By Danielle Chemtob and Jane Wester
Charlotte’s new protected bike lane is open — but not everyone has gotten the hang of it quite yet.
Leaders opened the city’s first permanent, protected bike lane, which runs along Sixth and Seventh streets from the Little Sugar Creek Greenway to the Rail Trail, last month. The two-way bike lane is separated from the traffic by a series of plastic posts.
It’s the first phase of a larger plan for a bike lane that would stretch across uptown, to the Irwin Creek Greenway, through Fifth and Sixth streets. The first phase of the project cost around $350,000, said Will Washam, bike program coordinator for the Charlotte Department of Transportation. Construction took around a month. The project is being funded through transportation bonds voters approved in 2018.
But some drivers are still getting used to the bike lane. A spokeswoman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said a few citations have been issued for vehicles parked in the lane despite no-parking signs. And the issue has been catching the attention of local leaders.
“Clearly, we need some serious enforcement of the bike lanes,” Carol Sawyer, a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, said in a tweet, showing a truck parked in the middle of the bike lane.
Parking in the bike lane is forbidden even if you’re a delivery driver who will leave the car for just a minute, police said.
CMPD bike patrol officer Bill Broadway said despite the parking issues, people seem to be getting used to the bike lanes.
“I guess I would call this an adjustment period, because a lot of the bike lanes used to be parking spots, so … (drivers are) trying to make that slow transition from ‘I can park here’ to ‘I can’t park here,’” he said.
Officials from CMPD and the Charlotte Department of Transportation are looking at city ordinances on parking in bike lanes to determine whether any changes are needed, transportation spokeswoman Tamara Blue said.
In the meantime, a variety of bike and scooter users seem to be enjoying the new protected lane, Washam said. The city will conduct formal counts to study who’s riding in the new lane during the year.
“We’ve got folks that are young, folks that are old and everywhere in between,” he said. “Because these lanes are protected from traffic, we’ve seen many different folks take advantage of the cycle track and feel comfortable and safe on it.”
Both the city and CMPD have created educational videos to help drivers and bikers use the new bike lane. Washam said the bike lane will also help with scooter safety.
In January, City Council voted to ban e-scooters from sidewalks in parts of uptown, cap speeds and charge the companies a per-unit fee. The popularity of the scooters has prompted concerns over pedestrian safety on sidewalks as well as the riders’ safety in traffic.
Washam said the city has done user surveys of scooter users, and found that very few have ridden a bike in an urban environment.
“We think that them being new to urban transportation outside of their car contributes to a little bit of the unpredictable behavior,” Washam said. “And when we have property infrastructure in place, bike lanes and cycle tracks, it gives folks riding scooters an intuitive place to ride.”
Charlotte received a 1.4 out of 5 star ranking in a study from the group Places for Bikes. The study measured factors like safety and the number of riders in the community.
While the majority of the bike lane runs along Sixth Street, a small portion along Seventh Street goes from the Little Sugar Creek Greenway to McDowell Street. A 2017 city study identified that the Seventh Street bridge portion as a key connection for riders into uptown.
“It was a no-brainer to make that part of it,” said Todd Delk, mobility manager at Stewart, the firm that designed the track.
The second phase of the bike lane is expected to open in 2021. Washam said at that point, they’ll update the current portion to have a concrete barrier between the cars and bikes, which will be the height of a normal curb.
This article originally appeared in The Charlotte Observer.