If you want to bike to a major shopping or recreational area in Mesa, the most direct route likely features a convenient bicycle lane — just a couple feet next to six lanes of traffic zooming by at 45 mph.
The city’s transportation planners have realized this is not exactly the best way to entice drivers to hop on their bikes for even the shortest of trips.
So Mesa has established a 67-mile network of bicycle routes to major destinations that are separate from bike lanes on busy streets. The six new routes are numbered, and new signs help guide bicyclists to places across the city.
Mesa has been getting questions about the signs since they went up a month ago and is trying to encourage cyclists to try the more friendly routes. Planners knew the city’s network of bike lanes on arterial roads were geared more toward hardcore cyclists who were into racing or commuting, said Mark Venti, a senior transportation engineer.
“People want to have more ways to get to places besides the arterial streets,” Venti said.
The routes go across Mesa, to places that include Fiesta and Superstition Springs malls, Hohokam Park, Mesa Riverview and several other parks and schools. The routes don’t feature lane stripes like bicycle lanes, so the signs help direct cyclists as routes turn onto different streets.
The city is considering additional signs to indicate destinations and the distance to them, much like signs along highways. Budget constraints may not make that possible immediately, Venti said.
“That’s ultimately the goal,” Venti said. “Anything that encourages people to ride their bike.”
The numbered routes are the start of Mesa having a more robust bicycle plan, and a network to go along with it.
A $70 million parks and recreation bond package headed to the November ballot would include some funding for new bike paths along canals. That will help the city expand paths and trails.
“Our arterial system is pretty good with bike lanes. Wherever there’s an arterial, we’ve been trying to include a bike lane,” Venti said. “Now we’re trying to move into an era where we’re trying to provide more off-street or lower-stress streets.”
The routes are designated on new city maps of bike routes, which are available at Mesa libraries and recreation centers.
The city doesn’t have immediate plans to expand the new route system, but Venti said Mesa is open to suggestions from cyclists about additions. The routes are in part a reaction to increased interest in cycling and other ways to get around without taking a car, he said.
Bicycle commuting in Mesa is roughly average for a community of its size, Venti said. About 0.9 percent of commuters bike to work, according to 2000 Census data.
But automobile-dominated cities are becoming more open to other ways of getting around.
“I think a lot of Western cities are going through transformations,” Venti said. “People who are new or who have been living there for years say we can enjoy our city more by walking around or biking around instead of just driving.”
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