It wasn’t too long ago that bicycling in the Las Vegas Valley was on par with white-water rafting and running with the bulls. Recently, valley cities and Clark County have worked toward making cycling safer, more convenient and a mainstream commuting alternative.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is working with the county and the cities to create more bicycle lanes and trails and increase connectivity between routes.
“Just last year, over 100 miles of bike lanes were added in the valley,” said David Swallow, director of engineering services at the RTC. “Because there are more people riding, and more people are aware of bicyclists, drivers are giving them accommodations that they may not have historically.”
Even though cycling has become more common in the valley, riders remain harder to see than larger modes of transportation, and cyclists are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and safety. Wearing safety vests and helmets are encouraged.
In October 2011, a law went into effect in Nevada that requires motorists to give bicyclists 3 feet of room when passing or to switch lanes if possible.
In some places, the RTC has looked for creative options when looking at bike-ability.
“We noticed that cyclists were riding in the bus lane on Sahara (Avenue), and it was working well. We talked to them, and they said they felt safe there, and the RTC doesn’t have a problem with it, so we made it an official shared lane and put up signage to that effect. The buses just drive around the cyclists.”
About 10 miles of Sahara Avenue have the new designation, and the RTC is looking at doing the same thing with Flamingo Road and others.
The cities are looking at ways to make cycling more commuter- and leisure-friendly, also.
“We’re applying to be a Bicycle Friendly Community,” said Kathleen Richards, spokeswoman for the city of Henderson. “We’re submitting our application, and if it’s accepted, we’ll be the first in Southern Nevada.”
The designation is bestowed on communities providing safe accommodation and facilities for bicyclists and those that encourage residents to cycle for transportation and recreation by the League of American Bicyclists.
Richards said Henderson has 184 miles of bicycle-friendly trails in addition to bicycle lanes on the city’s streets, and connectivity among all the routes is a long-term goal. She added that there often are cycling valets at special events.
Easily identifiable, bright green, dedicated bicycle lanes are now a common sight in downtown Las Vegas.
“The city of Las Vegas spearheaded the implementation of bike lanes downtown,” Swallow said. “The RTC is managing Complete Streets design projects to make roadways safe for all users. The idea is to make them more conducive to the on-street vibrancy that you’d expect in a downtown area.”
The redesign adds bicycle lanes and landscaping and widens the sidewalks. In most cases, the roads were wider than required for the speed and traffic flow downtown, and officials retain on-street parking while adding the green lanes.
Most RTC buses are equipped with bicycle racks, and Swallow said it’s not uncommon for a commuter to ride a bicycle to the bus stop, take it most of the way to the destination and finish the commute by cycling.
Downtown commuters can take advantage of the RTC Bike Center in the Bonneville Transit Center. It includes 85 indoor spaces where cyclists can park free between 7 a.m and 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and more racks outdoors. A $5 monthly membership to the center grants riders access to showers, lockers and unlimited tuneups by an on-site mechanic.
The websites of the RTC, the county and the cities offer trail maps, including comprehensive valley maps and more detailed maps of individual trails.
“There are also several groups, like Hammer & Cycle and Blinking Man, that organize social rides,” Swallow said. “Riding your bike is one of the best ways to connect to your community. You’ll see a lot more and notice a lot more about where you live on a bike.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.