New Budget Dedicates Funds to Improving City’s “Bikeability”

Published on July 27, 2023

Cyclists riding in bike lane in Uptown Charlotte

Charlotte has made significant strides toward becoming a more bike-friendly city since PeopleForBikes first debuted its annual City Ratings in 2017. Back then, the national bicycle advocacy group gave the city a below-average score of 20. Ever since, Charlotte has steadily climbed through the ranks of major U.S. cities—landing 31st out of the 69 large cities (300,000+ population) surveyed this year.

PeopleForBikes released this year’s City Ratings in June, and Charlotte earned its highest Bicycle Network Analysis score to date: a 27. “Though a 7-point change may seem small,” City Ratings Program Director Rebecca Davies explained, “it takes a lot of work to improve the citywide bike network in large cities, so the progress is meaningful.” And that meaningful progress wouldn’t have happened without the concentrated efforts of local government officials, the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) and dedicated city bikers. “I would account that score increase to what we can see visibly in terms of resources," explained BAC Chair Angela Stoyanovitch.  From newly opened greenway paths to a growing network of protected bike lanes in Uptown, there is visible evidence of progress all around us. What you may not see, however, is just how much the city is dedicating to the continued improvement of its “bikeability” in Fiscal Year (FY) 2024.

Mobility Freedom in a Sprawling City

Unlike many of the large cities surveyed for PeopleForBikes’ City Ratings, the majority of Charlotte’s nearly 900,000 residents do not live in the city’s center. This means that our bicycle network needs to expand beyond Uptown and into the various residential, suburban neighborhoods that make up our 312 square miles. It is a unique challenge for a city of our size, but it’s one that the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are answering together with the Cross Charlotte Trail.

Approximately 250,000 Charlotte residents do not drive, making them reliant on alternative methods of transportation for work and leisure. However, only a fraction of those non-driving residents commute by bike. Why? “Because it’s unsafe,” said Stoyanovitch. “I think safety is first and foremost, and I would say a close second to that is the lack of infrastructure.” The City of Charlotte’s continued investment in the Cross Charlotte Trail is an important step toward providing more of that infrastructure and will offer Charlotteans safer options for how they can move throughout the city. The Trail, which spans the whole of Charlotte from Pineville to the Cabarrus County, is a seamless stretch of trails and greenways for bikers and pedestrians.

“The word that comes to mind is connectivity,” Stoyanovitch noted. “The intentionality is there to connect folks, not just via train, but being able to jump on a bike recreationally and as a commuter.” Nearly a decade after planning and public engagement for the project began, half of its planned segments are considered complete as of mid-2023. Still, there is plenty of work left to do to connect the remaining segments to the city’s existing network.

To allow for the continuation of this work, the City of Charlotte has designated $7.6 million of the FY 2024 budget for the Cross Charlotte Trail. $45,600 of that money is solely for the inclusion of public art along the trails and greenways. The rest goes to constructing segments north of Uptown. With this funding, Transportation will add 11.34 miles of new bikeways in the new Fiscal Year. Now, that may seem small when considering the large scope of Charlotte’s city limits, but remember… It’s all about connecting new networks with existing ones. Once the Cross Charlotte Trail, Uptown CycleLink, and the CATS Silver Line are all complete, there will be a total of 165 miles of bikeable transportation in Charlotte.

Addressing Cars/Trucks Parked in Bike Lanes

While it’s great to see such a big number of bikeable miles, ensuring that dedicated bike lanes are always accessible is equally important.  Motorists driving or parking in bike lanes has become a challenge in Charlotte, even after the installation of Uptown CycleLink’s “protected” bike lanes—which have plastic bollards and/or concrete curbs that physically separate bikers from vehicular traffic. Bikers repeatedly encounter parked cars and trucks that force them out of the designated bike lanes and into harm’s way.

Stoyanovitch says the challenge could be attributed to the city's lack of bike culture. Her recommendation was to look at other cities as examples for how to improve that culture, and she specifically mentioned New York City. Their solution for dealing with cars parked in bike lanes was to have residents report the vehicle to a designated program, which would then issue a fine and discourage further violations. Now, the City of Charlotte is following suit.

As part of the City of Charlotte’s emphasis of providing all residents a better quality of life, the FY 2024 budget includes the formation of a new Rapid Response Team. This unit, comprised of four new Code Enforcement positions, will address quality-of-life concerns citywide. Some examples of these concerns include littering, illegal signage, illegal commercial truck parking, illegal parking in streetcar or light rail rights-of-way, and of course, illegal parking in bike lanes. Not only will the addition of this team enable Code Enforcement to extend some of its weekly hours and include weekend hours, but it also gives residents a direct line to address their concerns. Rather than trying to contact a specific city government department or CMPD, residents can report code violations by calling 311 or using the CLT+ app. Once received, the Rapid Response Team will take care of the violation and issue the appropriate citation.

Naturally, the implementation of the Rapid Response Team is not going to clear Charlotte’s bike lanes overnight. However, the ability to address violations in a timely manner and enforce the necessary penalties will deter people from illegally parking in bike lanes. The results of this initiative will positively contribute to the growth of Charlotte’s bike culture.

Beyond the enforcement of code violations, there is an ongoing effort to fill the space between protected bike lanes and vehicular traffic with public art. The hope is to further discourage any crossover between bikers and drivers while also adding some extra character to our city streets. Charlotte bikers can expect more art-focused solutions like this in the future thanks to the inclusion of a $16,000 public art budget for Connect Bicycle Facilities scheduled through Fiscal Year 2027.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The City of Charlotte and the Bicycle Advisory Committee have worked hard over the past several years to ensure the mobility freedom of Charlotte residents. Six years ago, our city was 43rd in PeopleForBikes’ City Ratings; today, we are 31st. There is no telling where we will rank in the years to come, but planned funding for Fiscal Year 2025 sets us up for continued success, with:

• $10.5 million to reconstruct the Eastway/Shamrock intersection, creating an important continuation of the bike network

• $7.8 million to finish design and begin construction on Robinson Church Road improvements, including bike and pedestrian infrastructure

• $4 million to advance our Vision Zero initiative and safe mobility goal

These are only a few examples of how the City of Charlotte will continue to prioritize access to alternative transportation in the future. So, if you ever considered commuting by bike before, now is the time to start in Charlotte.