Biking in Bowling Green: Wanted, needed and unfunded

A person who did not wish to be identified rides a bicycle Friday on Gordon Avenue on Friday, June 7, 2019.

BikeWalk BG, Bowling Green’s pedestrian and bicycle advocating group, recently released a map of the city’s bicycling routes. It defines where it’s safe or unsafe to ride and the limitations of Bowling Green’s often disconnected bicycle infrastructure.

Karissa Lemon, coordinator for the Bowling Green-Warren County Metropolitan Planning Organization and BikeWalk BG, wants residents to review the map and use the existing paths.

“We’re building on what we’ve created and filling in the gaps of our greenways and bicycle infrastructure,” Lemon said. “The map really paints a picture of where people can ride bikes … and details some of the roads to avoid or where to take precautionary measures.”

Lemon hopes people will clearly see where there are safe paths and where people should avoid.

“Though we might not have the most expansive greenway network … the more people that get out and get active and use what we have, the better we can justify the need for more projects,” she said.

In addition to being available on the “BikeWalk BG” Facebook page, the map is available at the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County, Bowling Green City Hall, Spencer’s Coffee, Western Kentucky University residence halls, Parking and Transportation Services and the Preston Center, Howard’s Cycling and Fitness Shop, Nat’s Outdoor Sports and the Bike Rack Bistro.

“It’s intuitive, people can read (the map) easily,” said Greg Meredith, Bowling Green’s public works director. Meredith used to bike to work from Campbell Lane toward Morgantown Road. He took neighborhood streets and avoided high traffic roads since there isn’t always a direct path that’s safe.

“Unfortunately, with cars, there’s always a way to get from Point A to Point B. Not so much with bikes,” Meredith said. “It’s harder to get around on bikes than it is to walk.”

To build bicycle infrastructure, the city needs money.

Transportation services represented about 31 percent of agency funding, the second highest chunk after economic development and planning services, according to Bowling Green’s annual operating budget for fiscal year 2018-19.

Many major cities divide transportation budgets into cars, public transportation, sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure. Bowling Green and similar-sized cities in Kentucky only tackle bicycle infrastructure with grants and project opportunities, such as a road-widening project.

“To move it forward in leaps and bounds, there would need to be a dedicated funding source,” Meredith said. “I don’t see that happening in the near future.”

Joe Plunk, chief district engineer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 3, believes more people are realizing that transportation is more than just motor vehicles. But he admits that isn’t the general consensus at this time.

“From my perspective, the majority of the communities in our (10-county) district are more focused on motor vehicle safety and mobility,” Plunk said in a previous interview. “Cities fund what they see fit for bicycling and sidewalks,” which generally is fairly little compared to car-related road expenses.

Since there is no dedicated funding source, the city never plans bike routes. The result is a lot of disconnected, somewhat random paths.

“It’s the situation that we’re given,” Meredith said. Bicycle infrastructure “is always in competition with roadways and public space.”

At this time, few Bowling Green residents commute with bicycles.

The American Community Survey five-year estimates from 2012-16 sampled a population of about 27,000 people ages 16 and older in Bowling Green. Of that, about 25,000 commuted to work by car, truck or van. About 150 people used the bus. About 1,500 walked to work.

Lumped together, the survey estimated that nearly 400 people either bicycled, took a taxi, rode a motorcycle or used other means. At most, that means 1.4 percent of Bowling Green residents commute via bicycles, according to the survey.

But that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to bike. Biking infrastructure provides options for low-income populations, improves air quality with reduced vehicle emissions and improves population health.

“The old saying, build it and they will come … it’s the same with bike lanes,” Meredith said.

In Bowling Green’s annual operating budget for fiscal year 2018-19, the National Community Survey results revealed that only 27 percent of residents rated ease of travel by bicycle in Bowling Green as “excellent” and “good” in 2016 – compared to 50 percent for ease of travel by walking.

Bowling Green received a score of 1.8 out of five stars in the bicycle advocacy group People for Bikes’ 2018 report. The lowest score was acceleration, which “indicates how quickly a community is improving its biking infrastructure and getting people riding,” the report says. And the League of American Bicyclists ranks Kentucky 43rd for its lack of bicycle infrastructure. It lists only two bicycle-friendly communities – Louisville and Lexington – six bicycle-friendly businesses and five bicycle-friendly universities, including Western Kentucky University.

Mike Bunch, a store associate at Nat’s Outdoor Sports, bikes on county roads with his colleagues.

“We all ride, but not in the city,” Bunch said. “It’s dangerous as hell on the roads. … My biggest fear is that dude on a cellphone.”

Bunch commuted to work on a bicycle, but wasn’t enthusiastic about the experience. “Going down Smallhouse Road is terrifying,” Bunch said. “That would be an awesome road to see a bike path down.”

Clinton Lewis, the staff photographer at WKU, regularly bikes on county roads with established routes near Chaney’s Dairy Barn and Jody Richards Elementary School, as well as a Smiths Grove route that connects to Mammoth Cave. But he’s unable to safely bike to campus from his current neighborhood.

“Human-powered recreation is an important component of a healthy life. Not everyone wants to drive their car all the time,” Lewis said. “I think there’s been progress made with the greenways, and I certainly applaud that. I know that (BikeWalk BG) is working really hard to make it a bike-safe city.”

But Bowling Green truly becoming a bicycle-friendly town would require a significant “shift in mentality” and “a recognition that a bicycle is a viable mode of transportation and is worthy of having a place in Bowling Green,” he said.

These efforts also must include the actual creation of bicycle infrastructure, which includes both bike parking and bike paths, and “motorists treating cyclists as human beings and not as road objects,” Lewis said.

In Bowling Green, many city bike lanes don’t connect people to destinations, but instead “start out of nowhere and end right in the middle of traffic,” such as on 12th Street, Lewis said. “If you can’t complete the loop, you’re actually putting people in more danger.”

– Follow reporter Caroline Eggers on Twitter @eggersdailynews or visit


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