Motorists and cyclists will eventually share roads in Tyler, but a project to add bike lanes to the city’s streets is years away from fruition.
Four years, in fact.
The city of Tyler last week was awarded a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to restripe existing roads in a way that makes space for bicyclists.
The end goal is to add 12 bike routes, totaling 130 lane miles.
It’s based on a model developed by Dr. Mena Souliman, assistant professor of civil engineering at The University of Texas at Tyler.
He and a group of graduate students have been working on the project since 2015, and have some more work to complete before construction on the project can begin.
Souliman’s bicycle model looks at Tyler as a bicycle wheel. The “hub” is downtown Tyler, and the “spokes” extend north, south, east and west to connect major institutions to downtown. The spokes eventually would be turned into bike lanes, which will connect in downtown Tyler.
Souliman said the best roads for retrofitting bike lanes are wide streets with low traffic counts that don’t have steep hills.
None of the lanes will be on streets maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation. Those are the busiest streets and include Broadway Avenue, Gentry Parkway, Troup Highway, Front Street, Erwin Street and Loop 323, among others. These roads are deemed too dangerous for bikers and motorist to share.
The project has a budget of $1.2 million, according to the city’s grant application to the state. Of that, the grant would cover 80 percent, or $940,526. The city is responsible for 20 percent, or $235,132. Some of the city’s money likely will go to UT Tyler to help complete the project engineering.
Based on the terms of the grant, the city and UT Tyler have four years to complete the research and restripe lanes. The project also includes signage and lighting improvements for safety.
Restriping is a cheaper alternative to redoing the roads, but it is by no means inexpensive. The paint is specialized and reflective. It also has to be ground out of the road to be redone.
“This is a major improvement compared to what we have now,” Souliman said. “The city of Tyler was one of the pioneer cities that started the idea of having bike routes, where bikes share the right lane with vehicles. Now, we will have the new bike lanes of 4 to 6 feet. It will increase significantly the safety of bikers.”
Souliman’s specialty is in pavement engineering, and his heart is in environmentally sustainable pavement. He’s also a cyclist. Souliman relocated to Tyler and was disappointed in the current bicycle infrastructure, so he took it upon himself to improve it.
“I didn’t feel safe sharing the right lane with other vehicles,” he said. “This was the trigger to start thinking that we need to make bikes lanes here. We have a big population of students and this is their main mode of transportation.”
The methodology of the streets is as important as the actual roads chosen.
The goal is to create a system that can be repeated by other cities, allowing other mid-sized cities retrofit bike lanes onto their streets.
Souliman’s methodology includes a point system to select streets. Aspects of streets are broken into categories, including width, lighting, elevation and traffic counts, among others.
Each category can get a positive or negative number of points. For example, the Loop might get positive points for having a shoulder and for good lighting, but would receive negative points because of its high traffic count.
“This is all about how can I pick the right roads and the right locations that are without high traffic and are wide,” Souliman said. “When it comes to bike lanes, we need to have signage and telling people this is the beginning and end of the lane to tell drivers and bikers the bike will be at your right side.”
Souliman said doing traffic counts is the most time-consuming part of data gathering. The counts are taken at three peak hours: from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., the noon hour and the evening rush hour.
A grad student also physically rides over each road and takes notes on its elevation and road consistency.
The city currently has five bike routes in the city, and bicyclists can ride on any of the city’s sidewalks.
Tyler has about 25 miles of bike routes, but only 5 miles of them are marked with a designated bike lane.
Those lanes have been in place for roughly 10 years, Traffic Engineer Peter Eng said.
Current Proposed Routes:
- Spoke 1 – Starts at Old Omen, ends at Donnybrook Avenue.
- Spoke 2 – Starts at Garden Valley and ends at Oakwood Street.
- Spoke 3 – Starts at Paluxy Drive and ends at Donnybrook Avenue.
- Spoke 4 – Starts at Bellwood Road and ends at Houston Street.
- Spoke 5 – Starts at Cambridge Road and ends at Donnybrook Avenue.
- Spoke 7 – Starts at Dueling Oaks and ends at Fair Lane.
- Spoke 9 – Starts at Earl Campbell and ends at Houston Street.
- Hub – Centralized Hub around downtown.
- Spokes 6, 8, 10 and 12 are under development.
- Spoke connections will also be developed to connect different spokes.