I’ve recently moved.
While this was a happy occasion with many perks, a downside was the increase in travel time to work, from five miles to ten miles. This may seem like nothing to you motor vehicle users, but to me, a cyclist, it means a world of difference. Not only am I located five miles more away from my workplace, I am located outside of the Watterson Expressway.
Louisville has five major roadways, 64, 71, 264, 265 and 65. Interstate 64 travels east and west through the middle of the city, and 264, the Henry Watterson Expressway ie ‘the Watterson’, travels in a loop around the city.
My colleague says you never want to live outside of the Watterson. For urbanites this is true. For cyclists, I now understand, it holds even more truth.
For a cyclist, living outside of the Watterson means travelling underneath it. Travelling underneath it means cycling down a high speed roadway that motor vehicles exit and enter at high speeds as well. It is dark and musty under there. Gone are the bike lanes, or even sidewalks. It is no ped land. It exists solely for motorized vehicles.
Yet, this morning, I finally took the plunge. I spent many hours considering and calculating my route. I also used Google maps and its trusty bike route tool that gave me three options and times to reach my destination (approximately one hour). So I woke at 5:30, in order to leave by 6:30, and to reach my workplace by 7:30. The first ten minutes were easy neighborhood streets, plus the fact that it was 6:30 in the morning and not many were on the road at this time. But when I reached the dreaded overpass on the high volume roadway, I was nervous. My heart was pounding. It did not matter that there were not many cars. Was I visible?!
I clung to the edge, the white line. I switched to the shoulder with the debris, feeling slightly more protected there. Thank goodness I had lights because it was dark under there. Would drivers see me? Would I be hit?
I finally made it out. But that wasn’t the end. I was right next to a merging lane that exited the interstate onto my busy roadway. What would I do? Stay in the right lane? Switch to the merge lane? Where will people see me best? And they were all driving way too fast.
Finally, there was a sidewalk. I immediately switched to it. I had absolutely no desire to be on the busy roadway.
Ahead, a shining bike lane appeared, a cordoned bike lane for that matter. I was ecstatic. I had never wished more for a designated bike lane. It offered Protection, Safety. There was a sewer running along side it. Who cares?! Life was carefree again.
And then, I was within the Watterson Expressway loop again. I was near the city center. Drivers were real, respectful human beings again, driving at lower speeds. Within the loop there were designated bike lanes.
Cycling underneath an overpass (or over an overpass) is the least safe thing you could do on a bike. In Louisville, no bike lanes exist anywhere near these heavy volume, high speed areas. I don’t really understand why because it seems the place where they are needed the most.
A happy solution to this specific lack in bike lanes would be to add some, or even better, to narrow or reduce the motor vehicle lanes and simultaneously add a bike lane. This has been done in the Netherlands.
However, that is not to say that Louisville, KY does not have a burgeoning cycling scene. Our local government has spent much time and money developing bike lanes throughout the city, including the Louisville Loop, a 100-mile bike lane that travels around the city, much like a couple of our interstates. In fact, we recently reached silver status as a bicycle friendly community by the League of American Cyclists. Yet we have more work to do in order to expand our urban bike lanes and connect more riders to accessible and safe routes throughout the city, within or outside of the Henry Watterson Loop.