By CALUM MCKINNEY
The Daily Times of Salisbury
SALISBURY, Md. - If Matt Drew gets his wish, Salisbury might soon have bike lanes connecting the downtown area and the Salisbury University campus.
Drew, executive vice president of AWB Engineers, said city roads are difficult, even dangerous, for cyclists to navigate and could see many improvements if the lanes were created. Drew said studies show bike lanes result in more people commuting by bike _ which cycling advocates say means greener, healthier, happier, more vibrant communities.
Working toward that goal, Drew's group, "bike-SBY," is currently aiming to collect 500 signatures by Earth Day on Sunday in favor of a Salisbury bike lane project.
"There's a grant request we're going to be soliciting from the Bikeways program that could pay for half the cost," he said, noting the importance of gaining support ahead of the grant submission deadline on May 4 _ as the Bikeways program will likely require matching funds from the community.
While future expansions of the program may require compromises, he said the initial "spine" section in the Smith Street, Waverly Drive and downtown area would be relatively straightforward to get started.
"It's a route that connects major destinations," he said. "And also from a feasibility standpoint, it doesn't affect on-street parking."
Already, the bike-SBY group has collected more than 270 signatures and many supportive comments from recreational cyclists and commuters.
In a user interest survey, area resident Nancy Murphy said bike lanes would be "a great idea, to promote less cars, more human power, a community that respects bikes, updating and supporting the downtown area as a destination for shopping, coffee and enriching the life of the city center."
Speaking before going into a meeting with the Salisbury public works department, Drew explained how he arrived at the proposed routes through a systematic study.
"I started on the basics of the idea last fall," he said. "I took a GIS (Geographic Information Science) class at Salisbury University and as part of that class I had to do an end of semester project to show how I might use GIS to prove a point that you might not be able to otherwise."
Looking for common paths of travel, Drew wanted to set up a computer model that would show potential use of roads in the area by bike riders. With about 300 people in the initial study, he said he saw that the highest demand would be in the Camden area. But in drawing only from the SU community, he didn't have enough data, as even under ideal scenarios, only a certain percentage of a population will use bikes to commute.
After expanding his sample to include populations from Peninsula Regional Medical Center, area schools and student housing, the model was improved dramatically.
"When I included data from those additional organizations it went from 300 to 3,200 people," he said. "That's when the idea started to prove out. When I ran through the same analysis model, some areas showed a really strong case for bike lanes."
After publishing the results of the first demand analysis in February of this year, Drew said he went on to meet with SU Chief of Staff Amy Hasson, Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton and representatives of the city public works department.
Among others working on the issue, Drew remarked on SU student Kevin Rowe -- who he said was instrumental in getting approval for the Bateman Street bike lane approved.
Rowe said he collected about 400 student signatures last fall in favor of a lane on Bateman Street, the only area outside of the central spine to be included among the first lanes to be built.
A longtime source of debate between the city of Salisbury, the district school system and Salisbury University, the intersection at Bateman Street and Olney Road has been recognized by many as a dangerous one. Rowe said it's his understanding that the city of Salisbury is now planning to begin work in cooperation with SU on improvements to the road starting this summer. Thanks in part to his petition, Rowe said he expects those plans to include a bike lane.
After finding out about his role in that project, Rowe said Drew contacted him to inform him about his work in the rest of town and solicit his help in gaining student support for the bike-SBY project.
"I'm just very passionate about it," Rowe said. "It's easy to be when you realize all the benefits of cycling."