Kalamazoo bike lanes benefit teenagers, but they also have their disadvantages

Lucie Russell, Instagram Team

If you’ve traveled anywhere in Kalamazoo in the last several months, you’ve likely seen the tangle of traffic due to construction. Some of the chaos has been caused by utility work throughout the city, some of it has just been your basic summer repaving, but something new that has caused a stir is the addition of bike lanes. 

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the bike lanes: some are thrilled for the added protection that they bring, while others are angry that driving lanes are given over to two wheeled transportation. From 2015-2017, the city of Kalamazoo began a program called Imagine Kalamazoo that asked residents what they wanted from their neighborhoods. This program resulted in the city’s Strategic Vision and Master Plan. 

According to City Planner Christina Anderson, the city “heard many comments on transportation topics, including a desire to better serve pedestrians and cyclists, improve transit opportunities, and slow down vehicle speeds to improve everyone’s safety.” Anderson continued,

 “What rose to the top was a desire for a connected city, which has a safe and comfortable network for everyone, regardless of their travel mode.”Although the bike lanes benefit everyone, they specifically benefit teenagers and most importantly students. Cycling is a way for teens to get to school, sports and jobs.. 

A safe network of bike lanes provides teens with a safer way to move around our city. The bike lanes can benefit teenagers because many kids aren’t old enough to drive, have restricted licenses, or cannot afford all the expenses that come with having a car, such as insurance and gas.   

Anderson, who is also a Norrix parent, sees her three sons benefitting from the bike lanes. “The oldest biked downtown to meet me for lunch on his day off this past Tuesday, using the new bike lanes on Westnedge and Park.” said Anderson. She also said that her three sons, aged 10, 13 and 15, use the bike lanes to get to school, the YMCA, and Oakwood Plaza.

Although there are mixed opinions from residents, Anderson said, “Behaviors do not change overnight and change is hard, but we are working toward long-term goals that will positively impact the residents of Kalamazoo.” 

Although lots of adult residents are sharing their opinions on the lanes, teens have some thoughts on them too. Over the past summer, senior Arlo Getachew and her friends started using bikes for transportation to get to places around Kalamazoo. This group includes teens with licenses and their own cars, as well as some without. 

“Biking was a big mode of transportation for me before I got my license and still is now when I want to save gas and be sustainable,” said Getachew. 

Teens using biking as a way of transportation can help with climate change, and it is also more cost effective.

 According to LiveStrong, “each year a typical car will release about 4.6 tons of carbon dioxide. Biking could save between 6 and 14 million tons of CO2.” 

CO2 emissions are a huge part of global warming, and if teens had a safer environment such as bike lanes it would make it more likely that they feel comfortable biking around town, lowering CO2 emissions.“I’m very happy with the bike lanes around Kalamazoo,” Getachew said,  “I do feel like kids my age could benefit from bike lanes around town because a lot of kids my age don’t have a driver’s license or are too young for one.”

Junior Austin Thomas is less impressed with the city’s new bike lanes. “I don’t like the new bike lanes all too much. They seem very sloppily done and look unpleasant to the eye, especially the ones downtown,” Thomas said.

Some have had very negative opinions on the lanes, and when discussing it Thomas said, “I am aware of the backlash. I understand where [they] are coming from, as Kalamazoo has the right idea, but the execution of it isn’t being done very well,” said Thomas. 

A part of the problem is that when bike lanes are added it causes congestion in areas that used to have more room available for cars. Also the actual construction of bike lanes has caused traffic to back up. 

“It doesn’t affect me very much that some of a lane is taken up for bikes,” Getachew continued, “Actually, I’m more in favor of the installment than not because it promotes more bike riding in our city.”

Bike lanes could also help solve the problems that schools have faced over the past few years regarding bus driver shortages. If there were safe pathways to schools, more kids could ride their bikes to school, reducing the number of buses necessary to transport students. In many cities in the world, even those in cold climates such as Michigan, cycling to school is a normal activity. When asked about her feelings on kids and teens participating in these kinds of decisions around the city, Anderson said, “It is important for teens to participate in the planning processes of the city,” said Anderson. To express your opinions about the bike lanes and other projects related to Imagine Kalamazoo, answer the surveys at imagine kalamazoo 2025