Our Views: Prudent investments could encourage workers to bicycle

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Friday, July 11, 2014

It’s nice to see Janesville residents among a growing number of U.S. workers who bicycle to work.

A study found 786,000 Americans pedaled to jobs in 2012, an increase of 300,000 from 2000. Still, Janesville’s bicycling commuters are a fraction of 1 percent of residents—and for good reasons.

Time and weather are considerations. Few people have the time or energy to bicycle more than 10 miles to work. Unfavorable forecasts discourage bicyclists.

Safety is another concern. In last Saturday’s Gazette, reporter Shelly Birkelo interviewed two Janesville men who bike to work. They say the exercise burns off stress and boosts health. Still, both narrowly escaped serious collisions with vehicles.

In recent years, Janesville added bicycle lanes to Afton Road and parts of Milwaukee Street, Rotamer Road and Kellogg Avenue. However, roadwork occurs where it’s most needed, and it makes little sense to add “paths to nowhere” when streets are rebuilt in segments.

The city also has more than 28 miles of paved off-road trails. Various legs, however, often end abruptly. Links to trails stemming from Beloit to the south and Milton to the north are still just plans. So Janesville’s trails largely benefit recreational users rather than commuters.

It’s heartening to learn that state transportation and natural resources officials, along with the Wisconsin Bike Fed, plan to create a statewide network. Keith Uhlig of Wausau Herald Media reported Wednesday that they will start work with a consultant in November to map, mark and promote dozens of routes. The yearlong project will use routes identified in a national network, connect bicycling systems in urban areas and create cycling corridors that link regions of Wisconsin.

In Janesville, associate planner Terry Nolan focuses on transportation and admits the city has no strategy for adding bike lanes during repaving projects. The city, however, is working on its next long-range transportation plan, and she hopes pedestrians and bicyclists become part of the equation.

Nolan says feedback from residents suggests demand exists.

 “It’s definitely something people want to see more of,” she told Birkelo.

Bruce Speight would applaud that. He directs WISPIRG, a statewide public interest group. In January, The Gazette published his column regarding transportation priorities. He said the average state resident drives fewer miles today than in 1997. Leading the way are young people, who he notes have the most to gain or lose from the transportation system we build today. Nationwide, miles traveled by those ages 16-34 dropped 23 percent from 2001 to 2009. Speight believes the state must rethink its investments as more people ride bikes or buses or walk.

If that means prudent investments that encourage more workers to pedal to jobs, it will reduce pollution and benefit fitness.

Still, the trucking industry drives our economy. Any jaunt on the Interstate will reaffirm this. Those heavy trucks take tolls on pavement, and they must move goods and services safely and swiftly for our economy to hum.

State and local officials must invest in roads and bridges. If, along the way, they pave paths for more and safer bicycling, today’s small number of pedal-pushing commuters might be much larger tomorrow.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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