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NDOT’s Kietzke Lane Safety Management Plan study is the best thing to happen to roadways in Reno since… ever?

At the July 10, 2013 Reno City Council meeting, a representative from the Nevada Department of Transportation presented a study and recommendations for improving the conditions on Kietzke Lane in Reno along the right-of-way where Kietzke is a state highway.

Usually you hear about state DOT’s as boogeymen for good urban planning. The cliché is that DOT’s are all about moving cars, and frequently as a result of this, pedestrians, people on wheelchairs, and cyclists suffer an undue burden. Nowhere in Reno is this more true than along the Kietzke Lane alignment from South Virginia Street on the south to about the DMV on the north. This is precisely the area that NDOT’s study looked at.

A not unusual example of what it looks like on Kietzke. Imagine being a pedestrian there!

The presentation was full of photos of the current conditions. There are no sidewalks in many areas. ADA ramps for wheelchairs end at utility poles that are in the middle of an abruptly ended sidewalk with raised concrete preventing further movement in the char. Bike lanes randomly start and stop.

The proposals are exactly what would be needed to position Reno as a 21st-century city with strong infrastructure for all users. Buffered bike lanes, bike boxes (!!!!), sidewalk continuity, pedestrian island medians, improved lighting throughout the corridor… this is the kind of stuff they’re talking about.

Unfortunately, there are some problems, not least among them being the conservative elements on the city council, and the concerns those representatives have that businesses in the area will object to the street parking being taken away. Many of the businesses on Kietzke Lane are car dealerships.

image This strip of Kietzke Lane is missing the bike lane that exists just a few hundred yards south, has no sidewalks to speak of, utility poles, and a tattered assortment of fences separating it from the surrounding streets.

Consistent sidewalks conforming at least to the minimum ADA requirement of 36” width, plus buffered bike lanes, would make this area not only much more safe and functional for all users, but it would also make the area much more attractive.

A community’s aesthetics go a long way toward how it is perceived by itself and its visitors.

It’s actually possible to keep street parking, enhance bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and make the roadway safer and more efficient. NDOT’s proposal calls for using buffer strips to isolate the bicycles from the auto traffic. The buffer strips would be zones where there would be no street parking. But if the buffer strips were used as street parking, cyclists would have a layer of protection from the auto traffic in the form of the stationary vehicles separating the two. Street parking would be retained to the satisfaction of nearby businesses.

Other ways to mitigate this problem include signage directing visitors by car to offstreet parking. The NDOT rep was quite adamant that there’s adequate offstreet parking, and it’s hard to disagree. Much of this corridor is composed of strip malls with their own parking. Many of the most intensive uses have adequate parking available behind them on sidestreets. NDOT, the RTC and city traffic engineering department could work together to devise ways to flow the traffic from Kietzke Lane to the adjacent streets, taking significant strain off the one roadway and opening up opportunities for the businesses on the side streets. This would also have the advantage of promoting opportunities for street grid repair.

A buffered bike lane. Source: City of Seattle

At the end of the day, the real issue is that the middle of town is no place for a state highway. NDOT’s proposal is visionary, and would help place Reno in a category of cities known for having top-notch transportation infrastructure for all users. This project deserves your support. Contact the city council and the mayor, and encourage them to support this innovative proposal to repair one of urban Reno’s least attractive corridors. Here’s a list of the priority 1 recommendations.