Thursday, June 13, 2019

Charlotte Cycle Track 101

Charlotte has a cycle track! If that doesn't immediately excite you, read on to find out why it should.

What's a cycle track?
A cycle track is protected bike lane. And not just a white strip of paint politely suggesting that cars give a bike rider some breathing room. It's its own two-way mini-road, set apart from traffic by physical barriers.

Where is it?
Charlotte's new cycle track runs from the Little Sugar Creek Greenway on 7th St. to the Charlotte Rail Trail on 6th St. uptown.

So, what's the big deal?
Now, folks can safely commute on two wheels (pollution-free and with some fresh air and exercise thrown in) to and from uptown to work or play. This is great news for all Charlotteans, even non-bike riders. Fewer cars means less traffic and cleaner air for the city. Win, win, win.

How do I try out the cycle track?
I recommend starting at the 7th St. end of the track and heading west, into town. The cycle track trailhead starts where the Little Sugar Creek Greenway trail ends behind CPCC's Philip L. Van Every Culinary Arts Center (425 N. Kings Dr.).

To get to this trailhead, you can follow any number of bike-friendly routes from whichever part of town your traveling. Or, you can park in the Elizabeth Park parking lot at 1124 E. 4th St. and follow the Little Sugar Creek Greenway a short stretch toward 7th. St.

The cycle track will take you over and under I-277 as you make your way to McDowell St. Take a left at McDowell (this stretch is on the sidewalk), then a right a block later onto 6th St. Follow 6th St. to where the cycle track ends at the Lynx light rail track, which is where the Charlotte Rail Trail begins.

From one end to the other, the cycle track is 0.75 miles.

Any tips on navigating the cycle track?
Yes. Start by checking out this safety video. I think the most important tip is to follow pedestrian signals. Especially on your way back out of town, where, on 6th St. (a one-way street), the traffic signals are facing the other direction. It's harder to anticipate what cross-traffic is doing as you approach an intersection.

You should also yield to oncoming cyclists and pedestrians when making turns. And when you're waiting to cross 6th St., position yourself in the green "bike box," an area marked by paint where cars ought to give you safe space.

Drivers, it seems like it should go without saying, but, please, do not park in the bike lanes. Seriously. Also, watch for bikes in green zones (at intersections and places where there are no physical barriers) and yield to pedestrians and cyclists when turning right.

So, what's there to do along the cycle track?
Lots! At the east end, you're on the Sugar Creek Greenway, which most immediately puts you in proximity to all of the shops and restaurants at the Metropolitan. It's also where the Charlotte Trail of History begins.

The west end of the cycle track puts you just behind Imaginon, the 7th Street Public Market, and First Ward Park.

Why a cycle track?
There are 34 lanes for cars running east/west through uptown, and zero dedicated bike options. The Charlotte Department of Transportation teamed up with Charlotte Center City Partners to develop the Uptown Connects study, which identified challenges of bicycling in Uptown Charlotte and provided a series of recommendations to make cycling more comfortable and safer. The cycle track was one of those recommendations. The cycle track route was chosen because it has the least impact on traffic. A pilot project showed it added only 5 minutes to a car commute along the same route, and I'd be surprised if it's even that much on a typical day.

Anything else?
Yes. The inbound ride will remind you why we call it "uptown" in Charlotte. But it's a gentle climb. And worth the effort for a lot of reasons. Also, there's more cycle track coming! There are plans to extend the current stretch to Irwin Creek Greenway by 2021.

So, there you have it. Charlotte cycle track 101. I'm excited. I hope you are now, too.

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