The Antiplanner spent the last four days in Las Vegas and, since I’m not particularly interested in sitting at tables and giving my money to large corporations, I brought my bike with me. You might not think that a city and season where temperatures often reach 110 degrees would be bicycle friendly, but I found Las Vegas to be excellent for cycling.
It helps that I was willing to get up at 5 am, when it was only about 88 degrees, and do a 30- to 50-mile ride before the temperatures exceeded 95. Beyond timing, the city seemed to be well designed for cyclists.
Actually, I was at a conference on the Las Vegas Strip, which isn’t in Las Vegas; it, along with the Las Vegas airport, are in an unincorporated city called Paradise that was made a township (preventing Las Vegas from annexing it) in 1950 by developers seeking to minimize taxes and regulation. They succeeded in attracting tens of billions of dollars of resorts, most of which are owned by just a few companies.
Yet Paradise and many nearby communities that I cycled in, including Spring Valley, Henderson, and Las Vegas itself, all seemed to share similar street patterns. Las Vegas was originally founded by Mormons, and though only 5 percent are Mormon today, the city and its suburbs continue to build wide streets that are characteristic of Salt Lake and other Mormon cities.
East of Las Vegas Boulevard (“The Strip”), for example, Flamingo Road has three general travel lanes in each direction, plus two left-turn lanes, and one very wide bus lane in each direction. The Antiplanner is on record in holding that bus lanes are usually underutilized, but these bus lanes are also open to cyclists, and the lanes are wide enough that buses can pass cyclists with plenty of room to spare. Effectively, then, the street is ten lanes wide.
Wide streets throughout the region means there is often plenty of room for bike lanes even if the street had no dedicated bus lanes. I saw only a few other dedicated bus lanes, but many major streets with striped bike lanes.
The other thing about the streets is they are nearly all well maintained. Unlike other cities that claim to be bicycle friendly but have allowed their streets to fall apart so they can build streetcars, streets in Las Vegas (and Paradise, Spring Valley, etc.) tend to be free of potholes and the main hazard I encountered was yucca leaves littering a few of the streets.
My only major complaint with the streets is that the traffic sensors are not sensitive to bicycles. This means a law-abiding cyclist can get stuck at a red light for a long time waiting for a car to trip the sensors and make a light turn green. Some streets have pedestrian buttons for the walk-wait signs, but a cyclist who wants to turn left would have to use these buttons twice, once for going forward and once for turning left. Although treadles sensitive to the weight of a bicycle are available, few cities have installed them, and Las Vegas is no different.
In addition to the striped bike lanes, the region has also built many miles of cycling trails, mostly along various aqueducts. These are supplemented by overpasses at major intersections so cyclists don’t have to wait for lights that don’t recognize them to cross eight or ten lanes of traffic. Neither bike lanes nor bike trails are designed to hold up auto traffic.
In contrast, advocates of so-called complete streets argue for making streets narrower and reducing the number of traffic lanes available to cars. Portland has made many streets too narrow to allow both bicycles and buses, and I much prefer Las Vegas’ policies.
Narrow streets are also supposed to be a formula for pedestrian-friendly design. Yet the sidewalks along Las Vegas Boulevard, which–like Flamingo–has eight to ten lanes of traffic (though no exclusive bus or bike lanes), hosts more pedestrians in a day than almost any other street in America. In the 1990s, to minimize pedestrian-auto conflicts, the region began building pedestrian bridges, complete with escalators and elevators, over many of the major streets. There are at least six bridges over Las Vegas Boulevard plus eight over the various cross streets.
Built by the Nevada Department of Transportation using fees paid by the casinos and hotels, the overpasses cost roughly $5 million to $10 million per bridge. Tens of thousands of people walk across each bridge per day. But it is worth noting that the pedestrians were there before the overpasses, which confirms the Antiplanner’s belief that the most important components of successful pedestrian-friendly design is that the pedestrians be there first.
In contrast, the 4-mile-long Las Vegas Monorail, which was also built by the casinos at a cost of more than $650 million, only sees a total of about 12,000 riders a day. Although my inclination is to doubt any kind of fixed rail, I suspect it would have done much better if it were built over and with views of Las Vegas Boulevard instead of behind the hotels where it offers excellent views of parking garages and dumpsters.
I did notice that there is almost no place for pedestrians to sit except in restaurants, casinos, and other places that expect you to pay for the privilege. Yet I didn’t see anyone complaining about this. Overall despite the monorail’s failure, I’d say that the private developers who designed the Strip have done a much better job at promoting pedestrianism than most government-employed planners.