It didn’t take long for cyclists to start using Lincoln’s 17-block-long protected bike lane that opened less than two wintry weeks ago.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” said city traffic engineer Lonnie Burklund. “I’ve seen anywhere from three or four cyclists on it to a dozen cyclists. I think it’s pretty cool that people are using it.”
Too many people, it turns out. Since it opened Dec. 21, the $3.2 million N Street Bike Track has also attracted the very vehicles it was designed to keep out — cars and trucks — and cyclists have reported having to share their new road with motorists.
“It was kind of ironic,” said Gary Bentrup, who took a Christmas Eve photo of a Prius and a minivan behind a cyclist in the bike lane near Antelope Valley Parkway.
Bentrup, a Great Plains Trails Network board member, posted the picture on the group’s Facebook page: “Looks like we see need to work on education regarding the N Street Protected Bikeway,” he wrote. “At least they didn’t take out the cyclist.”
Luke Peterson came a little too close to being taken out last week while waiting for a red light at the same intersection. A southbound driver nearly turned into the bike lane — and into him.
“The divider totally threw the woman off,” he said. “So I just pointed to the right lane over, and she did that.”
The bike lane is controlled by its own signals, marked by green paint and separated from traffic by curbs and dividers. And that could be confusing some drivers, Bentrup said.
“The divider looks like a median. They think it’s a median and that they need to be on that side of it.”
Cyclists say the problem is worse east of 17th Street, where N is a two-way. Southbound motorists turning left are swinging wide right and entering the bike lane.
As of Wednesday, Lincoln police hadn’t stopped or cited anyone for driving in the bike-only lane. But the city is aware of the problem, Burklund said.
Starting next week, the city plans to add more street striping at certain intersections to help keep cars in their designated lanes while turning. It will also install more 3- or 4-foot tall reflective plastic tubes — known as candlesticks — in and near the bike lane to deter motorized traffic.
On the Great Plains Trails page, several cyclists suggested the city install steel posts or pylons to keep cars out. But Burklund said the plastic tubes should have a similar effect while being more forgiving if cars do hit them.
The city had anticipated some confusion, holding a news conference even before the lane opened to promote its educational campaign — including a website and instructional videos to teach cyclists, pedestrians and motorists how to navigate N Street.
And Burklund expects fewer problems once the learning curve levels out.
Despite the occasional car, cyclists like Peterson are grateful for the protected lane — the first in Nebraska — designed to connect the Haymarket with Antelope Valley trails and beyond.
The route makes for a safer commute downtown, he said.
“I’d rather be in the protected bike lane so then I know the cars will not hit me. If they’re not driving in the lane, it’s perfect.”