University City

Bike infrastructure to better connect residents, students around UNC Charlotte

With the rise of multiple off-campus housing developments and the LYNX Blue Line Extension, local leaders have started to push for infrastructure improvements that will connect cyclists throughout the university area.

While the area’s greenways always have been popular with recreational cyclists, there’s been a recent uptick in people using bikes, said Darlene Heater, executive director of University City Partners.

“We are seeing increased bicycle activity on our greenways, but also on our city and campus streets,” she said. “The new bike lanes that are planned as part of the Community Investment Plan (bonds projects) are not going to be a build-it-and-they-will-come investment.

“The need for infrastructure is here now.

“At the same time, we need to raise our awareness of this growing transportation mode and create safe road and greenway environments for all users.”

Ken Tippette, bicycle program manager with Charlotte Department of Transportation, said the planned Cross Charlotte Trail eventually will provide a traffic-free route that extends from the Cabarrus County line to Pineville.

“The trail, off-street and on-street facilities, coupled with the opening of the Blue Line extension, will offer those in the UNCC area a wider choice of transportation options, including walking, bicycling and transit in addition to private automobile mobility,” Tippette said.

Peter Franz, UNC Charlotte’s campus landscape architect for nearly two decades, helped develop and manages the Campus Master Plan. He also has been involved with off-campus planning to improve pedestrian connectivity.

“As the university improves existing roads and build new ones, we add bike lanes onto our bike-lane system,” Franz said. “For University City, CDOT has been a great partner in understanding the need for bike lanes around campus.”

Recent projects completed by CDOT include adding bike lanes and sidewalks the entire length of John Kirk Road, building half of a multi-modal path from Mallard Creek Church Road to the campus’ main entrance and adding bike lanes on Mary Alexander Road from Mallard Creek Church Road to campus.

“We will continue the bike lanes on Mary Alexander Road as we improve existing roads within the next two years,” Franz said. “CDOT will, in the future, continue the multi-modal path from the university main entrance to the Toby Creek Greenway.”

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department also is building Toby Creek Phase 2, which will continue the greenway from the campus to Rocky River Road near the Autumnwood neighborhood.

Barton Creek Greenway off J.W. Clay Boulevard also eventually will connect to the Toby Creek Greenway entrance on Tryon Street, near the new Light Rail Station at the J.W. Clay Boulevard/UNC Charlotte Station.

The addition of bike lanes and traffic problems have made using bikes more practical, Franz said.

James Parkhill, an engineering student at UNC Charlotte and bicyclist, says the university area has grown its bike infrastructure at a reasonable pace.

“But I think there is still a tipping point ahead where bike activity and demand will truly explode,” Parkhill said. “I think this will happen when the university area has enough bike infrastructure to get around anywhere in the area by bike. Currently there are only isolated stretches of bike lanes and bike paths off UNC Charlotte’s campus.”

Biking is the most sensible option for students going from one side of campus to the other, Parkhill said, because walking, driving or the bus take too long.

“I think the light rail coming to university city will definitely hasten the process of making the university city area more biker- and pedestrian-friendly,” Parkhill said.

“Currently, most places off the UNCC campus are not very enticing to modes of transportation besides automobiles.

“I’m excited for this to change because I think it will knit the community together more closely and make UNCC feel more like an urban university.”