SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Friday, June 3 is World Bicycle Day. In cities across the world, bikes are a major part of life, offering transportation, recreation and exercise. But exactly how bike-friendly is Sioux Falls?
In addition to a nearly 30-mile bike path, which is subject to expansion, Sioux Falls also contains a variety of bike routes, including bike lanes, ‘sharrows’ (lanes marked to be shared by cars and bicycles) and street-signed routes.
Asked to grade the city on its cycling infrastructure, Chad Pickard, President of Spoke-N-Sport bike shop, says he would give Sioux Falls a surprisingly good grade. “It’s not a popular opinion, but I would say an A-, or maybe a B+,” he said.
Pickard says that safety isn’t really about how a person feels. “It’s the reality,” he said. “Fortunately, there aren’t a ton of bike/car accidents. When they happen, it’s right around 90% happen in an area that’s very challenging, and that’s at crosswalks on roads.”
The biggest danger to cyclists, according to Pickard, is cars making right turns at stoplights. In these instances, a cyclist on the sidewalk approaching the intersection from behind can be easy to miss. In order to avoid a crash at these junctures, Pickard recommends dismounting your bike at the crosswalk.
“Get off your bike and walk across the crosswalk,” Pickard said. “Then you preserve your rights as a pedestrian.”
This point about pedestrian rights is important to mention because cyclists riding a bike actually fall into the category of vehicles. This means that the sidewalk isn’t necessarily the place for a cyclist.
“A cyclist has the rights to the road,” Pickard explained. “Just like any other vehicle, which means they need to follow the laws of the road — if they’re gonna operate like a vehicle, they need to operate in the roadway.”
Pickard does point out an important caveat for this rule: it does not apply to children. You should not let your children ride in the street.
In terms of what is available to cyclists in Sioux Falls, Pickard outlined plenty of options.
“Cycling opportunities are everywhere, whether you want to go for a bike ride — we have the bike trail around the city — there’s single track at some of the parks — we also have on-road infrastructure like sharrows and some bike lanes in a couple areas,” Pickard said.
These bike paths and routes are outlined on a map by the City of Sioux Falls.
One way to stay safe is to understand that there are some places that should just be avoided. “If you’re gonna ride from downtown to the mall, you would maybe jump in your car and go down Minnesota Avenue and then 41st [Street]. When you’re on a bike, you would do it completely different,” Pickard expressed. “You would actually go on the side streets where there’s less traffic and it’s much safer.”
Some examples Pickard gives of safer streets for cyclists; Summit for north and south, and 22nd for east and west.
Cycling infrastructure is important. As Pickard notes, not everyone can afford a car, and some also simply choose not to own one. Bikes provide a way to commute across the city, something that Pickard says is definitely possible in Sioux Falls. “If a city has roads, you can commute anywhere,” he said.
Pickard puts the size of Sioux Falls daily bicycle commuter at about 1-2% of the city’s population, meaning that a couple thousand residents peddle their way across the town each day.
Despite his high overall grade for Sioux Falls’ bicycle friendliness, Pickard does have a few complaints.
“We have two highways that go through downtown. Why we have highways that go through downtown, I’m not sure,” he said, stating that traffic moves too quickly through downtown on 10th and 12th streets.
Pickard also mentioned places where traffic bottlenecks, such as Cliff, Western and Minnesota Avenues where they reach I-229. “A bike lane through there would be awesome,” he said.
What Sioux Falls really needs though, said Pickard, is traffic infrastructure that slows down vehicles. Examples of infrastructure in this vein include speed bumps, roadway narrowing (and using the reclaimed space for bike lanes) and round-a-bouts.
In order to increase the use of bicycles as transportation, as well as boosting traffic safety, Pickard is a staunch advocate of cycling and driving education within the school system.
For those looking to get into cycling, Pickard had plenty of advice.
“There’s always bikes available at Center for Hope. They have a program that gets bikes into the hands of people in need — really inexpensive bike — they’re used bikes,” he said. “For those with money, new bikes are an option. We actually carry a lot of used bikes that have been tuned up.”
As for those concerned about their ability to ride regularly, Pickard urges you to just commit. “Maybe it’s not even a personal commitment, but just grabbing a friend and saying, ‘Hey, let’s bike to work.'”
He recommends taking a day in which you have time to explore and figure out how you’ll get where you need to go.
To assist in planning routes, Pickard points out that Google Maps shows bike routes and directed riders to city maps and local bike groups.
These bike groups are a resource Pickard really encourages people to look into, noting that beginners are welcome. “Most cyclists are happy to share their knowledge and everything they know about bikes, which is great,” he said.
As a final resource, “go to your local bike shop,” said Pickard. “We’d love to have your business, but go to your local bike shop, ask them questions. There’s a wealth of knowledge.”