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When it comes to publicly funded infrastructure projects, government officials like to call them "improvements." That, in truth, is a subjective evaluation. Such projects might be more neutrally termed "changes," but the folks who design them naturally are drawn to the view that what they do offers upgrades, enhancements or advances to the status quo.

Northwest Arkansas has lots of changes going on, a lot of them make room in local transportation systems for bicycles after years of car-centric designs. Whether they're improvements depends on who one asks.

What’s the point?

Projects to gauge public reaction to bike lanes are getting what city leaders have asked for: reactions.

Generally, people embrace the concept of creating safer spaces for pedestrians and bicycles. But take, for example, Rolling Hills Drive in Fayetteville. Judging by the number of letters to the editor this newspaper has received raising questions, the pilot project to gauge public response to protected bike lanes on Rolling Hills Drive is in for a bumpy ride if the city tries to make it permanent.

Transportation officials say the project, driven like so many changes in Northwest Arkansas by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, is temporary, a tactic to measure public response before anything permanent is done. From that perspective, we'll give the city a Bushian "mission accomplished."

Fayetteville isn't alone and certainly not a villain in the effort on Rolling Hills. The push to make cycling a safer experience, even a transportation alternative, is a hot topic throughout Northwest Arkansas.

Just last week in Springdale, Planning Commission members took a look at a consulting firm's "safe streets" draft report -- again, funded through the Walton Family Foundation -- that emphasizes a multi-faceted transportation system friendly to cars, cyclists and pedestrians. A pilot bike lane project in Springdale, on Holcomb Street and Maple Avenue, has sparked complaints to city officials.

That there's a demand for a more complex and integrated transportation system really isn't, or shouldn't be, the issue. People appear to want a greater capacity built into city streets and trails for alternatives to the long-dominant automobile. It's how each project is implemented and how much it interferes with drivers' comfort zones that appear to influence acceptance.

Let's call these growing pains, a subject with which Northwest Arkansas is quite familiar. Creating a network that makes cycling a natural and safer option will take a while.

The whole point of temporary pilot projects is to gauge reaction. So, in a word, react. Let city leaders know the concerns. Over time and with public feedback, the path to a more complete system for moving people around will get less bumpy.

Commentary on 01/21/2019

Print Headline: A rough ride

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