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Posts from the "Bicycle Infrastructure" Category

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Contraflow Bike Lanes Finally Get Nod From U.S. Engineering Establishment

Contraflow bike lanes -- of bike lanes that are directed the opposite way of vehicle traffic, look to be on their way to the nation's leading traffic engineering guide. Photo: NACTO

Contraflow bike lanes could soon be included in an influential traffic engineering guide. Photo: NACTO

Buffered bike lanes have been used in some American cities for decades now, and an increasing number of cities are implementing contraflow bike lanes. But only just now are these street designs getting official recognition from powerful standard-setters inside the U.S. engineering establishment.

Bike lane markings in the intersection space may soon be part of important engineering guidance. Image: Bike Delaware

Bike lane markings through intersections may soon be part of important engineering guidance. Image: Bike Delaware

Late last month, the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices gave its approval to 11 treatments, including these two bike lane configurations. Committee members also, as anticipated, approved bike boxes and bike signals, which had been considered “experimental,” as well as bike lane markings that continue through intersections.

This opens the way for these designs to be included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Without recognition in the MUTCD, engineers in many cities are reluctant to install these treatments. Official acceptance in the leading design manual would help make these treatments more widespread — and that will help make American streets safer for biking.

That’s still not a done deal. The committee approval is advisory, and the group’s recommendation will now be sent to the Federal Highway Administration for potential inclusion in the MUTCD. To get final approval, the new guidelines must undergo a rule-making period where they are reviewed by other engineering institutions that have historically been averse to change, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

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What a Great Pilot Bike Lane Project Looks Like: 3 Best Practices

Cheap and flexible: A pilot protected lane project on Multnomah Street in Portland. Photo: Green Lane Project

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

From Calgary to Seattle to Memphis, the one-year pilot project is becoming the protected bike lane trend of 2014.

Street designers looking to use the design have been putting down their digital renderings and picking up plastic posts and barrels of paint, city staffers from around the country said in interviews this week.

“I think there’s been sort of this realization that we don’t have to be so theoretical in our work and we don’t have to be so tied to the process,” said Kyle Wagenschutz, pedestrian and bicycle coordinator for the City of Memphis. “By doing a pilot project you’re able to very quickly put a substantial change on the ground in your city.” The point isn’t to avoid public dialogue, Wagenschutz argues. Just the opposite.

Because a pilot project lets ordinary people see a new street design in action, rather than “spending three to five years talking about renderings and sketch models,” Wagenschutz said, “you’re changing the starting point for your input. You’re changing the point by which people begin to communicate. … The dialogue is based on this new experience that they’re having rather than a dialogue about what might be.”

It’s not unlike the philosophy of many software startups, Wagenschutz said: “Ready, fire, aim.”

But that doesn’t prevent some pilot protected bike lane projects from misfiring. So we talked to a few creators of successful ones to get their advice.

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Memphis Turns Two Highway Lanes Into a Car-Free Oasis By the Mississippi

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pfb logo 100x22 Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Once you start thinking about new ways to use your city’s streets, you start to see opportunities everywhere.

That’s exactly what’s happened last weekend in Memphis, Tennessee, where half of a separated four-lane highway was converted into a safe, direct and stress-free walking and biking route along one mile of the Mississippi River. As we reported in March, Bluff City engineer John Cameron decided this spring to follow the recommendation of urban planning consultant Jeff Speck and experiment with a permanent new car-free space between downtown and the planned Harahan Bridge connection to Arkansas.

“Nothing separates downtown Memphis from its riverfront as powerfully as the current pedestrian-unfriendly condition of Riverside Drive,” Speck wrote in his 2013 report on ways to reconnect the city with the riverfront that created it.

No more. Thanks to years of temporary closures during the annual Memphis in May festival, the city knew nearby streets could absorb the auto traffic without much trouble. And in return, for the price of some plastic bollards and new street coloring, Memphis has opened one of the best streets in the mid-South for biking, walking, skating and playing.

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The Street Ballet of a Bike Lane Behind a Transit Stop

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Why don’t more cities escape the curse of bus-bike leap-frogging by putting bike lanes between transit platforms and sidewalks?

Though “floating bus stops” and similar designs are being used in many cities, others have avoided doing so, sometimes out of concern that people will be injured in collisions with bikes while they walk between platform and sidewalk.

But is this actually a thing that happens? An intersection in San Francisco that uses a similar design seems to be working just fine.

The annotated video above shows one minute of the self-regulating sidewalk ballet.

Seleta Reyolds, the San Francisco Municipal Transportaiton Agency’s section leader for livable streets, calls the corner of Duboce Avenue and Church Street “a great example of how to design for transit-bike interaction.”

Though it’s only been open since June 2012 and hasn’t worked its way into the city’s official collision records yet, Reynolds said she couldn’t find any record of a complaint arising from the intersection.

A few details worth noting:

  • This block is unusual in that it’s closed to cars in the same direction, even on the other side of the transit stop. This removes any risk of right hooks due to limited visibility, an issue that other such designs must handle differently.
  • The relatively narrow bikeway here, with a curb on each side and a flat grade, prompts people to move at manageable speeds. This wouldn’t work as well on a slope.
  • There is no fence here between platform and bike lane. This gives people maximum visibility and maximum flexibility as they negotiate past each other.

A key lesson here is that what’s often true of car traffic — that the safest designs are the ones that avoid as many potential conflicts as possible — is not true for people on bikes and foot. In pedestrianized areas (a British study of 21 such spots turned up exactly one bicycle-related collision in 15 years) people are very good at negotiating around one another. Sometimes, we can all just get along.

Video shot by Charly Nelson. You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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The Younger You Are, the More Likely You Are to Like Protected Lanes

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Before we totally wrap up our coverage of last week’s big new study of protected bike lanes, we couldn’t resist sharing one last detail that might be of interest to American politicians on the lookout for emerging majorities.

Source: 2,068 surveys of people living near protected bike lanes. National Institute for Transportation and Communities, June 2014.

 

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There Is Now Scientific Evidence That Parking Makes People Crazy

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. Fifth in a series.

All this week, we’ve been unpacking the nuances of the first major study of protected bike lanes in the United States. Today, we’re wrapping things up by taking a moment for perhaps the most amusing finding in the 179-page report.

Even when a protected bike lane project creates on-street parking spaces where none existed before, 30 percent of nearby residents think the project made parking worse.

The project in question was Multnomah Street in Portland, where the city removed one travel lane in each direction in order to add buffers for the bike lanes and, at some midblock locations, 21 new parking spaces. Of 492 nearby residents who returned surveys about the project, 30 percent said that the changes had made it harder to park on the street.

At projects that actually removed parking spaces in order to add protected bike lanes, 49 percent of residents said they made it harder to park.

Could it be that when people who oppose bike projects complain about the loss of on-street parking, this issue is often not actually their primary concern?

As scientists sometimes say, the answer to this question is left as an exercise for the reader.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Protected Bike Lanes Make the “Interested But Concerned” Feel Safer Biking

Portland State University study, June 2014

If you like painted bike lanes, you’ll probably love protected bike lanes.

That’s a key finding from the first academic study of U.S. protected lanes, released this week, which surveyed 1,111 users of eight protected lanes in five cities around the country and 2,301 people who live near them.

Among people whose most important reason for not using a bicycle for transportation is that they feel uncomfortable on the streets — a vast swath of city-dwelling Americans that Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller dubbed the “interested but concerned” in a famous 2006 white paper — there’s been scientific evidence for a few years that painted bike lanes make them feel slightly more comfortable. As cities across the country have followed Portland’s lead by striping major streets with bike lanes, the science has been verified on both counts: The share of urban bike commuters has risen just about everywhere … slightly.

Now, Monday’s study offers scientific evidence that protected bike lanes make the same group of Americans feel more comfortable.

Fully 96 percent of people surveyed while riding in protected bike lanes said the plastic posts or parked-car barriers increased the safety of biking in the street. In fact, so did 80 percent of nearby residents, whether they ride a bicycle or not.

Among nearby residents who either currently bike for transportation but feel uncomfortable riding in painted bike lanes on major streets, or who want to bike more despite feeling uncomfortable in painted bike lanes — the feeling of increased safety was particularly strong: 88 percent of those people said the protected lanes were safer.

Even among people who said they had previously experienced a “near collision” while riding in the protected lane, 94 percent said the protected lanes had made the streets safer than they were before.

Separation barriers don’t need to be fancy to get the job done.

These projects drew overwhelming safety and comfort ratings even though many stretches of the protected lanes studied used nothing except flexible plastic posts to separate bikes and cars. In fact, when asked to rate their comfort levels from 1 to 6, more users of protected lanes said they felt comfortable with plastic posts than with parked cars or even a raised concrete curb:

Portland State University study, June 2014

We’re not saying that good protected lane intersections are a snap to design or that no one has ever been hurt in them; every type of intersection sees some injuries.

But when 96 percent of people using the lanes report them to be safer, cities should take note.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Protected Bike Lanes Attract Riders Wherever They Appear

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. Second in a series.

The data has been trickling in for years in Powerpoint slides and stray tweets: On one street after another, even in the bike-skeptical United States, adding a physical barrier between bikes and cars leads to a spike in bike traffic.

Now, the first multi-city academic study of U.S. protected bike lanes is out, and a series of anecdotes have formed a very clear trend line: When protected bike lanes are added to a street, bike traffic rises — by an average of 75 percent in their first year alone, for the eight projects studied.

The bike spike showed up at every single facility measured, even those that previously had conventional painted bike lanes.

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Get Ready for a Landmark Study of America’s Protected Bike Lanes

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

It’s a sign of how new the modern protected bike lane is to the United States that we haven’t actually known very much about them, scientifically speaking.

Until now.

Most academic studies of modern protected lanes have relied on data from countries where culture, land use, street design and social behavior are dramatically different (the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany) or from Canada, which has led the North American protected lane revolution.

Three widely noticed Canadian studies, led by Harvard’s Ann Lusk, the University of British Columbia’s Kay Teschke and Ryerson University’s Anne Harris, focused mostly on safety. And though all three concluded that protected bike lanes greatly improve bike safety (28 percent fewer injuries per mile compared to comparable streets with no bike infrastructure using Lusk’s methodology, 90 percent fewer using Teschke’s; in Harris’s study, protected lanes reduced intersection risk by about 75 percent), they’ve drawn some thoughtful criticism for under-examining the importance of intersections, where most bike-related conflicts arise.

Today, Portland State University’s National Institute of Transportation and Communities released its voluminous findings from a far more wide-ranging study of protected bike lane intersections in five U.S. cities. It’s based on 204 hours of video footage that captured the movement patterns of 16,000 people on bicycles and 20,000 turning cars; on 2,301 surveys with people who live near the facilities; and 1,111 surveys of people using the protected lanes.

“This has never been done on this scale — having five cities and a number of different sites being done at the same time,” NITC spokesman Justin Carinci said in an interview Monday. “The number of hours of video review is unprecedented. But the perceptions piece is really the most definitive of it: This is a big enough sample that we could say for each of the [projects], people feel safe riding them. People say we should have more of them.”

The new study was co-funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Summit Foundation and PeopleForBikes. The team was led by PSU’s Christopher Monsere, Jennifer Dill, Kelly Clifton and Nathan McNeil. You can download the whole report immediately, but if you want the Cliff’s Notes, we’ll be digging into this huge study on the Green Lane Project blog and here on Streetsblog USA one angle at a time, all this week:

  • Tuesday: How protected lanes affect ridership
  • Wednesday: Protected bike lanes and intersection safety
  • Thursday: What protected lanes can’t do
  • Friday: Finally, scientific evidence that changes to auto parking make people crazy

Stay tuned – for those of us who see the potential for bikes to improve cities, the findings are exciting and the notes of caution are useful. We’ll be here all week.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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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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