NKY cycling community advocates for action on bike lanes, cyclist safety

Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton Hornbeck
Kenton is a reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Dozens of cyclists packed Covington City Hall Tuesday night in support of cyclist Gloria San Miguel — who was killed while riding her bicycle on the 11th Street Bridge last month — and to advocate for potential changes that could make Northern Kentucky roadways more friendly for cyclists.

In the wake of San Miguel’s death, a regional conversation regarding cycling and pedestrian safety bubbled up surrounding the relationship between motorists and cyclists — and the roads they share.

In Kentucky, cyclists and motorists are legally required to share the roadways. Bicycles are considered vehicles, and cyclists have the same rights and the same responsibilities to follow the rules of the road as motorists.

Vision Zero NKY, a program under the Devou Good Foundation, called on Covington residents and business owners to speak in favor of a physically protected two-way bike lane on the 11th Street Bridge during the Covington City Commission meeting on Tuesday night.

“Drivers routinely exceed 65 MPH (more than 2x the posted limit!) and the bridge is lacking a protected bike lane to keep people safe,” said a press release from Vision Zero. “We are proposing to repurpose one drive lane of the bridge to a physically protected two-way bike lane.”

At the commission meeting, Covington Mayor Joe Meyer said the City of Covington is in support of protected bike lanes, but so far no feasible possibilities have been presented to the city. He also pointed out that Covington recently completed an over $1 million project to expand the protected bike lane along Highway Avenue.

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The bike lane along Highway Avenue in Covington. | Photo by Kenton Hornbeck.

“The City of Covington is disposed in favor of designated bike lanes,” Meyer said. “We have said that consistently. We are in favor of feasible alternatives. Nobody has given us any alternative to consider as of this moment, no proposals have been given to the city staff or the city leadership.”

Mark Phipps of Covington, the man charged in the death of San Miguel, turned himself into the Newport Police on Aug. 25, five days after he allegedly struck and killed her. Phipps is charged with manslaughter, tampering with physical evidence, and leaving the scene of an accident. 

San Miguel left behind her partner, Zack Vickers, and her young daughter, Luna. She was considered a beloved member of her community, and was an employee of Roebling Point Books & Coffee.

Vickers’ friend Jake Lee to read a message to the commission on Vickers’ behalf to the Commission. Lee told the Commission that Vickers said he, too, has been hit by a car while cycling twice in his life.

“The love of my life, the mother of my child, the activist that always wanted the best for this place called home,” read Lee. “I’m not a civil engineer, and there has to be a process. The fact is that this problem will not go away. The longer we ignore it, the more the community will get hurt or even worse, never come home.”

There were over 10 people who spoke to the commission, each providing a different reason they believe protected bike lanes should be implemented.

Irene Encarnacion, vice chair of the Esperanza Latino Center of NKY, told the commission that greater safety measures should be implemented, not only for people who enjoy biking as a leisure time activity, but also for people who rely on biking as their primary mode of transportation.

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“For many of our Latino families, they do cross the river and they do cross the Girl Scout Bridge on a daily basis to go to work,” Encarnacion said. “For Latinos, bike riding is not actually leisure, it is a transportation method to go back and forth to work.”

Mel McVay, a senior city planner for the City of Cincinnati, has experience working on transportation projects for municipal governments. McVay was the project manager for Cincinnati’s bike transportation plan.

“It is my professional opinion that there absolutely should be protected bike lanes on the bridges,” McVay said. “I’m so glad to hear that you all are supportive of that.”

Nolan Nicaise, a candidate for Covington City Commission and a cyclist, presented four ideas to the commission on how to improve bike safety in the city.

“How do we make Covington the star,” Nicaise said. “How can we attract people here? How do you make this on highlighted place within the United States that other cities come to and say, ‘They’ve done a good job?'”

Nicaise’s ideas include:

  • Fixing crosswalk signals that require pushing buttons.
  • Replace some traffic lights with four way stops.
  • Install speed bumps.
  • Install protected bike lanes.

“I want Covington to be a place where people can have their kids leave their home on bicycle or on foot and not have to worry about them,” Nicaise said.

The largest cities in the state are Louisville and Lexington, and their infrastructure is based around cars, with sprawling roadways connecting urban centers to suburban developments. This is also apparent in Northern Kentucky cities such as Covington and Newport.

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Factors such as mass motorization influenced American urban planning in the mid-20th century, as planners and engineers raced to enhance American roadways to accommodate more cars.

Other factors, such as the construction of the Interstate Highway system, cemented American’s reliance on cars. Interstates often cut through neighborhoods in large cities, which had trickle down effects such as negatively impacting city infrastructure and decreasing the use of public transit systems in many cities.

Matt Butler, president of the Devou Good Foundation, told LINK nky on Sept. 2 that a meeting was held with the Newport city government involving the implementation of greater safety measures for cyclists. Meyer announced Covington is having a meeting with the Devou Good Foundation on Sept. 14.

“The truth is that those of us here to push for better bike and pedestrian access between Covington and Newport are used to repeating this message,” said former reporter and cyclist Pat LaFleur.

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