Bicycle advocates concerned about plan to test shared bus-bike lane Downtown

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A plan to temporarily convert a section of a Downtown bicycle lane into one for both buses and bicyclists during the evening commute is concerning some bike advocates.

“I can’t imagine there’s room for a bus,” said Ed Miner, executive director of Bikes for All People on the South Side. “Cars are still going to get stuck. People are going to be cutting into other lanes. Bikers are going to get run over.”

As part of the two-week pilot program, the city plans to transform the bicycle lane on 3rd Street between Long and Mound streets into a shared lane that also carries buses, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, from July 22 though Aug. 2.

COTA officials say the southbound-only street often become backed up during evening rush hour, delaying buses by 10 to 25 minutes.

“COTA buses are often caught in congestion during peak travel times,” said Patrick Harris, a spokesman for the Central Ohio Transit Authority. “Third Street made the most sense.”

But Catherine Girves of Yay Bikes! said she fears those buses will push away bicyclists.

“I know fewer bike riders will want to ride in them,” Girves said.

Miner said he doesn’t see how this is going to work.

“As somebody who’s been trying to advocate for cycling infrastructure, it never surprises me…we’re taking a step backward,” he said.

Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin said he understands the concerns of the bicycling community. 

“This is a test,” Hardin said. “Their feedback is critical to how we move forward.”

He said the new bus-bike lane will be widened to 11 or 12 feet, which Girves said is still too narrow for a bus.

The Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority created a permanent shared bus-bike lane for one route in May in an effort to alleviate traffic congestion. 

Josh Lapp, chairman of Transit Columbus, an advocacy group, said the idea of a pop-up bus lane came up during a discussion on transit at the Idea Foundry in December. The initial idea was a bus lane on West Broad Street, but then the talk shifted to 3rd Street. 

Lapp supports the pilot program.

“I think we have the opportunity to improve (the experience) for both the transit riders and cyclists,” he said.

In an email, Thea Walsh, the transportation and infrastructure development director for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said: “Other communities have piloted a dedicated transit and cycling lane to determine if they would like to follow through on a project. Some examples include three in the Boston region of Massachusetts. We believe a similar pilot initiative could allow our community to determine if this is the right opportunity in central Ohio.”

Girves worries the the pilot program will become permanent on 3rd Street, and that public officials will try the same thing with other dedicated bike lanes. 

“We’re setting a precedent,” she said.

Erin Synk, a Yay Bikes! board member and Columbus South Side area commissioner, rides to her Downtown job on her bicycle and often uses the 3rd Street bicycle lane. She said that before there were Downtown bicycle lanes she did not feel safe and comfortable riding through the heart of the city during rush hour.

“Once those lanes were put in, everything fell together,” she said.

With buses in the lanes, Synk said, “It will probably still feel intimidating.. People will make a different choice or choose a different route.”

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@MarkFerenchik