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Riding the Sidewalks and Risking Death: The Plight of Las Vegas Cyclists

10:57 AM EDT on September 14, 2011

Cycling’s biggest trade show — Interbike — is coming soon to Sin City. Thousands of cyclists and retailers will descend on Las Vegas later this week with the fervor of a religious pilgrimage.

Except there could hardly be a less bike-friendly destination. In the shadow of the city’s glittering lights and grand casinos, the simple act of crossing a Las Vegas street can be a big gamble. (This site recommends wearing an orange vest.) And cyclists … well, there really aren’t many. It’s just too dangerous.

Crossing the Las Vegas strip on foot is not for the faint of heart. Photo: Infobarrel

That’s according to the latest post from Elly Blue at Grist. Blue has been traveling around the nation talking about the importance of bikes to local and national economies.

When she landed in Vegas recently she found herself wondering whether the city could develop a healthy cycling community without the addition of bike lanes. At the same time, she wondered whether the city could build a political constituency to support bike lanes without basic infrastructure to encourage cycling:

Anyone not in a car competes for too-narrow strips of sidewalks, on which most bicyclists ride and into which bus shelters are somehow shoehorned, along with boxes of pamphlets for the city’s ubiquitous “escort services.” It’s not uncommon to see someone riding a motorized wheelchair in the traffic lane, hugging the curb as cars pass fast and close.

There is very little bike infrastructure here — or even streets that can be reasonably navigated by a solo rider. A few disconnected bike lanes were built, one or two blocks at a time, on quiet streets that don’t need them. There was once a bike lane on Tropicana, one of the main drags, all the way out to Red Rocks, Heather tells us. The lane was paved over when the road was expanded to add more car lanes.

“If you build bike culture, more people will ride, too,” I say hopefully. Vegas has this — one new group attracts 80 participants to its weekly night rides. But a woman at the back of the room raises her hand. She isn’t having it. “We need bike lanes here,” she says. “People won’t ride otherwise. It isn’t safe.”

She’s right. Vegas needs more than a temporary, if exuberant, bubble of safety around a defiant biweekly ride. I can’t help but think of the Interbike show, which will soon descend on the Strip, as it does every year. Vegas has willing bicyclists, but they need help to build a bikeable city. There’s a whole convention center full of potential allies there this week. How many are ready to look up and take notice?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Chicargobike discusses what it would take to make parents feel comfortable allowing their children to bike to school in the Windy City. Pedestrian Observations wonders whether the $4 billion proposed for high-speed rail as part of the president’s American Jobs Act will be devoted completely to the California project. And Urban Indy reports that Indianapolis is getting busy installing cycle tracks as part of its preparation to host this season’s Super Bowl.

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