When I woke up last night at two in the morning because of the pouring rain buffeting the side of the house you would have thought that the rain would have eventually lulled me back to sleep. Instead I spent a few hours brooding over one of the more troubling Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meetings I can recall.
I've been on this committee created by the Regional Transportation Commission for years and while we are all bicycle advocates and riders on the committee, it was disheartening to see some of the reactions to a proposed option for the Keystone Corridor that is going to be revamped in the future. For anyone familiar with the Keystone corridor in Reno you know that this stretch of road has some challenging, to say the least, infrastructure issues as it transects residential neighborhoods, business districts, I-80, and the Truckee River.
The proposal on the table was an "alternate" route for cyclists along Vine street that was billed by some as a viable "compromise" for the cycling community given the challenges facing that stretch of the road. Vine street is a pretty easy road to ride on with low traffic volumes and does link the southern portion of Keystone with the Riverside Bicycle Boulevard, and the northwest neighborhoods that are outside of the main business district in the middle stretch of Keystone. But something didn't quite sit right with me in calling this a compromise.
It's worth noting that I'm not necessarily an advocate that believes all roads should have the yellow brick road of cycle tracks with barriers or planters and green space separating bikes and cars. But I do believe in complete streets (now to be known as "safe streets" apparently because of the overwhelming data that is demonstrating how much safer we are with this type of infrastructure). I'm also realistic enough to understand that during the 20th century it took decades for our infrastructure to be eroded away from a more peoplecentric model to an automobile dominated landscape. It will likely take years, if not decades, to get the balance back where it needs to be. And, frankly, the areas immediately north and south of I-80 are bewildering in terms of the challenges facing whichever city engineer is "lucky" enough to have to deal with that section.
All this being said, I was initially disturbed by the calls for "compromise" that I was hearing around the table last night as BPAC members weighed in on the merits of the alternate Vine street route. On its face it seems like a good option. I myself use Vine sometimes as a connector from the downtown area to the northwest part of town or my recreational rides. But the committee is not part of the Regional "Recreation" Commission. Transportation isn't just part of the RTC's name but part of its mission. I looked at the map presented above with the highlighted red showing the Vine corridor and noted the portion of the business district that Keystone transects. That area, for those familiar with it, is an economic blackhole. It is also an area that is serving residents of the adjacent neighborhoods who happen to mostly be from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
As I laid in bed I realized what the crux of my discomfort really was. Members of BPAC were being asked to sign off and "compromise" in a way that has little to no effect on the quality of their lives. They (or we) were using this alternate proposal for our recreational purposes to get us around an "ugly" area of town with little regard for the one of the main purposes of a complete streets overhaul of the corridor. I kind of cringe at all of us well educated people on BPAC with our expensive bikes calling the detour around that area a "compromise." It seems like the people we need to be thinking about first are those that are living near that area that need safe access to those businesses and services.
|One of the increasingly empty business buildings near Keystone.
The complete streets redesign should do more than keep people safe, it should also provide a significant toehold for the economic revitalization of that neighborhood. More and more studies are demonstrating that these kinds of redesigns of urban infrastructure have positive economic effects for neighborhoods. Look at the map above and imagine that you live at 2nd and Washington street and want to walk or ride your bike over to the Savemart for groceries, pick up a sandwich at Port-O-Subs, pick up a movie at Videomaniacs, and buy a book at Sundance Bookstore. Oh, scratch those last two...they are out of business or relocated because the neighborhood is virtually not economically viable unless you are selling fast food.
I don't know the full story behind why Sundance Books vacated its location over on Keystone. But, I don't really think it is a coincidence that they moved the store to one of the most economically vibrant areas of Reno, between MidTown and Downtown. And is it surprising that a street at their front door happens to also have undergone a complete streets revamp in the last couple of years? I think not.
On the table are all manner of options to make Keystone a safe and vibrant neighborhood in Reno. Sharrows, road diets, new sidewalks, revamped intersections, all could be part of what makes that area a bustling economic neighborhood serving the people that live there.
To borrow a phrase from the education world that I am a part of, I believe no neighborhood should be left behind and this is precisely what it felt like BPAC was willing to do under the guise of "compromise." That doesn't mean there aren't difficult challenges facing the Keystone corridor and I don't have a perfect solution to offer. No doubt whatever happens there will have to be an improvement over the existing conditions. What I do know is that forgetting that the purpose of the RTC and BPAC is to provide safe transportation opportunities for all residents and visitors to Reno, and focusing on the recreational route around a portion of the most difficult sections of Keystone is not an acceptable compromise.