Alabama forming plan to improve bike access, safety

In this in this Saturday Feb. 21, 2015, photo, bicyclists ride along U.S. Highway 80 as they participate in the Selma 50 Bicycle Ride from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- The state's Department of Transportation wants to make Alabama roads more bicycle and pedestrian friendly.

And safe. And useful. And it wants your input.

ALDOT is working to improve upon its current, five-year-old Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, a plan required by the federal government, and from the state's perspective, a plan that "will guide how we make the roads safer for pedestrians and bicycles specifically when we are building new roadways and improving existing roads," said Allison Green, ALDOT spokeswoman.

"It could involve building bike paths, and that depends on whether that is needed to make the area safe."

ALDOT announced last week that the plan is being developed to improve bicycle and pedestrian mobility. The purpose of the plan is to establish a vision for integrating bicycling and walking into the state of Alabama transportation system. It also will help guide investment in bicycle and pedestrian facilities that maximize use of the limited available funding.

"For a very nominal expenditure, ALDOT could produce very effective education programs aimed at motorists and cyclists including (public service announcements), financial support for hands-on education programs at the local and neighborhood levels, and ALDOT could significantly assist with bicycle tourism infrastructure, such as signing ... all at a very low cost," said Jeff Feet, president of the Montgomery Bicycle Club and the Alabama Bicycle Coalition, who serves on the advisory committee for the plan.

The board also includes ALDOT engineers, Grey Brennen with Alabama Tourism and Jim Felder with Alabama Trails Commission.

The Project Advisory Committee has been created to guide the planning process. The committee includes representatives from transportation, health, trails, bicycling, conservation, community planning and economic development groups. The Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan is anticipated to be complete in the spring.

Alabama residents can give input for the plan via an online survey that can be accessed on the ALDOT home page of its website, and this fall, the team leading the planning process will hold five public workshops across the state. The workshops will give people an opportunity to learn more about the plan and to share their perspective on bicycling and pedestrian needs.

Frank Mileto commutes three times a week from his home in Millbrook to Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery.

He said there needs to be better coordination with ALDOT, specifically when the department repaves the roads that include rumble strips on the shoulders.

"I won't dictate what cars need for safety," he said. "If they widen it a little more, or eliminate the rumble strips. ... I think we can accommodate cars and bikes in my opinion. I can go on the northern bypass, and there is a 6-foot shoulder and the rumble strips."

Green said ALDOT is "definitely looking at those rumble strips in this plan. There are some designs that won't hurt the bikes, but will also be effective for the automobiles. Kudos to the engineers who are looking at those things."

Karen Stankard said more bike lanes would be great "with the rumble strip on the outside, and not between the lanes."

"Also, (the state) needs bicycle parking and traffic signals that are pedestrian and bicycle friendly," she said. "Walking downtown Montgomery, people turn when you are in the crosswalk all the time."

Where pedestrians matter, Mileto said, Alabama has to go in to a deeper design.

"I was in Amsterdam over the summer, and they have a portion of the road for cyclists and a part for pedestrians," he said. "The point is to encourage. One option is to create a barrier between cyclists and pedestrians, like they're doing in New York City."

Still, there needs to be more education for drivers, said triathlete Carolyn Slocum of Prattville. That could include public service spots and billboards.

"I would say the number one, if we had some great paved bike trails (or) roads," she said. "I love that Old Farm Lane (in Prattville) now has signs to share the road and marked bike lanes."

Jeff Periatt commutes twice a week along Carter Hill/Vaughn Road and Bell Road, and says academic research suggests signs are not effective. However, "signs that state bicycles are vehicles required to operate (on) the roadway would be the most helpful, in my opinion."

Connectivity is an important factor in creating a successful plan, said cyclist Deana Acklin.

"A network of direct travel routes between destinations will encourage more people to substitute driving with walking and biking," she said. "This will also help improve mobility for those who don't have the drive."