforcement and encouragement.

“We need some enforcement of rules,” Champion said. “We could take the approach of just focusing on enforcement, but that would create a really antagonistic environment.”

In addition to getting people to follow guidelines, Champion recognized the need to make bike-friendliness more friendly.

“We need to encourage people to have a good time with it,” Champion said.

Champion has worked to put campus bicycle planning on a timeline. A short-term timeline includes changes that can go into practice in the course of one year, but his work also includes a broader five-year timeline.

Campus roadways need necessary additions like dismount markings and pavement markings, like the sharrow, a marking that indicates bicycles share the lane, he said.

Champion’s one-year timeline includes both new pavement markings and incorporating bicycle safety into new student orientation.

“We can integrate some ‘rules of the road’ education into new student orientation,” Champion said.

He gave several reasons why residents want to make Manhattan a more bicycle-safe community.

“In the transportation arena, bicycles are a helpful way to get around,” Champion said. “They also reduce the use of fossil fuels, and they are more healthy for the people that are riding them.”

For others, it is a more exciting form of transportation than simply driving a car.

“It’s a simple, fun and easy way to get around this town,” said Clint McAllister, employee at Big Poppi and K-State alumnus.

For McAllister, there are possible Manhattan improvements that would appeal to more than just the everyday cyclist.

Reaching out to cycling clubs, like the K-State Cycling Club and the Flint Hills Area Bike Club, is also an important part of the improvement process, he said.

There are roads and trails in Manhattan that people could utilize better if they knew about them, McAllister said, and making people aware that Manhattan is a fun place to ride would begin to solve problems.

“There are plenty of roads in the area that could be used for cycling races,” he said.

Michael Wesch, associate professor of cultural anthropology and bicycle enthusiast, researched some of the history of Manhattan bicycle planning.

Wesch noted a 2004 study by Ben Ehreth, which provided a color-coded map showing bicycle safety throughout Manhattan. According to Wesch’s blog, bikemanhattan.weebly.com/blog.html, Wesch is using this map to create his own “bike-ability” map of Manhattan.

“Eventually, this will allow us to create that fully interactive map of bike-ability we have been dreaming about,” Wesch said on his blog.

Overall, it will be a combination of city and campus committees working together with residents to make Manhattan a more bicycle-friendly town. Champion said as improvements are made, bikers, motorists and pedestrians alike will have to cooperate to sustain the improvements.

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