CHARLOTTE, NC (Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - More space for bikes, fewer lanes for cars and parking: The possible future of bicycling in Charlotte is on display in uptown this week.
One lane of traffic has been closed on parts of Sixth and Fifth streets, creating a temporary protected bike lane that's walled off from cars with orange markers and planters. It's the first pilot project in a long-range plan to bring more protected bike lanes to Charlotte, creating corridors of car-free traffic for riders.
The biggest difference between a traditional bike lane and a protected one is the physical barrier separating cars from riders, instead of just a painted line. The hope is that people who aren't comfortable riding on-street with trucks, SUVs and passenger cars will feel safe enough to get around by bike in the protected lanes.
"We're not targeting those people who already ride," said Ben Miller, the city's bicycle program coordinator. A few riders zipped by, some on B-cycle bike-sharing rides and some on sleeker road bikes, while one car honked and a pair of pedestrians meandered into the protected bike lane.
The temporary bike lane, a collaboration between the city, Sustain Charlotte and Charlotte Center City Partners, is in place until Sunday. Closing the lane and putting up the temporary barriers made up the bulk of the effort's cost, accounting for about $5,000, Miller said.
They'll gather data from this week's test run to help plan the next phase. The city will examine feedback from drivers and cyclists about the impact of removing a car lane.
The city will start designing a permanent protected bike lane uptown in 2018. But it will be at least two years before that's in place, partly because a tower crane is set to take up a lane on Sixth Street for the renovation of Carolina Theatre and construction of an Intercontinental Hotel tower.
It's unclear how long building out a network of protected bike lanes to connect the city's greenways and other popular routes will take, but it's likely a years-long process.
"Every time we can do something, we will," said Miller. But he acknowledged it will take time to change the city's car culture.
"People don't change their habits overnight," he said.