Planned Court Street bike lanes

A proposal to create more bike lanes along Court Street has inflamed the passions of some taxpayers who think the road belongs only to cars and trucks.

And given Janesville’s deep automotive roots, it’s no surprise some residents view bikes with suspicion. They believe infrastructure improvements made for biking take away from the maintenance of roads. In their minds, road repair is a zero-sum game.

But it’s not. Bike lanes make roads safer for vehicles, too, because the lanes remove some doubt over who should be traveling in what part of the street. The city’s proposal to create bike lanes along Court Street through the downtown also will benefit pedestrians, who’ll get a clearer view of traffic at crosswalks.

Let’s put to rest the notion that bicyclists are at odds with some taxpayers over transportation spending priorities. The two groups have much in common because bicyclists want well-maintained roads, too, regardless of the presence of bike lanes. After all, a pothole-filled street is more dangerous to a biker than it is a driver. For one, hitting a pothole on a bike can result in flying off the bike—never a good thing. For another, avoiding a pothole sometimes requires a biker to swerve into traffic, and we all know who fares worse in a vehicle-bike collision.

If given a choice between riding in a pothole-filled bike lane or a newly paved road with no bike lane, most bikers would probably opt for the newly paved road, viewing it as the safer bet.

Bike lanes are great urban planning features, but they’re only as good as a local government’s willingness to maintain them. Many bikers have practical, humble desires. They aren’t necessarily biking for pleasure but to get from point A to point B. Of course they appreciate the good exercise and blossom-scented springtime air, but biking for this type of person is a more pragmatic enterprise than onlooking drivers may realize.

Along these lines, some grumbling taxpayers pigeonhole bikers as predominantly trail-bound, recreational seekers. Janesville has many wonderful off-road trails, all of which are worth maintaining and expanding. The city is fortunate to have started investing in this infrastructure years ago because building it all today would be cost prohibitive.

But some bikers have little use for off-road trails because the trail system—while it often meanders through beautiful scenery—doesn’t always lead to where bikers want to go. These bikers depend heavily on the same streets as vehicles do to get around town.

Debates about biking and related infrastructure should begin from the standpoint that bikers and drivers have many mutual interests. These groups aren’t in competition as a vocal contingent of taxpayers tries to portray. What is good for the driver isn’t necessarily bad for the biker and vice versa.

To the extent that bike lanes improve traffic flow, they should be embraced. To the extent that damaged roads make traveling unsafe, they should be repaired or reconstructed. No number of bike lanes will make Janesville a bike-friendly city unless its road infrastructure as a whole is in good condition.

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