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Understanding Bike Infrastructure

Bike trail sign

Bike trails: These trails come in several varieties, from paved to “improved surface” (a packed dirt surface with a thin layer of crushed rock) to just dirt to a hybrid of all those surfaces. The Kal-Haven is an improved trail that stretches from 10th Street in Oshtemo Township to South Haven, while the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail is a still-growing network of paved trails running from the Kal-Haven Trail to Galesburg and — once a length is completed with the construction of a revamped Kalamazoo Farmers Market this year — from Cooper Township to Reed Avenue in the Edison neighborhood. These trails are generally for nonmotorized uses (with the exception of e-bikes), but snowmobiles are allowed on the Kal-Haven in winter.
Shared-use or mixed-use paths: These are paved surfaces that run along roads. Wider than sidewalks, these paths can safely accommodate both bikes and pedestrians. Portage has many of these, including along Lovers Lane and Romence and Portage roads. There’s also a long shared-use path along Gull Road from Sprinkle Road to Richland.

Bike lanes: These are on-road lanes for bikes. Some are protected, with bollards or other structures present to prevent motor vehicles from swerving into bikes. Except for two blocks of Kalamazoo Avenue and Porter Street, nearly all bike lanes in our area are unprotected, with only painted lines between bikes and cars.

Sharrows: A controversial aspect of bike infrastructure, sharrows are road markings that include an outline of a bike plus arrow icons painted on the road, indicating that bikes can use the road and may be present. However, bicyclists may use all streets and roads in Michigan, except interstate highways and other roads indicated. Roads with sharrows are basically as safe, or unsafe, as any other road. A local example of a road with sharrows would be the five-lane, high-traffic length of Gull Road east of downtown Kalamazoo to Sprinkle Road.

Bike routes: These are routes to get across town or the country safely and can make use of all of the infrastructure listed above. They can include low-traffic, low-speed neighborhood streets and quiet country roads. Even state highways can be part of a bike route as long as rumble strips and a wide, paved shoulder separate bikes from semis. A route might be mapped by a local entity like the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club or by the national Adventure Cycling Association. It might be officially recognized by a city, county or state. Routes may exist as maps found online, and official routes, such as the one from Fulford Street to Lovers Lane that the author of this story frequently rides, often have signage. A great example of a network of national and state bike routes is the U.S. Bicycle Route System. USBR 35, part of this system, runs along Lake Michigan on its way from Kentucky to Sault Ste. Marie.

Mark Wedel

Mark Wedel was an arts and entertainment journalist for the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1992 to 2015. Since 2014, he’s been a freelance writer, covering Kalamazoo infrastructure, biking, the housing crisis, and occasional arty things.

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