WILKES-BARRE — The desire for more bicycle-friendly paths in Luzerne County — from lanes on roads to other areas designated specifically for cyclists — is strong, according to enthusiasts.
The ability to implement them, many advocates have found, is not as robust. Cycling enthusiasts say Northeastern Pennsylvania is behind the times in welcoming alternative commuters to share the road, even though they have a legal right in the commonwealth.
“We’re way behind the rest of the world as far as having the facilities to be able to ride, especially on the road,” said Louie Colarusso, a bike technician at Sickler’s Bike and Sport Shop in Exeter. “The majority of cities in America have bike lanes, and in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton you’re taking your life in your hands every time.”
Phil Cable, store manager of Sickler’s, said he lives in the borough and bikes to work when possible. Drivers are generally friendly, but sharing the road is a two-way street.
“Over the years, motorists have become a lot friendlier to cyclists than they used to be,” he said. “Cyclists need to be aware as well and stay over and give a ‘thank you’ wave if they’ve held somebody up.”
Bike friendly in South
Doug Warabak, a retired postal worker from Exeter, completed a 31-day, 1,515-mile trek from West Pittston to Port Ritchey, Fla., in January as a fundraiser for Moose Haven, a Moose Lodge members’ retirement home. Along the way, he saw just how Pennsylvania measured up to more southerly states.
“Upon arriving at a Moose Lodge 757 in Williamsburg, Va., I met Chip Funke who was affiliated with Virginia Tourism in some capacity. He told me that the tri-city area of Richmond, Petersburg and Williamsburg is contributing a combined total of $30 million toward the planning, mapping, design and construction of dedicated biking pathways for cyclists to have access to, explore and safely tour the battlefields, wineries, monuments, historical buildings and plantations of Virginia,” Warabak wrote in an email.
He found dedicated bike lanes in Washington, D.C., and an abundance of “Share the Road” signs and wide shoulders as he traveled farther south. Those states, said Warabak, have taken a proactive approach to cycling-friendly projects — thanks in part to moderate climates.
Luzerne County Bikes and Walks, an advocacy group that hopes to give a voice to cyclists and pedestrians, has worked to pitch the installation of bicycle lanes in Wilkes-Barre in the past, although unsuccessfully.
“I think there are some built-in challenges with the grid here in Wilkes-Barre,” said Tom Jones, co-owner of Around Town Bicycles in Wilkes-Barre.
The advocacy group’s members have suggested installing bike lanes on Washington and Franklin streets in the city as a means to build a bike-friendly corridor between North and South streets. Around Town Bicycles co-owner Rich Adams’ other suggestion is the addition of one-way bicycle lanes on the Market Street Bridge from Wilkes-Barre to Kingston.
However, Adams sees two main obstacles with implementing his ideas: road maintenance is often planned “well in advance,” and a lack of representation of cyclists among those who make transportation and infrastructure decisions leads to a weaker voice.
“It’s always cheaper to do it in a plan than to retrofit it later,” Adams said. Even so, he said, the changes need to be “implemented over time with existing infrastructure improvements.”
April Hannon, bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for PennDOT District 4-0, suggested advocates begin their pitch at the municipal level but said challenges exist. “To actually put in a designated bike lane, you need 5 feet of space,” Hannon said.
The additional 10 feet of roadway on two-way streets sometimes conflicts with the rights of way that cities have when planning infrastructure projects. PennDOT does require a minimum 4-foot shoulder in new construction projects when space allows, Hannon said.
Until such formal lanes can be created, it’s important for motorists and cyclists alike to educate themselves on the rules of the road. “If a bicyclist is traveling in the roadway, they are considered a vehicle,” she said. “By law, they have every right to be there.”