Joanna Trieger and Andrew Samuelsen are regular Reno bike commuters and spokespeople for the Truckee Meadows Bike Alliance. Like anyone who rides in and around Downtown and Midtown Reno, road construction has and will likely continue to affect bike travel routes into the fall and beyond. As renovated streets are reopened, initiatives laid out in the Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) unfold. The Regional Plan guides transportation spending in Reno, Sparks, and part of Washoe County over a 30 year period. A key part of the guiding document is the 2017 Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan. For a look into the state of safe biking in and around Reno/Sparks and the future of biking infrastructure in the region, Joanna Trieger and Andrew Samuelsen of the Truckee Meadows Bike Alliance stopped by the Innevation Center recently to record this edition of The Wild Hare podcast.

See music credits following text below.

In 2011, the RTC released a Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan. According to RTC documents, since 2011, the transportation commission has constructed over 50 miles of new bicycle lanes, 20 miles of sidewalks, and 500 curb ramps. Joanna Trieger said she’s noted improvement in Reno’s bikability in recent years.

“I would say improving and currently pretty good for people like Andrew and I in terms of being able to get from A to B. We’re both residents of the sort of Midtown area. Those connections up to everything within a two-ish mile radius are fairly good. I’ve lived here for about five years and I’ve seen improvements, pretty big improvements over that time, but a long way to go is absolutely still the case. We still don’t have connections that work very well. We still have big gaps in our infrastructure. And we certainly don’t have many places that are comfortable for people who are not like Andrew and I who are really familiar with cycling.”

Andrew Samuelsen agreed that there have been important improvements in bikability over recent years, but said there is a distinct need to improve not just the quantity but quality of bike infrastructure, which is a major impediment to more widespread bike use. Samuelsen said the goal is to have bike infrastructure that enables folks ages “8 to 80” to safely and confidently travel around Reno and Sparks on a bicycle.

“Midtown and Downtown, there’s a great start. There’s a lot of bike lanes and sort of not the gold standard of infrastructure, a lot of bike lanes that put you on the street in a situation where you’re sharing the asphalt with a car, kind of right next to a car. It’s not so much cycle tracks and really safe infrastructure for people from what we say is 8 to 80 years old, it’s really been sort of limited to people that are a little braver, more comfortable riding around … people that identify as cyclists, rather than just regular people that are getting from A to B.”

Center Street looking south. Center Street will get a pair of cycle tracks physically separated from cars in 2022. The new bike lanes will run from Cheney Street in Midtown to the University of Nevada Reno – image – Brian Bahouth

The RTC published an exhaustive Washoe County Regional Travel Characteristics Study in 2018. The survey shows that roughly 1 percent of Reno area residents use bicycles for regular transportation, though the RTC survey did not fathom why people choose not to use bicycles. For some insight into what prevents people from using their bicycles for day-to-day travel, we look to Portland, Oregon where the city’s Office of Transportation poled residents and found four types of transportation cyclists.

Map key:

Map – Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County

Portland is one of the leading bike use cities in the nation. One percent of the regional population rides every day and is “strong and fearless.” Seven percent of Portland residents ride most days and consider themselves “enthused and confident bikers.” Sixty percent of residents rarely ride a bike for practical purposes and fell into the “interested but concerned” category, and the concern was primarily for physical safety. Thirty-three percent of residents were in the “no way, no how” category of biker.

According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation, as of 2017, 6.3 percent of Portland commuters use a bike, which means that every day roughly 22,647 people in Portland choose to commute on a bicycle. The national average is around .5 percent.

Portland and Reno are similar in that both cities are growing fast. What’s worth noting, 374 percent more people biked to work in Portland in 2017 than in 2000. For Reno, the next hurdle is to provide safe, convenient biking, a key to getting more people on bikes. Reno and the RTC are poised to make a major step forward in that effort.

Virginia Street has been under construction for a year or more through the Downtown/Midtown corridor. Phase II of the Virginia Street Bus RAPID Transit Extension Project in Midtown Reno got underway in June of this year and is expected to be complete by the fall of 2020.

Virginia Street is being renovated, but little new accommodation will be made for bicycles. North to south bicycle traffic will be supported on adjacent Center Street in a project set to begin in 2022 with a pair of physically separated bikeways – image – Brian Bahouth

The $87 million project is intended to “create connectivity between Midtown Reno and the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). The project is also intended to “support economic development, enhance safety, and improve livability in the corridor.”

The Virginia Street project initially focused on sub surface infrastructure improvements. Phase II, according to RTC documents, includes new curbs and road surfaces and repairs to “ADA sidewalk deficiencies, improving traffic operations and beautifying the corridor. New trees and street lighting will be added to the corridor as part of the project,” but no mention of bicycle facility improvement.

Of the roads that cross downtown Reno north-south, Virginia Street is one of the least bike-friendly, and the ongoing rehabilitation does not appear to improve on that status. Joanna Trieger says Virginia Street’s lack of bicycle amenities cannot be considered in a vacuum.

“I think we can comfortably say that it’s not going to make Virginia Street much better for biking. That’s again why it’s really impossible to consider the Virginia Street project without considering the Center Street project. Because if you didn’t have that gold standard of two-way, physically separated cycle track going on Center, then the bike facilities on Virginia would be inadequate. But since we do have that cycle track on Center, speaking for Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance, we’re happy with the way that Virginia Street panned out, even though as cyclists, we didn’t get all the concessions we asked for.”

Headway Transportation did a Downtown Bicycle Facility Feasibility Study and has since been awarded the design contract for the Center Street renovation.

A description of the new Center Street design from the feasibility study:

Two-way, physically separated bike track on Center Street. The conceptual design places the two-way protected bike lane on the left side of Center Street, a northbound one-way street, in order to avoid conflicts with heavy right-turn movements and transit stops.  The conceptual design also includes two-stage turn-boxes following NACTO (National Association of Transportation Officials) guidance which are intended to provide cyclists a safe and comfortable way to cross Center Street.

The source of funding for the project is from the RTC Fuel Tax. $1,080,000.00 have been approved so far. The construction contract has yet to be awarded. The project is slated to begin in 2022.

Before the Center Street project was formalized, Truckee Meadows Bike Alliance volunteers went door-to-door in an effort to enlist the support of Center Street businesses in their proposal to RTC for a cycle track on Center Street. Samuelsen said the eye-to-eye lobbying paid off.

“We went kind of door-to-door to businesses down there and said, ‘Hey, it’d be great if there was a cycle track here. We’re going to kind of propose this. Would you sign on to our proposal?’ And they said, ‘yeah, well, how much parking is going to get taken out?’ Luckily, Center Street is so wide that it’s very little if any, especially in Midtown. Only then would they agree to sign on to it. So I’m really excited to see Center Street go in Midtown as well to see people show up by bike and see these merchants see some more full bike racks.”

Trieger said she wants to thank the Center Street business community for their support of better bike infrastructure.

“I also want to call out the business community, just in terms of allies. I was really surprised when we did go door-to-door on Center how much enthusiastic support we got from the business community. They wrote letters in support of our project. They came to meetings and spoke out at public comment about how they wanted to give up a couple of parking spaces to put this in. They were really fantastic. So businesses along Center deserve a lot of thanks for that.”

When asked about impediments or opposition to bicycle advocacy in the region, Trieger said finding time to volunteer is the biggest challenge. She and other advocates at the Bike Alliance have full-time jobs, which make it difficult to show up at city council or county commission or RTC Board meetings that occur during the work day. Trieger said she and others affiliated with the Bike Alliance hope to keep the pressure on administrators to complete the Center Street redo on-time and as-planned.

“The Center Street cycle track project is scheduled for 2022. It’s been approved by everybody that we can ask to approve it, and yet, there’s 3 years in between now and 2022. Keeping ourselves in the loop about what’s going on with the project and continuing to put pressure on and make sure that as agreed by everybody, this will go forward, it is a lot of responsibility and is challenging. So time is a tough thing. I don’t feel like we have anyone who’s standing up and saying, ‘no, I don’t want any of this.’ It’s just sort of, are we having enough people stand up and say, ‘I want this so bad that I’m going to keep pushing for it and keep my finger on it and keep going.’ That’s challenging.”

A freshly-painted bike lane at the intersection of California and Arlington in Reno, Nevada – image – Brian Bahouth

For Samuelsen the biggest obstacle to more northern Nevadans meeting their transportation needs on bicycles is an old and deeply seated bias.

“I think more of a roadblock is just the status quo of assuming that the majority people are going to get around using their car and only their car and just kind of chipping away at that mentality that maybe you can do 50 percent or 40 percent or 20 percent of your trips by bike. If we had 10 percent of trips regionally taken by bike, there would be bikes everywhere.”

Developments like Caughlin Ranch, Sommersett, Reno’s north valleys, Stead, Sparks north of Route 80, Fernley and others are all car-dependent development.  Samuelsen said far-flung housing is a disincentive to bicycle use.

“As you get farther out, I think you’re going to be hard pressed to convince people (to ride bicycles) just because of the pattern of development really makes it necessary to have a car out there unless you’re one of those like superhuman people that’s going to go ride giant hills every day.”

Looking to the future, Trieger said technology like electric bikes or e-bikes could open up areas of town for bike commuters that are currently outside the range of a typical biker.

“I think we have to think about those (far-flung housing developments) in terms of long term goals because especially with the rise of e-bikes and the territory that those open up for the average person of average fitness. Riding up to Caughlin Ranch every day doesn’t sound like a picnic, but on an e-bike with electric assist, great. That’s super fun. Maybe your commute is 15 miles out to South Meadows, great. Hop on your e-bike and you can do that in not much longer realistically than it’s gonna take you to drive.”

When asked about the future of biking in the Reno area, Trieger said she wants to see continued expansion of segregated cycle track within the entire McCarran loop.

“I really feel like you should be able to get anywhere within the McCarren loop on a bike reasonably. I want people to choose not to bike because they don’t want to or because they don’t feel like sweating, not because they can’t because the city hasn’t provided them a way to do that.”

Samuelsen looks ahead and sees the need for a completed grid of cycle track across Reno. He suggests that those who administer bicycle infrastructure be willing to sacrifice traffic lanes for cycle tracks.

“I think we need to work on just a minimum viable grid of protected cycle tracks. Cycle tracks that are safe for anybody aged 8 to 80 to ride by themselves, and just one grid of it, or maybe 2 north-south routes and 2 east-west routes.”

The bike lane near Wingfield Park in Downtown Reno. Reno is a patchwork of bike lanes and roadways unmarked for bike travel – image – Brian Bahouth

Even though the Truckee River bike path sends bikers onto surface streets in downtown Reno, the trail is a separate and safe venue for bikers that spans the valley east to west. And now with the planned improvements to Center Street, a north- south corridor of cycle track takes shape.

For Trieger and Samulesen, Reno needs to break its car town ethos and impel people onto human-powered transport. Joanna Tieger said that if the community builds good bike infrastructure, people will use it.

“I think that for some people, there’s more of a mental roadblock to biking than a logistical one. Truly, we live in an amazing city for bikes. We live in a big bowl with a flat bottom, so for most of the places in town, you don’t have to climb any hills to get to, especially if you’re kind of in Midtown to university area. We have, 300 days of sunshine per year. We do have fairly wide roads. We have cars that in my experience as a daily cyclist are actually pretty courteous and will give you space. So even if you’re someone who’s not that familiar with it, start on the small streets. Start on the side streets. Start on streets that do have better bike infrastructure and give it a try. I really feel like it’s less intimidating than people might think that it is.”

Music credits in order of appearance as reported through the Public Radio Exchange:

Song: Greenland
Artist: Emanicipator
Album: Safe in the Steep Cliffs
Label: Loci Records
Year: 2010
Duration: 1:25

Song: Rhythm Music
Artist: France and Dom
Album: Ambient Dreams
Label: Water Music Records
Year: 2002
Duration: 1:04

Song: Coasting
Artist: Gary Judd
Album: Ambient Dreams
Label: Water Music Records
Year: 2002
Duration: 2:32

Song: Viva Cepeda
Artist: Cal Djader
Album: Sabroso: The Afro-Latin Groove
Label: Rhino
Year: 1998
Duration: 2:09

Song: Roots
Artist: Sonny Henry
Album: Sabroso: The Afro-Latin Groove
Label: Rhino
Year: 1998
Duration: 0:22

Song: On The Spot
Artist: Geraldo Pino & The Heartbeats
Album: Heavy Heavy Heavy
Label: RetroAfric
Year: 2005
Duration: 1:21

Song: Shake Hands
Artist: Geraldo Pino & The Heartbeats
Album: Heavy Heavy Heavy
Label: RetroAfric
Year: 2005
Duration: 1:04

Song: Heavy Heavy Heavy
Artist: Geraldo Pino & The Heartbeats
Album: Heavy Heavy Heavy
Label: RetroAfric
Year: 2005
Duration: 1:06

Song: Sci-Fi Saloon
Artist: Hacienda
Album: Narrowed Eyes
Label: InfraCom!
Year: 1998
Duration: 1:07

Song: Flannel Sunset
Artist: Hacienda
Album: Narrowed Eyes
Label: InfraCom!
Year: 1998
Duration: 1:41

Song: Electric Diva
Artist: Hacienda
Album: Narrowed Eyes
Label: InfraCom!
Year: 1998
Duration: 2:09

Song: Fantastic Day Out
Artist: Hacienda
Album: Narrowed Eyes
Label: InfraCom!
Year: 1998
Duration: 1:12