Center Street Cycle Track derailed?

Casinos want more study of bikeway plan approved in 2019

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: A cyclist navigates Virginia Street through MIdtown Reno on Aug. 29. On that section of Virginia, motor vehicles and bicycles share the same narrow lanes. The Center Street Cycle Track would create a buffer between bike lanes and vehicles.

Advocates of the Center Street Cycle Track fear that downtown Reno casinos’ request for further study of the years-old plan, with 30% of its design completed, will delay or re-configure the university-to-Midtown project.

The Center Street plan, the result of years of deliberation and planning, is the City of Reno’s and the Regional Transportation Commission’s preferred alternative to create a safe, two-way bicycle route through the downtown core to fill what RTC says is “a major gap in the city’s cycling network.” The Row – an umbrella name for downtown Reno’s three major casinos owned by Caesar’s Entertainment – now wants planners to step back and reconsider the route’s effect on their properties on Virginia Street.

The RTC says the proposed reevaluation, which would be a part of a “Placemaking” study to be considered by the Reno City Council in September, is needed to make sure all possible options for cycle routes are considered, particularly as housing takes the place of older hotel/casino properties. Advocates worry that any attempt to get the cycle track re-routed to include the core segment of Virginia Street will undermine — or substantially delay — the long-anticipated Center Street project.

“…Initial studies have considered Center Street as a possible location; however, we believe Virginia Street is a more appropriate corridor. Virginia Street generally has fewer vehicles and slower traffic then (sic) Center Street. Additionally, traffic signals and traffic patterns on Virginia Street accommodate both north and south bound traffic, suggesting increased safety and decreased cost. Additionally, Virginia Street provides greater access to retail and other business uses which are likely to be frequented by bicyclists. Activating Virginia Street with bicycle connectivity is more aligned with current and future development plans.”

– Michael Pagni, lawyer for The Row, Nov. 30, 2020.

The letter is available for download as a PDF, below.

Cyclists and other advocates who have been helping to plan the project for years were taken aback by the casinos’ apparent suggestion to go back to square one.

“The RTC, the City of Reno and Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance were all on the same page with this at one point, now the casinos are trying to take us off this shared vision and discard all the hard work that has already been done instead of building on what we already know will work,” said Kyril Plaskon, president of the Bicycle Alliance.

“The RTC, the City and The Row need to take their blinders off and see the bigger picture of a healthy, safe, and mobile downtown Reno,” Plaskon said.

IMAGE/RTC: An artist’s conception of the downtown Reno portion of the Center Street Cycle Track.

 The Center Street project

The $13 million project would create a protected cycle track along Center Street from the University of Nevada, Reno’s campus on Ninth Street straight to Midtown. The two-way cycle track would extend from Ninth to Moran streets. The project also includes improvements to pavements, sidewalks, traffic signals and handicapped access.

Most of the city’s existing cycle routes are either bike lanes designated by painted white lines and signs alongside traffic lanes or areas like Midtown, where bicycles and vehicular traffic share the same narrow roadway. The “protected’ track on Center Street would make use of rolled curbing and plastic “candlesticks” to create a buffer between the cycle and traffic lanes.

At an RTC board meeting Aug. 20, project manager Maria Paz Fernandez said the Center Street track has been the agency’s preferred option for a UNR-to-Midtown route, but that plan provides no direct connection to Virginia Street. She noted that creating a protected bike track along Virginia Street also is feasible and a narrower vehicle lane would result in slower traffic.

A Powerpoint presentation on the Center Street project, including options for a Virginia Street bikeway, is available online. The Reno City Council is scheduled to consider approving funds for the proposed Placemaking study at its meeting Sept. 8. Public comment on the issue (Item D.1.2 on the Sept. 8 council agenda) may be submitted online or by attending the meeting and speaking during the public comment period.

A six-month study

RTC’s plan called for the preliminary Center Street design to be completed this year, with the final design completed by the winter of 2022 and construction in 2023. RTC’s Website recently was amended to note that “analysis of protected bicycle facilities are being performed along Virginia Street. Results will be shared with stakeholders and City of Reno to best decide next steps.”

The proposed Placemaking Study, whose $150,000 cost would be divided equally between the city and RTC, would be completed in about six months, Fernandez said.

At the RTC meeting, Plaskon and Jessica Adams of the Washoe County Green Recovery Team, opposed folding the Center Street plan within the purview of new study.

“We are very much in support the Center Street Cycle Track,” Adams said. The project exemplifies the recovery team’s focus on improving “micro-mobility throughout the community in ways that will promote a cleaner environment and better health in the community,” she said.

“We are very much in support of the Center Street Cycle Track. We do not believe another study needs to be done for Virginia Street, as this will further delay the project and push our objectives back further.”

– Jessica Adams, Washoe County Green Recovery Team.
IMAGE/RTC: Among the casino’s suggestions are adding a cycle lane to both sides of Virginia Street, with a rounded berm between the cycle and vehicle lanes.

RTC responds

In an interview Aug. 27, RTC Executive Director Bill Thomas said it’s not accurate to characterize the new study as a “pause or delay” in the Center Street plan. “That’s not what it is,” he said. “I think as we’ve gotten to that 30% percent design, we realize that we probably look a little more closely at Virginia Street before we go to 90%.”

As the main thoroughfare in the heart of the city, Virginia Street needs to be considered “in the context of everything were doing downtown…  In this case there’s no conclusion that (Center Street) is not the right project to do. There’s just things that came up along the way that caused us to think we should consider a bit more before we get too far down the road and kick ourselves and saying ‘why didn’t we think of that.’”

He said the question is whether the Center Street plan is “going to help or hurt in terms of the long-term goal of doing something on Virginia Street.  Whatever that number of bicyclists is, is that going to dissuade people of being on Virginia Street who otherwise might be?” he asked.

MAP/RTC: The Center Street Cycle Track project, showing the various improvements planned.

A pedestrian plaza?

Other options for Virginia Street may be shutting the core section down and making it a pedestrian plaza, as other cities  have done within their downtown areas. Thomas noted that the character of the downtown core is changing, with more housing being developed in what was primarily a tourist district of shoulder-to-shoulder hotel/casinos.

The Center Street plan needs to be reexamined to explore what other things may influence its design, rather than “building it and finding out later that there was some consideration or something we need to think about.” That’s a normal part of any multi-year project, he said, and a critical part of any project that involves the downtown core.

“Maybe eventually we all agree that it’s going to be a public plaza… Or is the future going to be something more like Midtown where you have a bunch of street level restaurants where people walk around back and forth (across the street) or is there some other alternative?”

– Bill Thomas, RTC executive director.

Plaskon, president of the Bicycle Alliance, said he and other cyclists aren’t opposed to improvements on Virginia Street, but he noted The Row was absent during the Center Street planning process and now is worried about losing business.

Political influence

 “It is pathetic that city and county leaders are letting The Row casinos put a pause on a safe, studied and approved bicycle project that would keep our students, families and tourists safe,” he said. “The Row needs to stop using political back doors and join us as a partner in a new vision for downtown, and the City and RTC need to keep moving forward with the vision of safety we created together.”

Plaskon said diverting the Center Street track to include a Virginia Street section would be a disaster for cyclists because the street often is shut down for special events and that would create an interruption in the straight route.

“With Virginia Street shut down, there will be no other way for cyclists to safely get around it. So in other words, people would be riding from the university to Midtown and have to divert to Virginia, which, when it’s closed, they will suddenly have to ride some other totally unsafe street, putting people in danger.”

– Kyril Plaskon, president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance.

That’s too much of a price to pay just because casinos want cyclists to pass by their front doors, he said.

PHOTO/FRANK X. MULLEN: A pickup truck passes a cyclist on Riverside Drive, Reno’s “bike boulevard,” on Aug. 28.

A matter of safety

In addition, Plaskon said, Virginia Street is narrow and congested. Taking out the center lane on Virginia Street, as RTC has proposed, will cause traffic backups and put vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in danger, he said. Closing Virginia Street to traffic, but allowing bikes through, he believes, would require cyclists to thread their way through dense crowds, increasing the possibility of accidents.

Plaskon noted the Center Street project has been the subject of years of deliberation and involved constant cooperation among the city, RTC and the Bicycle Alliance. Three engineering studies have determined it’s the best option for a safe, direct link between UNR and Midtown.

“The Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance is pushing to have the Center Street project continue to move forward. We are thinking more broadly about the health of the community, in terms of traffic, parking, pollution, personal health as well as the health of businesses. It’s not just about the casinos.”

– Kyril Plaskon, president of the Truckee Meadows Bicycle Alliance.

RTC, Plaskon said, wants the advocacy group to back off on the Center Street plan, but “we’re going to double down… RTC, the City of Reno and the casinos need to keep moving forward with Center Street.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reno is ranked 18th highest in cyclist fatalities on a list of the nation's 100 most-populous cities.  Details in our sidebar to this story.

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1 Comment

  1. The “Row” letter promotes specious arguments. I lead an age 50+ casual bicycling group for OLLI@UNR. We sometimes ride on the new “bike friendly” part of Mid-Town Virginia north from Arroyo. Sorry, it really isn’t bike friendly. So we always immediately detour off Virginia and onto northbound Center Street, which actually is bike friendly right now. I hope moneyed interests don’t derail the well considered original plan.

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