I think I’ve Changed My Mind About the Kalamazoo Bike Lanes
Downtown Kalamazoo is pretty unique. There's a lot of character, a lot of curiosities, and some VERY interesting places to go. Not to mention, the food, bar, and brewery scene is one of the best I've ever lived in as far as being located DIRECLTY in downtown is concerned. So, forgive me if I get defensive about some of the proposed changes the City has been proposing as of late.
I haven't been here long, but I've lived in other downtowns that had their charm and character ruined by changing the flow of traffic, or narrowing lanes, and tearing out parking. So, my being critical of two-way traffic through downtown Kalamazoo doesn't come without credence, nor does my criticism of the bike lanes and their safety concerns... but I may have changed my mind about those.
The City of Kalamazoo announced on Monday they would be adding a new bike lane to Michigan Avenue, that would close one of the lanes through downtown. That road gets very congested. I've nearly been clipped at the Portage Intersection at least a dozen times by other drivers not observing what's left of the lines on the road.
So I asked the question on Reddit (admittedly in a VERY critical fashion), and for the first time in Reddit history... received actual constructive information... and then like 20 trolls, but the informative part first.
The bike lanes are actually part of a program called Imagine Kalamazoo, which started in 2018. Part of the idea was to work on traffic calming (more narrow lanes, more walking and biking lanes), and connecting neighborhoods by more than streets that only allowed cars and trucks. These plans were put on hold during the pandemic, obviously, but started up again in the past two years.
So, this was something already planned for, but nothing had been done for years, and not at their own fault. Some residents just forgot about it. And people like me, who just moved here, never knew about it until someone finally explained it.
As one of many people who primarily drive around town, it's easy to forget how fast you get moving through some neighborhoods. It's why there are so many dangerous roads in and around Kalamazoo.
Imagine Kalamazoo had the vision to remind people like me, that we share the roads with more than just other cars.
Better for even non-bicyclists
Despite being a laughing point for some Kalamazoo natives, and a treasure trove for hecklers (myself included), the bike lanes have seen a bit of a result already.
People who DO bike through downtown are starting to use them, and freeing up the sidewalks. It sucks that we lost a lane of traffic on Westnedge and Park Avenues, but people are at least slowly getting used to how these lanes work. And avid Bicyclists are loving the changes.
It's certainly slowed traffic on those roads, and that is the plan laid out by Imagine Kalamazoo. Now that the city has control of both Kalamazoo, and Michigan Avenues through downtown again, the city is free to do with them what they like, and one person who replied on Reddit... I think nailed it.
"Ultimately, it boils down to people finally realizing prioritizing traffic and parking is bad for business and livability of the city. For years, downtown business tried to compete with suburban malls by increasing traffic and parking, and in doing so, lost the 'Downtown Charm' and even less people patroned downtown." - u/Dexter2700
So that "charm and character" I was so worried about at the beginning of this conversation, turned out to be exactly what the city was concerned about as well. I just didn't know until someone actually told me about it, and had the wool pulled from my eyes.
Maybe I'll come around to two-way traffic in downtown, too... but baby steps first.