Experts agree Sioux City should be more bike-friendly
Aug. 25, 2018
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — In assessing how navigable Sioux City is for bicyclists, local officials will readily admit the city falls behind the pack.
Though it has taken large strides in recent years adding connections to its multi-use trail system, leaders agree the city has far to go to become more friendly to cyclists on the same level as other large cities in Iowa.
Sioux City ranks low on various metrics that judge cities' bicycle-friendliness, and leaders say lack of infrastructure has contributed to a low number of people commuting to work by bicycle.
"I would say we're not halfway there yet," Mayor Bob Scott said. "We've got some nice trails, but it's hard if you want to ride from your house to that trail. It's not so easily done yet."
But a push for increased connectivity is mounting. Sioux City expects to soon form a committee to investigate transportation improvements that could include the city's first bicycle lanes.
City planner Erin Berzina said the group, which will be comprised of city staff and representatives from area organizations and agencies, will examine previous studies and look at the best way to connect the city.
The Sioux City Journal reports that part of the work will include modernizing an active transportation plan completed by University of Iowa students in 2015 that contains several suggestions on making the city friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians.
"We want to expand (the plan) and really look city-wide at some connections that we want to make in the future," Berzina said. "(The goal is) connecting the trail system with our pedestrian walkways and being able really to make it from one end of the city from the other on something besides a motor vehicle."
According to the most recent estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, 0.2 percent of Sioux City workers — or fewer than 100 people — commute via bicycle. That's one of the lowest percentages among Iowa's largest cities, although less than 1 percent of workers commute by bike in eight of the state's top 10 most-populated cities.
Among Sioux City's regular commuters is Albrecht Cycle Shop owner Korey Smith, who rides the Perry Creek Trail daily to the downtown shop.
"Luckily for me, if I want to go to work, I ride a block and I'm on the bike trail, then I'm off a block," he said.
But cycling to work isn't as accessible for others, he said.
"From the west side to Morningside, or if you worked out near the Southern Hills Mall, it's extremely difficult to get out there on a bike," he said. "Especially if you're wanting a nice, serene ride."
Sioux City has zero bicycle lanes and is believed by some, though unconfirmed, to be among the largest cities in the country without them. Local advocates for bike lanes say the number of commuters will increase once that infrastructure is in place, not before.
The city has this year been in discussion with the bicycle renting service LimeBike on bringing hundreds of rent-able bicycles to the city. Smith said having more bikes without more infrastructure for them is akin to "having a bunch of cars and no roads."
Siouxland District Health Department health planner Angela Drent frames it using a modified line from "Field of Dreams": If you build more trails and bicycle lanes, the users will come.
"We need to be able to get some of that infrastructure in place so people feel comfortable," she said. "We know there might be others that might bike more frequently if they felt more safe and had an easier way to get from their home to work."
Kati Bak, president of Siouxland Cyclists, said she believes commuters and recreational riders are looking for more safety on the roads. Cyclists are involved in accidents each year, and many fear being brushed by a passing car.
"Community awareness and bike lanes would probably (improve things), especially for those that want to commute to and from work," she said, adding that employers also play a role in providing accommodations such as showers to encourage their employees to commute via bicycle.
Sioux City does not fare well on metrics that attempt to score cities' bicycle-friendliness.
People for Bikes, a charitable foundation and coalition of bicycle industry representatives, rates Sioux City one out of five on its city scorecard, which judges municipalities based on ridership and safety statistics, the cities' networks, reach and acceleration of progress.
The rating is lower partially because Sioux City does not have complete data for the "acceleration" category, which measures how quickly the community is improving its infrastructure and increasing ridership. All other criteria fall between zero and two on the five-point scale.
The League of American Bicyclists ranks the state of Iowa No. 30 on its 50-state scorecard. Eight communities in Iowa have earned the league's Bicycle-Friendly Community designation, of which Sioux City is not one.
In early July, ADT Security Systems named Sioux City the eighth-most dangerous city for bicyclists in the country. Sioux City joined four other Iowa cities — Webster City, Waterloo, Johnston and Des Moines — among the nation's 10 worst.
Councilman Alex Watters, a strong proponent of bicycle lanes, said he was bothered by ADT's July report. While he, like many, took the study's methodology and accuracy with a grain of salt, he said he didn't like to see Sioux City named in the ranking.
"When you see your name listed on a national list of the most unsafe cities for cyclists, I think that's really a wake-up call, and I think it's a wake-up call that we needed," Watters said.
Scott similarly mentioned the report to the council in July and asked city staff what they were going to do about it. He mentioned Jackson Street as a possible thoroughfare from the north side to downtown that could be ripe for painting bicycle lanes.
"Jackson Street's the most logical," he later told The Journal. "I would like to see something in that area."
Watters said bicycle amenities are essential in not just attracting workers, but also major employers, to the city.
"A lot of these people that are looking to come for different jobs, even companies that are looking to relocate, they pay attention to those things," he said. "Burying our head in the sand and saying look, it costs too much money, we don't have the space, we're not interested in doing that — I think is really a theory of the past."
Later this year, the city expects to begin appointing an Active Transportation Committee comprised of representatives of the city and local organizations involved in transportation.
Sioux City already has an outline to work with. In 2015, students with the University of Iowa completed a plan that identified a series of steps to make areas of the city more accessible in ways besides automobiles.
The 146-page document outlines several locations for bicycle lanes, and Sioux City has programmed some of those projects into future years of its capital improvement program, including nearly 9 miles of bicycle lanes on major thoroughfares such as Jackson, Fifth, Sixth and West 19th streets.
Michelle Bostinelos, executive director of the Siouxland Metropolitan Planning Council, said the plan is a good starting point but could use some updates and strategy on how it fits into the city's budgeting process.
"Right now that plan is getting a little bit old," she said. "We would like to be able to re-evaluate those."
Berzina said the committee will aim to include representatives of SIMPCO, the Siouxland Trails Foundation, Siouxland Cyclists, Siouxland District Health and city departments.
Sioux City's Parks and Recreation Department, with the support of the Sioux City Council, is also continuing its work connecting trails across the city. Last month, the city opened a new connection spanning the gap between the Outer Drive and Floyd Boulevard trails, a connection long wanted by cyclists, runners and others.
Salvatore said work on another long-anticipated project, a 1.5-mile stretch of trail connecting the Chris Larsen Park and Chautauqua Park trails along the Missouri Riverfront, will likely begin next year, as the city is still waiting on its permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Other trail pieces are also in the works.
One project in the design phase could add bicycle lanes on the northern part of Hamilton Boulevard. Salvatore said that is in the preliminary design phase, and a future public meeting will discuss the addition of the lanes.
"This is a really healthy process for us to be going through," he said of the increased conversations on bicycle connectivity. "It's a priority of the City Council and cyclists that have really decided this issue needs to be discussed, and this is a great way to go about accomplishing something."
Bak said as Sioux City the last few years has added more trail connections, she has seen more momentum for cycling as more people take to the trails and the Siouxland Cyclists' group rides.
It's a positive step, she said, something she wants to see more of.
"I know that Sioux City's making headway," she said. "And we know that there's a lot more to go."
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com