By Morgan Bryce
Construction began recently on a new, multi-use recreational bike path in downtown Opelika, a part of the city’s continuing effort to become a bicycle-friendly community.
According to City Engineer Scott Parker, the project, called “Destination Downtown,” will have two phases: the first on South Railroad Avenue, from Fifth Street to Samford Avenue. The second will continue down Samford Avenue, ending near Fox Run Parkway intersection, with its construction beginning in March.
Parker said the vast majority of work in the first phase will be spent repairing sidewalks and shrinking lane width, to accommodate for the path’s presence. He said it should take approximately two months to complete.
Shirley Lazenby, president of the Opelika Bicycle Advisory Committee, said that the state of Alabama ranks worst in the nation in regards to bicycle-friendly communities. With help from the city, Lazenby said she and her organization are trying to change that statistic.
“What happens in most communities after they take off one bite by installing a path, next thing you know the administration, the leaders, the advocates in that community … they begin to advocate for more, and that’s what we hope for with this project in Opelika – we just hope it’s a starting point,” Lazenby said.
Last year, Opelika, Montgomery and Birmingham all received honorable mention from the League of American Bicyclists as cities who are acknowledging the needs of its bicyclists, and Lazenby said she believes the city is trending in the right direction.
“We are in the infancy of becoming a bicycle friendly state … and we hope this new path is a flash point. We hope it’s something that allows people’s imaginations to begin to explore what else they can do,” Lazenby said.
Parker said he thinks the project demonstrates the city’s commitment to growth and change.
“I think it’s going to show the citizens and the people that travel to the city to visit and to work and to shop and eat that Opelika is progressing into more of a bicycle-friendly city … that we would accept and look forward and reach out to the bicycle travelers and bicycle culture and all the improvements that go along with that,” Parker said.
For updates, follow the Opelika Bicycle Advisory Committee on Facebook.