After contentious online commentary, and lengthy public testimony at yesterday’s City Council meeting, Midtown and downtown are getting bike lanes to and from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), but near term plans put them, as decided in July, on the side streets.
The City Council voted 5-2 in favor of sticking with the Regional Transportation Commission’s (RTC) current plans for Midtown’s Virginia Street redesigns.
Councilmembers David Bobzien and Jenny Brekhus voted against the motion, saying that they wanted more exploration of pedestrian and bike traffic and moving parking elsewhere.
“Are we thinking about a driving neighborhood or a walkable neighborhood here?” Brekhus asked. “A lot of this conversation is about how to drive around this area.”
While Midtown business owners were opposed to bike lanes on Virginia Street if it lead to a reduction in parking spaces that couldn’t be relocated elsewhere, members of the Great Streets Coalition were advocating for the bike lanes.
Midtown business owners, however, said that the coalition was misleading Midtown businesses with its bike lane advocacy.
Businessman Tim Carter said that “literally every business owner that we talked to … didn’t get the whole story.”
Eric Madison, of the Midtown District business association, but speaking for himself, said that information put out by the coalition misrepresented business interests.
“As business owners in Midtown, we would like to keep parking,” Madison said.
The city clerk said that 29 Midtown business owners called and emailed the city prior to the meeting in opposition to reducing parking in favor of bike lanes on Virginia Street.
Reno City Councilmember Naomi Duerr proposed that bike lanes on Virginia Street in Midtown be held open for the future for when parking can developed elsewhere.
RTC staff responded that it was possible.
Current plans include shared bike/car lanes with a reduced speed limit and sections with shared bike and bus lanes on Virginia Street, similar to what already exists further south on the street.
Bike lanes are also planned on Center and Sierra Streets. RTC said the bike lanes could be put in before next summer.
RTC Planning Director Amy Cummings said that it’s preliminary but “it looks like it’s feasible to get bike lanes through those corridors downtown.”
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve chastised Midtowners for what she said were caustic comments on social media debating the issue of bike lanes and parking.
“I don’t appreciate the Facebook posts and identities going out and slamming this council or anyone else in Midtown that has put a lot of their hard work and investment in that street,” she said. “To see this divide has been so disappointing — so disappointing, and you guys need each other to be successful.”
She added that she was for bike lanes, “but I’m not for bike lanes in dangerous places.”
UNR President Marc Johnson urged the council to make a quick decision on the street designs. Any delay, he said, pushes back UNR’s expansion plans.
“This (Midtown) project will determine the western boundary of our gateway project and we can’t move forward until we have resolution on this,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of construction on campus, and the more delays we have, the costs go up.
“It’s urgent for us to get this project defined so that we can move ahead with our plans.”
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.