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Charleston unveils proposal for Boulevard bike lanes

Two 1.8-mile-long bike lanes could soon be along a section of Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston if a plan unveiled at a public hearing Tuesday night materializes.

The bike lanes would be built on the riverside of the boulevard from the Patrick Street bridge to Magic Island. The lanes would share the same section of new asphalt but would be split by direction -- one eastbound and one westbound.

The plan would keep all four lanes on Kanawha Boulevard but eliminate the median and reduce the width of each vehicle lane to 11 feet. A grass strip varying in width and an 8-inch-high curb would separate the two 4-foot-wide bike lanes from the boulevard.

An existing asphalt path for pedestrians would remain part of the project. Five crosswalks would be added between West Side streets and the pedestrian path, though the crosswalks wouldn't be part of a traffic light.

"This is all going to come down to budget," City Manager David Molgaard said.

The project is only in the planning stage. A cost and a timeframe have not been set, but construction could begin as early as next spring. The city wants to gauge public opinion and gather input on the project before creating a final design and budget.

"This is going to happen," Molgaard said. "Something will happen."

The two bike lanes would begin near the Patrick Street Plaza and would then follow the Boulevard to an overlook at Magic Island. From there, cyclists could continue east or turn around at Magic Island and return west.

The design also calls for new parking spaces near Drug Emporium and Lovell Street. Parking has also been discussed under the Interstate 64 overpass.

"This project is compatible with any expansion," said David Clevenger, a principal at Charleston-based TRC Companies, Inc., which helped with the initial design of the bike lanes.

GAI Consultants, also based in Charleston, is the other firm assisting with the project.

Members of the public at the hearing expressed concern about vehicular speed and safety of cyclists and pedestrians using the walkway and bike lanes. The speed on the boulevard in the West Side is 40 mph, except for a section near the western end of the Boulevard where the limit drops to 25 mph.

Clevenger said the 8-inch-high curb is designed to stop cars from jumping the Boulevard and driving into the bike lane. However, he said, the curb likely wouldn't stop cars traveling at very high speeds, if such an incident were to ever occur.

New crosswalks would be at Tennessee Avenue, Delaware Avenue, Park Drive, Lovell Drive and Fitzgerald Street. Existing crosswalks at Pennsylvania and Florida avenues would be kept.

"We would like to heighten drivers' awareness to pedestrian crosswalks as much as possible," said Mark Shawl of GAI Consultants.

Concerning speed limits, Molgaard said city council is responsible for those changes and that limits could be changed as needs warrant. Traffic could slow down on its own, though, once changes to the Boulevard are made.

"We're always trying to strike a balance," Shawl said. "We're trying to keep traffic flow as it is today, but we're trying to create a pedestrian element in the city."

Money for the project is available for repurposed federal funds from the trestle project, which would have converted the abandoned CSX railroad bridge over the Kanawha River into a bicycle and pedestrian crossing.

While that project isn't off the table, funding could not be identified to complete the project at the present.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.


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