By: Pat LaFleur
NEWPORT, Ky. — Northern Kentucky's first protected bike lane opened along Saratoga Street in Newport this week -- so quickly that some might have missed it.City officials and bike safety advocates cut the ceremonial ribbon Wednesday evening on the bright green bike lanes now running along Saratoga, Fifth and Sixth Streets north to the Purple People Bridge. The bike lanes are considered "protected" because they provide cones as a visual barrier to separate bike traffic from other vehicle traffic.
Despite their bold coloring, the lanes are currently in a temporary pilot phase, said Wade Johnston.Johnston heads up Tri-State Trails, a wing of the regional sustainability group Green Umbrella, and spent this past summer developing the Connect NKY program
in order to assess Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties' need for improved on-street bicycle infrastructure.
"There's not a ton of on-road bike infrastructure in Newport or in Northern Kentucky for that matter, but we know there's a huge demand for it," Johnston told WCPO at Wednesday's ribbon cutting. "The Purple People Bridge is a huge artery that people use to get back and forth to Ohio. That's why this project comes off the bridge because it captures that traffic and helps distribute it safely out into the neighborhood."
By Tri-State Trails' estimate, nearly 2,000 people cross the pedestrian- and bicycle-only bridge every day. On its northern end, the bridge connects to the Ohio River Trail, which currently runs east from Downtown toward Anderson Township. In Newport, the bridge connects to the in-progress Riverfront Commons trail project.
"The idea is that we can show support for making more investments in on-road bike infrastructure, and hopefully the city will consider making them permanent," Johnston said.
At least one of Newport's political leaders might already be on-board with the idea: City Commissioner Beth Fennell didn't just attend Wednesday's ribbon cutting, but she also read a proclamation recognizing Johnston's team of volunteers and helped cut the ribbon.
Johnston said that he hopes small "demonstration projects" like this will help illustrate the region's need for better connections between its already-existing network of bike trails.
"Right now our region has a lot of biking facilities, but they're not well-connected," Johnston said. "So we hop that through this type of demonstration project we can show that connectivity is really key to getting people to feel safe and making that choice to walk or bike or ride a scooter for that matter to get from point A to point B."The bike lanes will remain in place until Sunday, Oct. 20, when volunteers will disassemble them. Johnston said the next step then will be to assess its use over the week pilot and develop a plan to pitch a permanent installation to city officials.