Local bicyclists part of growing trend nationwide

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, July 4, 2014

JANESVILLE—Jim Krebs cites global warming, gas prices and the cost of vehicle maintenance as the main reasons why he bicycles to work each day, year-round.

The 45-year-old Janesville man said the 7- to 12-minute trek also is relaxing. And he doesn't have to worry about finding a parking spot at work.

“It's a great stress reducer,” he said.

Ryan Williams also bikes 7 miles to work nine months of the year for enjoyment and exercise. He says it's a treat after commuting 70 miles a day for 10 years in his car.

“It's easier on gas and I try to promote a healthy lifestyle to my young children,” said Williams, 38, of Janesville.

Krebs and Williams were among 786,000 U.S. workers who traveled to work by bicycle between 2008-12. This represents a nearly 300,000 person increase from 2000, according to 2012 American Community Service bike commuting data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in May.

Cities across the country are seeing an increase based on an aggressive effort to make their communities more bicycle friendly, said Terry Nolan, associate planner with a transportation focus for the city of Janesville.

Nolan believes the increase in those biking to work is an indicator of bicycling's overall popularity.

Biking to other destinations less than 2 miles away from a person's home will likely be where the largest increase in bicycling will come in the future, she said.

A municipality can get big bicycling gains by making a few improvements within neighborhoods and to nearby shopping areas, Nolan said.

Janesville installed its first bike lanes before 2010 on Wright Road. Today, there are 20 miles of bike lanes in these areas:

--Milwaukee Street, where there are two different portions.

--Rotamer Road

--Part of Kellogg Avenue

--Afton Road

--A stretch along Mineral Point near Parker High School

Officials say there are no immediate plans for more bike lanes. However, the city is working on its next long-range transportation plan. This will include a pedestrian/bicycle plan Nolan hopes will become the implementation strategy for bike lanes.

The bike lanes that exist in the city were added to fix a motorized traffic problem, she said.

"We don't have a strategy when improving a street about how a bicycle lane should be considered," Nolan said.

Janesville's street repaving program provides a great opportunity to add bike lanes, but because street resurfacing takes place only on the worst portions it doesn't make sense to add bike lanes to a block that doesn't connect to the next block.

"So we need to figure out a (implementation) strategy," Nolan said.

That's what she's working on.

"It's definitely something people want to see more of," Nolan said, basing her opinion on city officials hear during public planning procedures.

"People recognize we have an excellent trail system but that's mostly for recreational use and the trail doesn't connect uses," Nolan said.

"The best way to improve (bicycle lanes) is to have on-street connections," she said.

Krebs and Williams bike to work on city streets. Krebs has been run into twice, and Williams had a close call with a vehicle once.

"Somebody pulled out in front of me and I got run into in March," said Krebs, who also was hit by a motorist in 2000. He wasn't injured either time.

Williams' left buttock was grazed and he would have been more seriously injured had he not quickly swerved to get out of the vehicle's way.

"It was petrifying," he said.

Krebs bike route takes him from the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds to Kennedy Road. Williams travels a busy route along Memorial Drive and Milton Avenue.

Both say bike lanes would give them their own space further away from traffic, and a sense of increased safety.

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