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Cincinnati Streetcar Foes Have New Target: Bike Lanes

Here is a drawing of the bike lane's design. Image: City of Cincinnati

The bike lane that Mayor John Cranley wants to “pause.” Image: City of Cincinnati

Another big transportation showdown is brewing in Cincinnati. This time the fight isn’t over a streetcar — it’s about a protected bike lane.

The Cincinnati Business Courier announced earlier this week that Mayor John Cranley had ordered city officials not to award a contract on the Central Parkway protected bike lane project, which was set to begin this spring. The project — the city’s first protected bike lane — was approved unanimously by City Council last fall.

But now that the funding has been awarded and the political process has wrapped up, the mayor and new City Council members Kevin Flynn and David Mann apparently want the project reevaluated, as a result of complaints from one business owner along the corridor. Tim Haines, who runs Relocation Strategies, said he is afraid of his employees losing free public parking. The plans calls for eliminating parking during rush hour.

City Councilman Chris Seelbach told the Business Courier that the mayor doesn’t have the authority to interfere with the awarding of contracts for a project that has already been approved by council. Proponents of the bike lane, many of the same people who successfully fought for the streetcar, are swinging into action, as well. Groups like We Believe in Cincinnati, Queen City Bikes and Cincinnatians for Progress are planning to pack a committee hearing where the project will be under discussion Monday.

“The group that worked to promote and save the streetcar — we’re still organized,” said Randy Simes, founder of the blog Urban Cincy.

Simes says council members Flynn and Mann are using the same rhetoric they used in the streetcar controversy — claiming the project was passed by a “lame duck” council, and smearing the previous administration.

“It’s almost identical [to the streetcar controversy]. It’s funded. It’s funded with outside money. If they change that dramatically they jeopardize the funding,” Simes said. “If they decide to pause too long, they really just kill the project.”

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Streetsblog LA 16 Comments

Caltrans Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

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Big Win in Charleston: Car Lane Converted to Bike/Ped Path on Key Bridge

Bicyclists grown onto the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

After Tuesday’s vote, cyclists in Charleston won’t have to mix with traffic on the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

Charleston, South Carolina’s Legare Bridge carries about 56,000 cars over the Ashley River daily, but it’s never had a safe path for people on bikes. Connecting central Charleston with population centers to the west and south, it is such a critical corridor that bicycle advocates call it Charleston’s “missing link.”

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Image: Post and Courier

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Photo: Post and Courier

Now, after years of campaigning, Charleston cyclists have finally won a safe route on the bridge. Charleston City Council voted 8-5 Tuesday to open one of the car lanes to biking and walking exclusively, and active transportation advocates are elated.

Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves, the city’s bike advocacy organization, said the decision “truly is the linchpin to total bicycle friendliness.”

Central and downtown Charleston are on a peninsula, and the city and its suburbs sprawl over creeks, marches and rivers, so safe access to bridges is absolutely essential to navigating the city by bike. Bradford said Charleston has been getting more bike-friendly, but because of the city’s geography, “it never would have amounted to more than a hill of beans unless we could get across the Ashley River.”

Bike advocates have talked about opening the bridge — State Highway 17 — up to cyclists since the 1970s. The campaign intensified a few years ago when Charleston Moves took the lead. The group organized a petition drive, generating 1,500 signatures. It also went around to neighborhood groups and student organizations asking for resolutions in support of a bikeway on the bridge.

And Tuesday night, when City Council was set a vote on the issue, advocates for a safe bridge path packed the house. Charleston Moves‘ Board Chair Stephanie Hunt describes the scene:

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Four Reasons Cities Can’t Afford Not to Invest in Bike Infrastructure

Guadalupe Street in Austin. Image: ###http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/these-15-stories-show-exactly-how-great-bikeways-help-local-economies## People for Bikes##

Guadalupe Street in Austin. Photo: People for Bikes

It isn’t window dressing. Or a “hip cities” thing. Bike infrastructure — not the watered-down stuff, but high-quality bikeways that get more people on bikes — is becoming a must-have for cities around the U.S.

That’s according to a new report from Bikes Belong and the Alliance for Biking and Walking. Researchers at these groups interviewed 15 business leaders from around the country about what impact bike facilities are having on their bottom line.

Here are the four main takeaways.

1. Bikeways make places more valuable

David Baker, founder and principal at David Baker + Partners Architects, is a huge proponent of the protected bike lane near his Second Street offices in San Francisco. It’s crucial for keeping his employees safe on the way to work, he said. He also admitted liking it for “selfish” reasons.

“I own the office. I know that if we have protected bike lanes out there, it will improve my property value,” Baker told researchers.

There’s data to back up this claim. A 2006 study found that in Minneapolis, median home values rose $510 for every quarter-mile they were located closer to an off-street bikeways. In Washington, D.C., 85 percent of nearby residents say the 15th Street bike lane is a valuable community asset.

2. Bikeways help companies attract talent

Founders of the Portland-based advertising start-up Pollinate used the firm’s location in central Portland, and the nearby bikeways, to attract and build its team. About two-thirds of the company’s employees bike commute at least occasionally.

Bike infrastructure “used to be a perk,” said Ben Waldron, co-founder. “Now it seems like it’s a right.”

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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: 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.”

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Bike Signals Get the Green Light From Engineering Establishment

Think of it as a Christmas gift: On December 24, the gatekeepers who determine which street treatments should become standard tools for American engineers decided to add bike signals to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, sometimes called “the bible of traffic engineering.”

Cities will no longer have to undergo expensive additional engineering studies to install bike signals. Image: ##http://bikeportland.org/2011/12/27/on-january-1-bike-traffic-signals-get-the-green-light-in-oregon-64283## Bike Portland##

Cities will no longer have to perform expensive engineering studies to install bike signals. Image: Bike Portland

The decision should lead to more widespread use of bike signals, which can be used to reduce conflicts between people on bikes and turning drivers, give cyclists a head start at intersections, or create a separate phase entirely for bicycle traffic. They are often used in tandem with protected bike lanes.

Prior to the Christmas Eve vote by the committee that updates the MUTCD, bike signals were considered “experimental.” Communities seeking to install them first had to fund expensive engineering studies.

But no longer. In a memo regarding the approval, Federal Highway Administration officials noted that bike signals have been shown to improve safety outcomes as well as compliance with traffic rules by cyclists. Crash rates involving cyclists have been reduced as much as 45 percent following the installation of bike signals, FHWA reports.

Michael Andersen at People for Bikes’ Green Lane Project notes that bike signals reduce the risk to cyclists at intersections, which are where most collisions occur.

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Engineering Establishment Poised to Endorse Bike Boxes and Bike Signals

Bike boxes and bike traffic signals are becoming increasingly common in American cities. But as of yet, these tools are not fully recognized by one of the country’s most important engineering guides.

Bike boxes may soon be updated to officially recognized guidance in engineering manuals. Image: ##http://otrec.us/project/423## Otrec##

Bike boxes may soon be officially recognized in engineering guidance. Image: Otrec

Bike boxes and bike signals are currently classified as “experimental” in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — which stops many local agencies from installing them. But there are new signs that these two treatments are on their way to official acceptance from the engineering establishment.

The MUTCD is developed and revised by an advisory group called the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devises. When that committee meets for its annual meeting in January, one of the recommended updates they’ll be considering is elevating bike boxes and bike signals to regular, non-experimental status in the MUTCD.

Ronnie Bell, chair of the Signals Subcommittee, and Bill Schultheiss, of the Bicycle Subcommittee, both confirmed that their groups were forwarding these treatments to the full committee for approval after reviewing the performance data in American cities.

In order to receive “interim non-experimental approval,” these recommendations will need to receive two-thirds support from the full NUTCD committee. In addition, the proposed changes must still undergo review by AASHTO and the Institute of Transportation Engineers, followed by a “rule-making period” during which design recommendations are fine-tuned.

MUTCD approval “gives cities interested in these tools permission to use them,” said Darren Flusche, policy director at the League of American Bicyclists. “It will help traffic engineers in those cities sleep easier at night knowing that the treatment is officially approved.”

Streetsblog NYC 26 Comments

New Layer of Red Tape From FHWA Threatens to Delay NYC Bike Projects

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking to impose a new layer of bureaucratic review on New York City bike projects, which could significantly delay the implementation of street redesigns that have proven to reduce traffic injuries and deaths.

The Federal Highway Administration wants to impose a level of bureaucratic review that could delay projects like the Kent Avenue bike lane by one to two years. Photo: NYC DOT

According to a source in city government, FHWA wants the New York State DOT to review each individual NYC bike project design before releasing federal funds for implementation. This would be a major departure from the existing practice in which the state DOT approves a package of bike projects for funding simultaneously, without performing design reviews of each one. If the state DOT starts reviewing every single NYC bike project going forward, it could dramatically slow down the addition of new bike lanes, delaying each by up to two years, the city official said.

Currently, NYC DOT pays for many of its bike projects using funds from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program. These CMAQ grants have laid the foundation for the city’s bike network expansion over the past six years. The federal grants first pass through the state DOT, which then releases the funds to the city.

According to the state DOT, the state has to review federally-funded projects classified as capital construction. NYC bikeways are implemented primarily through contracts that involve striping but not capital construction, and the state DOT confirmed that for years most bike lanes have been built without being classified as “construction projects.” FHWA now wants to reclassify bike lanes, triggering the more time-consuming review procedure.

While the impetus to reclassify bike lanes appears to have originated with state DOT sometime earlier this year, the agency has since backed away from the idea. The feds remain intent on pursuing the much more time-consuming process, however, with FHWA saying it is applying review protocols established by the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act.

The city official says the review procedure is flexible, and there is no need to reclassify bike lanes. The current, streamlined review procedure has led to the implementation of projects all over the city with demonstrable safety benefits, routinely lowering the rate of traffic injuries by more than 25 percent [PDF].

Street safety advocates are alarmed at the prospect of a much lengthier bureaucratic review for New York City bike improvements. ”This may help explain why expenditure of CMAQ funds on bicycling and walking was so anemic in FY2013,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “These kinds of ridiculous bureaucratic barriers are stymieing progress at the local level and it’s making the Federal government and FHWA in particular look out of touch with reality.”

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A Thousand Cyclists Hold “Die-in” to Demand Safer Streets in London

One thousand cyclists held a "die-in" in front of London's transportation offices on Friday to dramatize the dangers faced by the city's cyclists. Image: ##https://twitter.com/MeredithFrost/status/407286714835955712/photo/1## Meredith Frost/ABC##

One thousand cyclists held a “die-in” in front of London’s transportation offices on Friday to protest dangerous streets. Image: Rory Jackson via ABC

In a potent demonstration for safer streets, 1,000 Londoners staged a “die-in” with their bikes in front of the city’s transportation offices Friday. ABC producer Meredith Frost shared the above image, taken during the 15 minute demonstration. It has been going viral on the Internet. The original photo was taken by a member of the public and given to the Stop Killing Cyclists protest group.

Demands for safer streets have gained urgency in London following the death of six cyclists in a two-week period. Organizers are demanding 10 percent of the city’s transportation funds for safe bike infrastructure.

“We want a real budget, at the moment we’re getting crumbs,” organizer Donnachadh McCarthy told the BBC. “We want an integrated cycling network in London within five years and we want a say at the top table.”

The die-in tactic has some detractors, who think it will scare people from cycling and obscure evidence that cycling has recently become safer in London. But the BBC points out that similarly blunt and aggressive protests were key to the success of the 1970s-era safe streets movement in the Netherlands. They have also been used, with some success, to demand better infrastructure in American cities such as San Diego.

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Talking Headways: A Streetsblog Podcast, Episode 3

This week, Jeff and Tanya take on the Atlanta Braves’ terrible, no-good, very bad decision to move their stadium to Cobb County, Georgia. We discuss cities that are (and are not) shaped like wedding cakes, and whether that means you need to smoosh your spouse’s face in it. Tanya makes a pedestrian-rights argument against high-heeled shoes (and Jeff abstains from taking sides). We parse the differences between “shared streets” — without marked-out space for cars, bikes, and people on foot — and vehicular cycling.

In between, we speculate on what DC would look like without height limits, make fun of neighborhood parking bullies, pity the mega-commuters, and most importantly, shame the transit riders who fail to cede their seats to those who need them because they have their heads stuck in Angry Birds.

By the way, if you don’t subscribe yet to Jeff’s daily headline roundup, The Other Side of the Tracks (also known as The Direct Transfer), you’re missing a lot. Sign up here.

And PS — I promised we would have an iTunes RSS feed available for you by now and we are this close. Soon, I promise.