Cyclists are a frequent sight in downtown Winston-Salem, particularly on West Fourth and Trade streets. The two dieted roadways have long been narrowed to two lanes, slowing motorized traffic, while wide sidewalks and on-street parking provide safety and comfort for pedestrians.
On the western periphery of the central business district, Burke Street serves cyclists as a convenient conduit between downtown and the healthcare and retail hub strung between Baptist Hospital and Thruway Shopping Center that flanks the northern rim of the Ardmore neighborhood. On-street parking and a string of thriving pedestrian-oriented businesses on Burke Street already make the corridor copacetic for cycling, and shared lane markings only enhance the comfort level. On a recent visit to the street, I counted cyclists traveling in either direction at a rate of roughly one every six minutes.
Another example of the city’s investment in bicycle infrastructure is a section of bike lane on Northwest Boulevard from Hawthorne Road to Reynolda Road that passes Wiley Middle School and Hanes Park. Cyclists dressed in spandex share the corridor with a number of runners, emphasizing recreation and fitness over necessity or conveyance.
I briefly chatted with Don Noakes, a certified public accountant.
“For me, it’s a break from work, and it’s cardio,” he said. “I work in the house from my desk, and I get up and ride 10 or 15 miles.”
He said he generally sticks to Northwest Boulevard, although he sometimes makes detours into downtown to take in the scenery.
Daniel Wirtheim — the Triad City Beat intern and photographer for this story — and I watched a woman in a motorized wheelchair roll down the bike lane and cross the busy intersection at Reynolda Road. With the bike lane ending she rolled onto the curb ramp and continued on the sidewalk. Clearly, at least in some cases, bike lanes and sidewalks are used more for necessity than recreation.
A proposed bike expressway — or pedestrian/biking path separated from motorized traffic — along Business 40 linking Liberty Street at the eastern end of the downtown with Baptist Hospital is one of the big projects on the drawing boards. Meanwhile, a greenway flanking the new Salem Creek Connector will provide a new southeasterly pedestrian and biking connection between downtown and Winston-Salem State University. And the city is sharing costs with the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter to complete a trail along a discontinued raised rail line from Fourth Street down to both the Salem Creek Connector greenway and Business 40 pathway.
In the short term, the city has funds for resurfacing and painting bike lanes on several street segments radiating from the central business district in all directions. Burczyk easily reeled off a list of Winston-Salem streets that are slated for new bike lanes in the next year: Fifth Street, Old Greensboro Road, Waughtown Street, Cleveland Avenue, Liberty Street from Patterson to 14th, Trade Street from Fourth Street to Glenn Avenue, Academy Street, Hawthorne Road, part of Stratford Road and a new section of Northwest Boulevard that turns into 14th Street.
The area within a five-mile radius around the city center containing old-line neighborhoods built with sidewalks before World War II might present the best opportunities for walking and biking, Burczyk said, adding that maybe the city should focus its efforts there.
Beyond that, it’s a forbidding territory.
Bill Petrie, who commutes to his job at Downtown Perk from his home out in the county, said he maintains a healthy respect for cars. Riding on suburban thoroughfares and rural roads is dangerous, maybe even more so than when he was growing up in Winston-Salem.
“I follow the mantra of ‘no shortcuts,’” he told me. “One time I cut through a parking lot at the corner of Reynolda Road and Fairlawn Drive. They had strung up a wire across the parking lots that I couldn’t see. I’ve still go scars on my arm to prove it. It about took my head off. I was laying there in the parking lot. Nobody helped me. Ever since then, I don’t cut through parking lots or get up off the road onto the sidewalk.”
Petrie hosts the weekly Winston-Salem Community Bike Ride every Sunday evening. The rides usually start at a location near the city center and loop around 10 miles to explore a different a side of town each week. The group rides slow and no one is left behind.
“It’s not where you live; it’s how you live that’s going to determine the quality of your life,” Petrie said. “It’s not about speed; it’s about enjoying yourself and feeling safe. It’s a confidence builder: You go out into an intersection and you’re exposed on four sides. There’s nothing to protect you when you go through six lanes. That gives you a sense of confidence: I did this.
“We do ride the greenways, but that’s not always an option,” he continued. “We stick to the bike lanes and the low-traffic roads. I scout the roads the week before. I send out a newsletter. I try to give people a heads-up: This part might be hilly.”
The idea is that cycling should be accessible to people of all ages and levels of fitness. Just as Petrie embraces a philosophy of “no shortcuts,” he also follows what he calls the “kindergarten rules.”
“You need to wait in line instead of moving forward,” he said. “There are two schools of thought. Some people see a line of cars and cruise right past them. But you don’t know what the car in front is going to do — if they’re suddenly going to make a turn.”