Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Hancock bike lane on White St. allows cyclists to ride against one-way motorized traffic

By Michele Bourdieu

Earlier this summer, the City of Hancock had these bike symbols and a bike lane painted on White Street to indicate bicycles may proceed from U.S. 41 down the hill on White St., which has been one way going uphill in the opposite direction since 2014. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK -- For the last two years White Street in Hancock, which bypasses downtown Hancock allowing vehicles (except trucks) to drive uphill to U.S. 41, has been designated a one-way street going uphill only. Recently, however, motorists going up White Street may have noticed a new bike lane on their left, which allows bikes to come down White Street facing the one-way traffic. Any bikes going up White Street must ride with the traffic, as indicated by a "sharrow" (an arrow for sharing the lane with traffic).

At the bottom of the hill, where White Street begins in downtown Hancock, this bike symbol, a "sharrow," indicates bikes going up the one-way street must share the lane with motorized vehicles. The bike lane is painted only on the opposite side of the street, for bikes coming down the hill, facing traffic.

Earlier this summer, Gustavo Bourdieu, Keweenaw Now photographer and local resident, who often crosses White Street from Pine Street to access his neighborhood, noticed contractors painting the downhill bike symbols and bike lane, took some photos and expressed his concern.

"Drivers just recently became accustomed to the one-way traffic going up White Street only, so they don't expect any traffic coming down," Bourdieu said. "It's even more dangerous now to allow bikes going down the hill because bikes may be going faster, with less control, and drivers going uphill may not anticipate the bicycles coming down."

This is a view of the bike symbol near the intersection of White and Pine streets earlier this summer. At that time the bike lane was not yet completed. Now it has been added, but no caution lines have been painted at this intersection to warn motorists approaching White Street from Pine Street or Shafter Street.

He also noted drivers coming onto White Street or crossing it from a side street need to be aware of the bicycles.

Hancock City Councilman John Slivon, who has been active in promoting safe biking in the Keweenaw, said he believes there is a need for more signage on White Street to warn vehicle drivers of the bicycle traffic going both ways.

However, at present, the bike symbols, the painted lane for the downhill bike traffic and some yellow caution lines at intersections with side streets are the only warnings to drivers of motorized vehicles.

The yellow caution lines are painted at some, but not all, of the intersections along White Street.

These yellow caution lines near the intersection of White Street and E. Franklin Street near downtown Hancock are intended to warn motorists, cyclists and pedestrians of the bicycle traffic coming downhill in the bike lane that opposes the one-way vehicle traffic. 

Bill Marlor, City of Hancock Department of Public Works (DPW) director and an active cyclist himself, said he directed painting of the bike lane and the yellow caution lines at most of the intersections on White Street.

When we reached him, Marlor said he had just returned from a vacation in Iceland, where he saw bicycles everywhere, even on very narrow roads. The capital, Reykjavik, is set up for both bicycles and cars, more than in the U.S., he noted.

"I bike to work most days," Marlor told Keweenaw Now. "It's a good way to wake up in the morning and wind down after work."

Marlor said he considers the bike lane on White Street as "very temporary" -- a trial for the present since Hancock's present street renovation project (with construction now on Quincy Street) will include construction on White Street in the near future.

"If the [bike] lane is to be kept, we would have to come up with signs for both the bicycle and motorized traffic control," Marlor said. "I've been using it with caution."

He noted cyclists must control their speed going down the hill, and he has thought about posting a speed limit equivalent to a "walk your bike" speed.

"The only thing we're going to do now is collect comments and design ideas from the [City of Hancock] Bike and Pedestrian Committee," Marlor added. "I'd like to do something there [on White Street] for bicycles and pedestrians for the future. The City could go back to a two-way street, eliminate the bike lane, keep it as now or change."

Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson said the City is always looking at adding bike lanes, and right now they are asking MDOT (Michigan Dept. of Transportation) to mark bike lanes on M-203 with bike symbols inside the City.

"We can always do more signs," Anderson added. "We can always do more."

Bicycle Ride of Silence raises safety awareness

Last Wednesday, August 24, BIKE - Bike Initiative Keweenaw, which promotes cycling safety, partnering with local law enforcement, hosted a 19-mile Bicycle Ride of Silence from Hancock to Chassell and back to honor people who have been injured or killed while biking, particularly in several recent tragic events in Michigan this year, and to raise awareness among all of the users that share the road.

Participants in the 19-mile Aug. 24, 2016, Ride of Silence gather for a group photo. The bicyclists rode from Hancock to Chassell and back. (Photo courtesy of Ride of Silence Facebook page.)

Steve Lasco, organizer of the Ride of Silence, said about 80 bicyclists participated in the ride. Lasco is a member of BIKE - Bike Initiative Keweenaw and also a designee from WUPPDR (Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region) on Hancock's Bike and Pedestrian Committee.

Bicyclists continue their Ride of Silence through downtown Houghton on Aug. 24, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Ride of Silence Facebook page)

"Distracted driving is a huge problem, even in our little area with its relatively light traffic, and that includes people older than 25," Lasco noted. "Far too many people drive their motor vehicle while looking at their phone or tablet. The fact is, distracted driving now has surpassed drunken driving as the USA’s Number One highway killer.

"The June incident in Kalamazoo (where an allegedly impaired driver plowed into nine cyclists riding in a group, killing five) just kind of hit me right in the heart and prompted me to organize our Ride of Silence," continued Lasco, a Keweenaw Bay resident. "I’ve been door-dinged, yelled at, and people have thrown things at me, all because I’m riding my bike lawfully on Michigan roads and streets. We simply ask that motorists slow down and share the road with cyclists and pedestrians. A motorist’s momentary lapse of awareness can in a second take the life of a cyclist or pedestrian. No text, game or video is so important that accessing it should cost another person their life."

Lasco also noted the Ride of Silence would not have been achievable without the support, cooperation and efforts of the City of Hancock Police Department, City of Houghton Police Department, Houghton County Sheriff’s Department, and the Department of Public Safety and Police Services at Michigan Tech University. 

In July, BIKE - Bike Initiative Keweenaw posted on their Facebook page a link to an article from the Detroit Free Press that noted "an alarming surge in [bicycle] crashes -- fatal and non-fatal -- reported by police agencies across the state." According to the article, bicycle fatalities in Michigan were up 57 percent from 2014 to 2015.*

* Click here for the July 13, 2016, Detroit Free Press article, "Fatal bicyclist crashes surged 57 percent in Michigan last year."

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