LAS VEGAS – “The more we get out of our cars the happier we are.” Jacob Snow is speaking as both general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada and citizen-cyclist. The RTC and the City of Las Vegas are working together to reduce traffic congestion, clean the air and improve quality of life. And getting more people on bicycles is key to their strategy.
Progress shows in the growing number of bike lanes and trails across the city. “Bicyclists may now easily ride all the way from downtown to the Red Rock National Conservation Area on streets that have designated bicycle lanes,” said Carolyn G. Goodman, Las Vegas’ recently elected mayor. Regional statistics to date from the RTC show 690 miles of striped bike lanes, 390 miles of designated bike routes and 760 miles of shared-use paths. Plans call for 200 miles of additional bike lanes.
Bicycling has a key role in the renewal of downtown Vegas, as evidenced by the RTC Bike Center housed in the new Bonneville Transit Center located north of the Strip on East Bonneville Avenue. Opened a year ago, this sleek and smartly designed 25,000 square-foot mass transit depot is awaiting LEED (Leadership in Energy an Environmental Design) gold certification.
Outside are gleaming buses, some double-decker, all outfitted with exterior racks holding two or three bicycles or, in the center of the new rapid-transit vehicle models, interior mounts for three bicycles. “When I started here nearly 13 years ago, we averaged 25,000 bicycles a month on our bus system,” Snow said. “Now it’s 52,000 a month.”
Inside the glassed-walled transit center, a secure facility provides bicycle rentals, maintenance, repairs and bicycle parking between 7 AM to 7 PM. The center is closed Sundays, but RTC Bicycle and Community Outreach Coordinator Ron Floth said that could change as demand increases. The center offers quite a deal: Floth explained that individuals can purchase a full year’s unlimited use of the on-site showers, lockers and even bike tune-ups for only $60.
“We put our money where our mouth is and feet on the pedals,” Snow said, referencing the public sector’s investments in and advocacy of bicycling. “Our funding efforts are based on the Complete Streets program.” The program’s mission: all streets for all modes of mobility and all ages. It’s no longer just about the automobile. This means wider sidewalks for pedestrians, protected lanes for bicyclists and dedicated public transit lanes.
The RTC general manager peddles the people-powered transportation message while pedaling himself in events such as the Mayor’s Martini Mile (mocktails only for this ride, begun under the watch of the previous mayor, Oscar Goodman) and the annual Viva Bike Vegas Gran Fondo. The Gran Fondo’s three routes – 103, 60 and 17 miles – have included a police-escorted roll on the Las Vegas Strip, which is closed to traffic for an hour or so.
“It’s really exciting…jamming the Strip with 2,000 bikes,” said Snow, adding that casino operators don’t object to the event since it draws residents and tourists into town. The rides continue through the Las Vegas Valley with its rich nature backdrops from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and scenic trails near Lake Mead. This year, Viva Bike Vegas takes place September 22, right after the city hosts the Interbike International Trade Expo.
“The City of Las Vegas has long been a leader when it comes to sustainability. [Our] buildings are built to LEED standards and our alternative fuel fleet is the model in the region and across the country,” noted Mayor Carolyn Goodman. Last June, Snow’s department added an E-Bike program to the city’s sustainability initiatives which also include energy retrofits of city facilities, new streetlights and solar panel installations. Now 50 electric bikes, funded largely through a federal grant, are available to government employees for zipping to meetings, an eco-friendly and healthy alternative to driving motor pool vehicles. The gasoline savings is estimated at $100,000.
Promoting bicycling along with the valley’s cultural and natural attractions benefits citizens as well as “puts heads in beds,” Snow said. Travelers are discovering Vegas is more than a place for gambling and meetings — there’s also stellar outdoor recreation. Cyclists can pedal the Las Vegas’ downtown to Red Rock Canyon trail along Alta Drive’s striped bike lane. It’s easy to take bikes on buses from the city out to Boulder City, where riders can enjoy the recently completed 35-mile River Mountains Loop, a paved hiker-biker trail that passes Hoover Dam and Bootleg Canyon, a favorite haven for mountain biking. You’re likely to find citizen-cyclist Snow and his family riding out there on weekends.
“Making our streets more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians is something upon which we continue to focus,” Mayor Goodman said. “This is especially true in the downtown area where the city’s core is undergoing a renaissance with many exciting projects and attractions opening in 2012.” These include the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the Mob Museum, Neon Museum, Discovery Children’s Museum and the new City Hall (http://www.lasvegasnevada.gov/information/20212.htm).
Indeed, this reporter can verify that cyclists have plenty of places to ride downtown. Venues that have sprouted up range from independent art galleries to The Beat Coffeehouse in the Emergency Arts complex across from El Cortez Hotel and Casino, the Fremont Street Experience scene to the Neon Museum’s Boneyard of retired neon signs, the ultimate Vegas art form. New eateries range from always-packed Le Thai to the eco-eats of Pura Vida. And speaking of green, the impressive Springs Preserve entertainment-education campus, located at the site of the original Vegas springs, is a short bike-ride west of downtown.
What are the odds that Vegas keeps betting on biking? Pretty good. Snow expects a bike-share program to roll out by spring 2013.
Photo Credit : Robin Soslow.Robin Soslow is a journalist and photographer specializing in art, culture, sustainability and outdoor adventure. She travels mainly by bicycle.