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Group works with state for safe bike routes

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Constructing the first bike lane in the Kanawha Valley was a dream come true for Dennis Strawn, the Mountain State Wheelers' unofficial bicycle advocacy coordinator.

Strawn, on behalf of the Wheelers, had been working with the state of West Virginia and the Regional Intergovernmental Council to promote safe routes for bicyclists for over a decade -- most notably assisting in the placement of "Share the Road" signs around the Kanawha Valley.

Last year those agencies agreed to construct an 11-mile bike lane along U.S. 60 from Amandaville through St. Albans and Jefferson to the Dunbar Toll Bridge in South Charleston.  Construction was finished in November 2011.

"We thought it was great," Strawn said. "An east-west corridor is logical for anyone commuting in the valley."

Strawn said a recent transportation study showed that MacCorkle Avenue and Washington Street have the most pedestrian and bicycle accidents of anywhere in the Regional Intergovernmental Council's jurisdiction, thus providing rationale for the bike lane.

The lane also may be an indicator of biking's future in the state.

In April, Huntington completed a new bike lane as part of a reconstruction project along Fourth Avenue. And throughout the month of May, the state Department of Transportation will hold public meetings in eight cities across the state to discuss a statewide bike route system consisting of 10 routes and three loops, many of which would connect to systems in other states.

The public meeting in Charleston will be 4 p.m. Monday at the City Service Center at the corner of Dickinson and Quarrier Streets in the bottom floor of the Municipal Parking Building.

Still, the bike lane has not been without critics, particularly those who think the 6-foot lane for slower bicycle and pedestrian traffic is too close to a higher-speed road. The speed limit on MacCorkle Avenue is 50 mph along much of the bike lane's length.

Heidi Talmage, the Wheelers' secretary, agreed there are some safety concerns.

"The people that I've seen along it appear to be commuters," she said. "But I feel unsafe in a car on that road sometimes, so I've not taken the chance to go out on a bicycle yet."

Strawn thinks warmer weather will cause more people to use the lane and usage will increase more if it is extended to Kanawha City, where an existing bike route -- not bike lane -- already exists.

"People in Huntington want a bike lane on U.S. 60 all the way (from Charleston)," he said. "We're trying to keep everything connected."


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