The North Little Rock City Council on April 22 voted to amend the city’s Master Street Plan to update the community’s bicycle plan.

The action came after several weeks’ worth of work by a volunteer city committee who assessed the different neighborhoods in town and come up with a better-revised bicycle plan.

"The City Council has adopted legislation instructing the Community Planning Department to coordinate and update the City’s Bicycle Plan on an annual basis," states a report given to the council by Bicycle Committee member Judith McDowall. "A Bicycle Friendly Community Committee was formed to advance the Bicycle Plan update. The committee includes a wide range of individuals involved with bicycling, advocacy groups, City planning and health personnel, and elected officials. This group endorsed the general proposal of developing a citywide system of safe paths, lanes, and suggested routes connecting major parks, schools, community centers, commercial areas and other destinations."

McDowall said it is the goal of the Plan to transform the community to allow cycling to become a valid alternative to the automobile for transportation purposes.

"The League of American Bicyclists awarded the City a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community designation in 2009 for advancements and accomplishments over the past decade," she said. "It is hoped that efforts of this plan will provide an outline for advancing the community to a higher award through continued progress in making the City truly bicycle friendly."

McDowall said the federal transportation bill known as, "Moving Ahead for Progress in the Twenty-First Century (MAP-21)", requires local governments explore and encourage alternatives to automobile transportation. Transportation by bicycle is an option widely used in other countries and many U.S. cities, but limited locally.

"Some of the reasons for the lack of cycling for daily transportation include the hilly terrain, the hot and humid climate, the lack of bicycle racks or showers at end destinations, the real and perceived danger of riding in local traffic, and the lack of a separated trails system," said McDowall. "The physical barriers restricting use include freeways and rail yards that dissect the community, limited connections in the local street system and the extensive use of cul-de-sacs, all of which prevent convenient connections."

She said the primary reason more cycling does not occur is the fact that it can be dangerous. Leading causes for this danger include: (1) most streets in the area are too narrow to provide designated bike lanes, (2) automobile speeds are too fast, and (3) the general public is not conditioned to respect the cyclist as a vehicle of the road.

"Due to these constraints, cycling is likely to be associated more with recreation, exercise, or visits to neighborhood parks than a serious option for commuting. The Bicycle Friendly Community Committee’s challenge is to reverse or reduce some of these obstacles," McDowall said.

McDowall said there were some important goals to updating the bicycle plan, some of which include:

1.Provide relatively safe transportation by bicycle to major parks, schools, community centers, commercial areas and other destinations;

2. Identify cross-city connections for work commuting, errands, access to trails, and connecting to other regional routes;

3.Improve bicycle safety education and awareness within the community; and

4.Encourage bicycling as a means of transportation.

McDowall said the committee wanted to enhance the bicycle plan so that the use of bikes would be a safe mode of transportation.

She said the plan is designed to provide relatively safe transportation by bicycle to major parks, schools, community centers, commercial areas and other destinations.

"The ideal safe bicycle facility would provide paths separated from motorized vehicles and designed properly to accommodate 18 MPH cycling speeds," according to McDowall.

She said a good example is the Arkansas River Trail.

"Still, as the Arkansas River Trail has become a popular destination, the mixing of pedestrians, their pets, skaters, runners, and cyclists has resulted in conflicts," said McDowall. "Even with separate facilities, courtesy and user rules are required for a safe and pleasant experience. The Parks and Recreation Department have implemented informational signs at trailheads. These signs contain safety reminders and rules for the area that are important for all users of the trail system."

McDowall said the plan’s focus is providing a safe setting for cyclists of any comfort and skill level. "This means providing bike paths and trails where possible, followed by providing bike lanes," she said. "Some cyclists join street traffic and follow normal traffic flow. Other cyclists do not feel comfortable riding in street traffic and will seek to ride where there is a greater feeling of safety. (A) safe means of transportation for cyclists must accommodate all levels of experience."

Roadways that have traffic volume, pavement width, and speeds suited for use as a bike path or lane are limited in the city, she added.

"However, paths, lanes and enhanced roadway shoulders give cyclists a greater sense of protection from motorized vehicles and should be implemented wherever possible. Visual cues such as signs and striped lanes along these systems are important to keep motorists aware of cyclists. All signs shall be retro-reflectorized for use on bike paths, bike lanes, and bike routes," said McDowall.

Another goal of the plan is to provide cross-city connections for bike users.

The plan is designed to identify cross-city connections for work commuting, errands, access to trails, and connecting to other regional routes.

Major connections across the city would include interconnecting bike paths, lanes, and routes to reach key destinations.

"The purpose of these connections is to provide a relatively safe way to travel across the city for commuting, errands, recreational use, and transportation outside of the city," McDowall said. "While some cyclists may develop their own habitual routes across the city, routes marked with way finding would promote and encourage the use of such a system. Cyclists and motorists will become familiar with the routes and awareness will increase."