In Austin, a Protected Bike Lane Built to Help Kids Get to School

The Bluebonnet protected bike lane in Austin serves children riding to Zilker Elementary. Image: ##http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/what-if-bike-comfort-is-more-important-than-bike-safety## People for Bikes##
The Bluebonnet protected bike lane in Austin serves children riding to Zilker Elementary. Photo: ##http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/what-if-bike-comfort-is-more-important-than-bike-safety##People for Bikes##

What does it look like when a city gets serious about giving kids the freedom to get to school on their own? Austin, Texas, is showing people what’s possible with a protected bike lane that serves an elementary school.

With the help of the Green Lane Project, the capital of the Lone Star State has really been stepping up its bike infrastructure lately. The city has been looking for strategic places to add protected bike lanes whenever it has the opportunity, says Bike Austin Executive Director Tom Wald, whether it’s resurfacing a street or making some other physical or design change.

One of the more interesting protected bike lane projects in Austin is Bluebonnet Lane, which was redesigned in 2012 with a two-way bikeway separated from traffic with flexible posts. What’s especially notable about this piece of bike infrastructure is that it runs through a more residential area, as opposed to the typical highly-trafficked downtown thoroughfare.

Chad Crager, Austin’s bicycle program manager, says the project, the first of its kind in Austin, was planned in part to create a safe environment for children to bike to Zilker Elementary, located on the same street. And it’s working.

“The school and surrounding neighborhood have seen increases in bicycling since the protected bicycle lane was installed,” Crager said. “Bicycle counts at the school showed that before the facility was installed two kids rode to school and afterwards this number rose to 40.”

Zilker Principal Randall Thomson said at first some parents opposed the idea of the bike lane, which removed a lane of parking in front of the school. Some students use the district’s “voluntary transfer” program to attend the school from outside the immediate area, and their parents have to drive them. But since the bike lane was installed objections have dissipated, he says, and most parents see it as a positive amenity.

“Some of the children ride by themselves or in groups,” Thomson said. “It’s definitely used every day.”

  • hamish

    One issue that arises with these types of lanes is how many crossing-over points there are; some leading edge guidelines suggest real caution or outright avoidance depending on the # of conflict points with turning car traffic. This seems to have relatively long distance between any such conflict point, but unless I get energetic and track down a map, it is less clear.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I read about this cycletrack and saw this same photo a couple of months ago and took a close look at this project via Google and Bing imagery. This two way cycletrack runs 0.7 miles. To the north it turns the corner onto Melridge and starts/ends VERY awkwardly at Rabb. 9 intersections on that side of the street alone and numerous driveways later, the cycletrack ends to the south at Rabb Glenn. This terminus is not as awkward.

    I must ask, how much will drivers be looking for cyclists coming down the wrong side of the road at these 9 intersections and driveways? What about adult cyclists that can ride at 20 mph? Where are they to ride? Trust me many will ride on this too, not aware of the danger this facility puts them in as they ride at higher speeds. Others cyclists will rightfully ignore this facility, ride in the road and piss-off drivers by not riding in the “bike-lane.”

    As a professional in the field I could not have recommended this design based on the number of conflict points alone. Also, the road should have never even been considered a candidate for a protective facility since it has low traffic volumes. I would have suggested a conventional bike lane despite likely width constraints on the roadway and suggested that the young kids like those pictured ride on the sidewalk.

    I am VERY disturbed by facilities that trade ACTUAL safety for PERCEIVED safety. I am even more bothered that the Green Lane Project holds this up as a model project.

    A bike is a vehicle, not a toy. GET OVER IT!

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    Yes, a bike is a vehicle. That’s why countries that care about bicyclists’ safety and providing safe access to bicycle facilities for people of all ages have extensive networks of protected bike lanes and other designs that prioritize bicycle traffic over motorized vehicle traffic and create safer conditions for pedestrians at the same time.

    The protected lane designs developing in the U.S. aren’t perfect yet, but they are not less safe than subpar facilities, are probably more safe, and when we have a complete network of such facilities they will be far safer than mere paint that dominants so much infrastructure now. For all the vehicular hand-wringing, the kind of carnage predicted in these kinds of lanes just doesn’t occur.

    If you are riding your bike in a protected lane at 20 mph and can’t figure out when to pass other users, then you probably shouldn’t be riding 20 mph in that protected lane, and you might need a remedial Traffic Skills 101 course.

    Vehicular cycling orthodoxy does not make for safer, better, more inviting cycling conditions, and does not increase bicycling rates or safety.

  • CyclingAdvocate#3472

    Actually, vehicular cycling (orthodoxy or not) does increase safety. It teaches cyclists how to be visible, predictable, and prepared.

    What it doesn’t do, as you state, is increase bicycling rates in and of itself. But then again, it’s not supposed to. Vehicular cycling is just a methodology for safe and respectful cycling on the road, not a marketing campaign. It’s cycling education.

    Compare it to the study of physics– a methodology of analyzing variables and predicting actions to reach desired results. It’s great for doing that, but no one’s going to fault users of physicists for not inspiring generations of mathematicians.

    Getting people on bikes and educating them how best to ride bikes are two very different concepts. Where vehicular cyclists disagree with the proponents of separated infrastructure (like the piece in the article) is the use of expensive and physically small engineering projects to encourage cyclists by removing them from the real world of transportation. Except in the Netherlands, etc., there is never an educational component and that doesn’t help people *cycle well everywhere* as much as it *encourages people to ride in a small sliver of boardwalk*.

    Getting people on bikes and teaching how best to use their rights in all cycling situations are not mutually exclusive concepts. To heal this rift between these two major factions of bicycle advocacy, we need to start making sure education and engineering happen at the same time.

  • Yes , a Bicycle is a Vehicle. And Do Not call it a Toy. You could call it a piece of Sporting Equipment, but don’t call it a Toy.

  • Bob P

    Plastic posts do not “protect”, at best this is a buffered bike lane.

  • martha

    Bikes should never ever ever ever be on the sidewalk. Kids this small need to know how to use a bike CORRECTLY, expert-in-the-field person.
    This isn’t a great bike lane; but it works in its context.
    Win!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Putting cyclist on the wrong side of the road where drivers pulling out of those conflicting intersections do not expect or will be looking for them is extremely dangerous. This is the hazard for both the young slow cyclists and the adult fast cyclist and is why I oppose this facility. I would never suggest blowing past kids doing 20.

    Kids can ride on sidewalks. As an LCI I teach that its okay as long as kids go slow.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Kids can operate on the sidewalk safely if they are taught to stop and walk across intersections. Adults can do so as well as long as they are conscientious and aware of the hazards and do it sparingly and with courteous discretion.

    How is placing children on the wrong side of the road and exposing them to unnecessary and dangerous motor vehicle conflicts teaching them anything about using a bike correctly? A bike lane (even a buffered one) that would replicate the proper vehicular cycling position would do much more to teach these children just that, and be usable to all levels of cyclists from age 10 to 100.

    People, we are talking about a residential street with low traffic volumes and a 30mph (?) speed limit. How much hand-holding do you need to ride a bike?!?! I rode my bike all over neighborhoods and roads like this all by myself when I was a kid and did just fine without any bike amenities. I never considered it dangerous and neither did my parents.

    Again, a bike is not a toy. So please, NO TOY BIKE FACILITIES!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    And since cyclists are going in the opposite direction of traffic, closing speeds by a car on the child pictured above is higher and not reduced if he were traveling with traffic. Not only does this make it more difficult for both parties to make corrections do to decreased closing times, it also amplifies the severity of a potential crash.

    As Bob said above, “plastic posts do not ‘protect.'”

  • andrelot

    Vehicular cycling is heavily avoided in countries that have high usage of bikes as elected choices (not just poor 3rd World places where ppl can’t afford other vehicles).

    Vehicular cycling is the land equivalent of using small fishing boats on busy ocean-going vessels port access lanes. It restricts cycling to be a hyper-alert, super-assertive behavior where you need to “conquer” your space.

    That is why countries that take cycling seriously like Denmark or Netherlands do exactly the opposite: provide as much segregated – and high quality – cycling infrastructure as possible.

    As for the “what should a person wanting to cycling on a sportive manner should do?”, the answer is – go look for a sports track. I’m not really concerned about those cyclist on the upper 5% of speed and endurance, they just need to conform to the general pace of bike traffic on bike lanes, likewise people driving sports cars don’t (or shouldn’t) be accommodate with 150mph speed limits on roads, and acrobatic plane pilots cannot just carve their space around busy airports or fast runners cannot expect everybody walking on a sidewalk to automatically yield to them on city streets.

    Cycling will never get mainstream if it is an assumption cyclists have to navigate busy streets with lots of car traffic.

  • Andy

    ” I’m not really concerned about those cyclist on the upper 5% of speed
    and endurance, they just need to conform to the general pace of bike
    traffic on bike lanes,”

    So you would restrict existing cyclists to the speed of children? , You are no friend of mine.

  • Thunderpants

    Doesn’t making drivers more aware of them provide some degree of protection to the cyclists? If not “protect”, what do you call it when their installation causes a decline in accidents? I’m not saying the plastic posts could physically prevent a collision. I’m saying they could do it in other ways.

  • CyclingAdvocate#3472

    For the sake of semantics, I just want to point out that your use of ocean-going vessels is a really bad example for your intended cause. At ports and in major travel corridors, watercraft of all kind coexist daily. From the giant oil tanker to the little sailboat with a crew of 3, everyone is expected to be visible (and communicate over radio), move predictably, and be prepared to act and respond to emergencies. It’s the jerk going against the flow or making sudden moves that tends to muck everything up.

    If you’ll accept the tiny sailboat as cyclists and the oil rigs as SUVs and even larger hauling trucks, you’ll see the correlation and the value of educating cyclists how to coexist on the roads to which they have written, legal rights.

    We’re not going to dig new oceans for sailboats to scoot about in, after all, right?

  • andrelot

    Appropriate bike paths are wide enough to allow faster cyclists to, normally, overtake slower cyclists.

  • How is a kid riding on the sidewalk against the direction of vehicular traffic any different or safer than a kid in the two-way bike lane shown here? The intersection/driveway risks are the same, and in fact the child on the sidewalk is closer to the potential impact zone for vehicles exiting the driveway (where you might expect more limited lines of sight than for a driver coming off the street) than in the street on the bright green lane. This is an inconsistent argument.

  • I’ve never seen anything suggesting that fast riders should go slow because they’re in bike lanes also occupied by slower riders. The only relevant speed limit for the bike lane is the one for the street as a whole (and it IS relevant–bicyclists should get tickets in school zones just like drivers if they’re blowing it).

    I get overtaken in bike lanes by other riders all the time, and I occasionally (okay, rarely) overtake others. If the lane is narrow and there isn’t room to pass safely, then the faster rider needs to wait to make the move–same principle as when operating a motor vehicle and rarely something that’s going to hold the faster rider back more than 2 seconds. (The situation of lots of slow little kids in the lane is precisely why a strong, fast rider will be out in the motor vehicle lane in the illustration above during peak school travel times; since that’s a school zone everyone should be able to coexist given the probable 20mph limit, and a slower rider like me is perfectly happy to poke along in the crowd for a few blocks and then speed up again.)

    On a shared/multi-use separated path, on the other hand, speed limits of 15mph are relatively common and faster riders shouldn’t be blowing the rest of us out of their way without regard for others. That’s a different riding environment than being in a bike lane next to faster cars and the simile of the race car applies. Overtaking can occur when it’s safe but not all paths are built with sufficient width for that to be available every foot of the way if it’s a popular route. My race-training husband avoids riding on most paths for this reason.

    My biggest complaint with some people on bikes is when they behave like some people driving cars: They expect me to get out of their way because they’re going faster, when I have the same right to use that facility as they do. If you wouldn’t want a driver doing it to YOU, you shouldn’t be doing it to another rider.

  • Flibberty Gibbet

    For sure, fast cyclists shouldn’t complain about slow ones. (To be fair, I’m a slow cyclist myself, but am probably faster than most kids.) I expect cars to slow down until they can pass me safely, and likewise I am happy to slow down until I can pass a slower cyclist safely. It’s the basic rules of the road.

    But the real problem with this facility is not collisions between cyclists; it’s collisions between cyclists and motorists. I’d be scared to ride on that thing at even 5 or 10 miles an hour, because I understand how traffic works.

    The danger here is the intersections. Bike lanes typically shouldn’t be placed anywhere there are intersections (or parking lanes, but that’s another story). This is because the far right is the least visible place to be. That’s why motorists who hit bikes at intersections complain, understandably, that the cyclist “just came out of nowhere.” Motorists pulling out of driveways and other intersections only look for vehicles positioned in the traffic lane, going in the direction of traffic. That’s where bikes should be if they want to be visible, predictable, and safe.

    The green paint and pylons do help some with telling cars that something unusual is up, but I doubt they help enough to compensate for the increase in danger from a) the bike lane being in a low-visibility position and b) having some bikes go counter to the flow of traffic.

    If this were a trail that were physically separated from the road by several feet, that would fix the wrong-way issue. And if it had either stop signs or bridges at each of the intersections, that would solve the intersection conflicts. Then and only then would I feel safer biking there than in the traffic lane, which is the usual, well-designed place for vehicles (including bikes).

    Now, since this facility is mainly intended for kids, who are prone to making more dangerous errors than adults (e.g. falling off the bike, stopping in the lane to talk with friends, etc.), it’s understandable that biking in the traffic lane could compound those mistakes in ways that a bike lane wouldn’t. Personally, I don’t think I would let my kids ride in the traffic lane without me or another adult until they were competent cyclists and at least 12 or so. In the meantime, how should kids bike to school? That’s a fair question.

    Riding on the sidewalk is fine, if they stop at each intersection. So, another way to vastly improve this flawed facility would be, at each driveway, to put stop signs in all three directions, and at each four-way intersection, to put stop signs at least in the bike lane and preferably in all four directions. That does make for a tedious bike ride, but the only safe place from which to continue past a driveway or intersection without stopping is a VISIBLE place: namely, the center of a traffic lane.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    This street is residential with low traffic volumes and lower speed limits. This is the wrong facility type for this scenario.

    Two, vehicular cycling is simply following the rules of the road like any other vehicle. You need to understand the basics of VC to operate on any roadway or cycle path. Do you become a blithering idiot once you turn off the cycletrack and turn onto the nearly empty residential streets to the side of this example? I doubt you do.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Bingo!!!! Someone gets it!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Oh Barb. And I so loved your other reply.

    But now not only are kids riding on the wrong side of the road but so will the adults riding in this facility and they will be much more numerous. What about night time operations with cyclists riding with bright LED lights? How will drivers react to a vehicle coming at them on the wrong side of the road? Should we put all cyclists in a dangerous position on the road to accommodate children going to school?

    Putting kids as young as that pictured on the sidewalk is safe because most only travel marginally faster than adult pedestrians. I and other LCI’s with as much and more experience than I have thought this through and concluded for state sanctioned SRTS bike education curricula, it’s okay to teach kids its okay to ride on the sidewalk as long as they look out for hazards at driveways and stop at intersections.

    This facility puts all cyclists at risk of intersection conflict crashes in an attempt to accommodate a small number of child bicyclists traveling at pedestrian speeds, and that’s wrong.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    There was a recent case out of Portland of these plastic bollards blocking the line of sight of drivers at an intersection leading to numerous near crashes. I’m not against the use of bollards but you need to be careful with them.

  • Rebecca_A

    No one has commented on the woman with the wide stroller on the bike lane. People should not be walking in a bike lane!

  • Tim

    Oh yes, I wish they’d stop “treating bikes like toys”, with dedicated safe infrastructure, like they have in the Netherlands where 40-50 percent of journeys are made by bike…

  • Tim

    Yeah, and all those sidewalks, they make pedestrians forget how to behave in traffic. They should be banned too. I’m all for vehicular walking!

    Fool.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Tim, you might be surprised but I pretty much agree with you. The only problem is that this particular facility is NOT safe. All that glitters….

  • Sam Youn

    That looks like one of those Jogging trikes, more suitable to the bike lane than on the sidewalk.

  • lop

    >more suitable to the bike lane than on the sidewalk.

    Why? Because it’s annoying going around all those slow walkers? How do you think the bikes feel? Also why can’t she move to the side instead of creeping over the line like that?

  • Sam Youn

    well, certainly wouldn’t want to annoy you.

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