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Posts from the "Bicycle Infrastructure" Category

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“Bike-Washing” the Keystone Pipeline [Updated]

An architectural firm's rendering for a bike path along the Keystone Pipeline. With sunflowers! Image: SWA Group

Houston-based architecture firm SWA Group has heads spinning today: Is their proposal to build a bikeway next to the Keystone Pipeline pure satire or a serious attempt to “bike-wash” the most reviled fossil fuel distribution project of our day?

SWA developed this idyllic rendering and sent it to the State Department and TransCanada, calling for a bike path alongside the proposed 1,300-mile Keystone Pipeline. The firm acknowledged that the drawing was tongue-in-cheek but insisted to Bloomberg that the proposal was serious. Apparently, SWA thinks the bikeway would defuse opposition to the pipeline and attract tourists.

That’s too bad, because as satire, it’s pretty sharp. A version of this happens all the time in cities: Proponents of an expensive boondoggle road project that will do nothing but encourage long, life-sapping commutes slap a bicycle path on the plans and call it a “multi-modal” corridor to placate opposition.

Environmentalists still aren’t sure the Keystone bikeway isn’t a joke. “Seriously, this can’t be for real,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska, a pipeline opposition group.

A spokesman for TransCanada rejected the proposal, saying the corporation doesn’t own the land where the pipeline is planned and that any structures would block access to the pipeline. Meanwhile, Salon reports the bike lane proposal would cost a cool $400 million.

Update: Looks like this proposal is more satirical than SWA has been letting on to the press, since they originally put it out on April Fool’s Day. Well played. (Hat tip: Richard Masoner.)

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Supreme Court to Consider Fate of Rail-Trails

For the second time in history, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a case about rail-trails. At stake is the public ownership claim of hundreds of thousands of miles of right-of-way around railroads, some of which has been converted into multi-use trails.

The Medicine Bow rail-trail lies 30 miles west of land claimed by both a private landowner and the Forest Service. Photo: TrailLink

The Supreme Court will hear the complaint of Wyoming property owner Marvin Brandt, who owns 83 acres along an abandoned Pacific Railroad Company line. According to E&E News, some of the land along the line became part of Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, and some was privately developed. In 2005, the Forest Service claimed a “reversionary interest” in the land under the 1875 General Railroad Right-of-Way Act, with the intent of building a rail-trail.

To offset the costs of building railroad lines across the country in the 19th century, the U.S. government granted the railroads the right-of-way for the corridors along which they would lay the tracks, but it maintained public ownership rights in case the railroads ever abandoned them — which they have, all over the country. The U.S. had 254,000 miles of railroad in 1916, down to less than 140,000 today.

“Not only did this ensure that the corridors would remain available for public use, but it also ensured these vital transportation routes would remain in place should rail service become viable or necessary once again” after the railroads abandoned the routes, RTC explains. These corridors have sometimes been converted into highways and, as RTC advocates, rail-trails, giving people an important recreation and transportation link. Not all rail-trails are in the remote plains of the west, either — some have become key commuter routes in cities and towns.

While the Wyoming tussle over property rights played out, the 21-mile Medicine Bow rail trail was completed — 30 miles west of Brandt’s land. But trail enthusiasts dream of building a connector trail that would link Medicine Bow to other nearby trails, which could go through the disputed area.

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“Macho Bike Culture” and America’s Paucity of Bike Infrastructure

This morning Andrew Sullivan highlighted a story in the Australian journal The Conversation that explains how the “macho” bike culture of the 1970s contributed to low cycling rates in that county and the United States as well.

Paint is not enough to make cycling on the street appealing to most people. Image: The Conversation

The Conversation‘s Steven Fleming points to recent studies showing that streets with protected bike infrastructure are safer than streets without it. People prefer to ride in protected bike lanes as well. As feminist bike activist Elly Blue told Streetsblog recently, having to ride with traffic means that your city’s bicyclists will range “from the most fit to the least fearful.” But if you want to broaden cycling’s appeal beyond “one percent of the population,” you’ll have to make it safer and more comfortable.

But for years, influential American cyclists, almost out of a sense of pride, resisted protected bike lanes, Fleming writes:

Bike store owner John Forester was a keen “vehicular cyclist”. He could keep pace with cars, assert his right to a lane, and gracefully somersault onto the grass if ever a driver looked but didn’t see him. He published these tips in his 1976 book Effective Cycling, with some good intentions, but also a hint of male pride.

By the way he opposed the Dutch-modeled cycle tracks he feared would spread to the US, you could be forgiven for thinking his secret fear was being made to ride beside women and children.

Authorities throughout the Anglosphere nations where Forester’s book was read most were happy to listen to a male voice of cycling. There was no way though that Forester’s ideas were going to have sway with the Dutch.

Too many Dutch mothers were already active in the Stop the Child Murder rallies that began in 1973 after 450 children were killed on their bikes in one year.

The “vehicular cycling” movement that Forester helped spawn in the United States is thankfully waning. But we’re still dealing with some of the results of resisting bike infrastructure: much lower cycling rates and much higher traffic fatality rates than countries like Denmark and the Netherlands.

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Gridlock Everywhere: Congressional Impasse Shuts Down DC’s Trails

Some cyclists are ignoring the barriers erected by the National Park Service and using the Capital Crescent Trail despite the shutdown. Photo by someone named Ricky, who is friends with DC Bike Ambassador Pete Beers.

Washington, DC’s bicycle commuters woke up this morning to find that one popular rail-trail was closed due to the government shutdown, which took effect at midnight.

The Capital Crescent Trail is the most heavily-used rail-trail in the United States, with more than a million users a year. Not just a weekend pleasure-ride spot, the CCT is thick with bicycles during morning rush hour as people use it as a safer and more pleasant bike-commuting alternative to DC’s congested streets. Now, the government would give them no choice — though the Washington Area Bicyclist Association reports that there’s little enforcement and intrepid bike commuters are using the trail despite the barriers.

Since this important bike route is managed by the National Park Service, it is part of the vast collateral damage of the embarrassing scenario unfolding on Capitol Hill. WABA warned yesterday that “all or part of the heavily-commuted Rock Creek Trail, Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and George Washington Memorial Trail are on NPS property” and could also be shut down, but early reports seem to indicate that they’re still open.

The 185-mile C&O Canal trail, which runs from DC’s Georgetown neighborhood to Cumberland, Maryland, is also closed.

The 185-mile C&O Canal Trail, which begins in Washington, DC, is closed. Photo tweeted by Bike Arlington

All roads are open during the government shutdown, except some leading into national parks, which are closed. In DC, this would include Rock Creek Parkway and other roads through the largest urban national park in the country — but, curiously, that key car-commuter route is still open. However, Rock Creek Park’s Beach Drive is closed to car traffic during the shutdown, so people who enjoy riding their bikes there on weekends, when drivers are normally kept out, will enjoy riding it today. That’s one nice trade-off for losing the CCT.

WABA was alerted to the possible Capital Crescent Trail shutdown yesterday, and bollards were put in place at the entrances to prepare to block trail traffic. The sections of the CCT within Montgomery County remain open, since they are owned by the county, not NPS.

DC has a disproportionate number of city parks under NPS, but certainly the shutdown will prevent people from using other popular off-road trails around the country, like this one in the Philly area. Where else are cyclists and pedestrian commuters being impacted?

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FHWA to Transportation Engineers: Use the NACTO Bikeway Design Guide

In a significant step forward for American bike infrastructure, the Federal Highway Administration issued a memorandum late last month essentially endorsing street designs like protected bike lanes.

Protected bike lanes now have the official backing of the federal government. Image: Green Lane Project

In the memorandum, FHWA urges transportation engineers to use the guidelines issued by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, which contains templates for bikeway designs widely deployed in Europe but shunned in the U.S. until very recently.

This federal endorsement is critical because protected bike lanes have yet to be officially sanctioned by the country’s most influential transportation engineering organization: the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. AASHTO publishes the “green book,” which for many transportation departments serves as the bible of street design. But, being a bit stodgy, AASHTO has never included protected bike lanes in its standards, despite mounting evidence that these designs improve safety.

The exclusion of protected bike lanes from the country’s most important engineering guide has stymied growth, since U.S. transportation engineers generally hesitate to use designs that don’t have the imprimatur of AASHTO or FHWA. The FHWA memorandum encourages its divisions around the United States to be “flexible” in bicycle design, and refer to both the AASHTO and the NACTO guides for assistance.

“It’s great news,” says Martha Roskowski, director of the Green Lane Project, an initiative that promotes the adoption of protected bike lanes in American cities. The Green Lane Project recently surveyed transportation professionals around the country about the barriers to installing high-quality bike infrastructure. More than 90 percent of respondents reported it would be helpful or very helpful if FHWA would endorse the NACTO guide.

Many American engineers have felt reluctant to install protected bike lanes, thinking they could held liable for deviating from federal guidelines should a collision occur. As a result, some states, notably California and Illinois, have measures that prevent cities from installing protected bike lanes in certain circumstances. Roskowski thinks this endorsement from FHWA will help resolve that.

“I think we’re sort of pretty close to tearing down that wall in the engineering world, saying, ‘We can’t build these,’ which has been the response [to innovative bike treatments] from the engineering community in the United States for a long time,” she said. “Now there’s a convergence of forces saying, ‘Yes we can build them.’”

Roskowski said she believes the memorandum is an interim measure, until FHWA develops its own bikeway design guide, which is expected in about a year.

Streetsblog NYC 5 Comments

After the Addition of Bike Lanes and Plazas, Manhattan Traffic Moves Faster

Car traffic into Manhattan has basically stayed flat since the recession, while transit ridership has started to rebound. Image: DOT

After several blocks in the heart of Times Square were pedestrianized and protected bike lanes were added to five avenues in the middle of Manhattan, motor vehicle traffic is actually moving more smoothly than before, according to the latest release of NYC DOT’s annual Sustainable Streets Index [PDF].

The report, which gathers data from the MTA, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and DOT’s own counts, also shows that the volume of traffic entering Manhattan has basically stayed flat since 2009. At the same time, transit ridership has started to rebound from the recession and service cuts.

Even with population and employment levels increasing after the recession, car traffic into the Manhattan CBD declined 1.7 percent in 2011. Since 2003, traffic volumes are down 6.5 percent, while transit trips to the area have increased 11.3 percent.

The drop in Manhattan-bound traffic has come primarily from the Hudson River tunnels, which have seen a 3 percent drop since 2008, while volumes on the free East River bridges remained flat and traffic over the free Harlem River bridges inched up 1 percent. (It’s no surprise why: Port Authority tolls encourage people to take transit or carpool, while the city’s free bridges offer no such incentive.)

In Manhattan below 60th Street, predictions that reallocating space to walking, biking, and transit would only worsen traffic have not come to pass. In fact, average traffic speeds have picked up. GPS data from yellow cabs below 60th Street show that average speeds are up 6.7 percent since 2008. The average speed of a taxi trip, which was 8.9 mph in 2011, inched up to 9.3 mph last year. (Note that these average speeds don’t mean, as Matt Flegenheimer put it in the Times, that “drivers in much of Manhattan can rarely flout the law, even if they try.” In addition to aggressive and dangerous behavior like failing to yield to pedestrians, speeding in Manhattan is still very common even if average speeds are well below the limit.)

Manhattan’s business districts aren’t the only places where transit is on the rise as driving volumes fall. According to metrics incorporating car crossings between boroughs other than Manhattan, citywide traffic volumes declined 1.8 percent in 2011 from the previous year, while transit ridership increased 0.4 percent, despite service cuts and fare hikes implemented the year before. The most recent numbers are in line with a long-term trend: Since 2003, NYC transit ridership is up 9.5 percent, while driving counts have fallen 3.9 percent.

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Atlanta’s Big Bike Push

Atlanta's new 10th Street protected bike lane. Image: Ryan Gravel via Twitter

What would it take to change Atlanta into a place that values and celebrates healthy, active transportation? We just may see, in short order.

Atlanta just recently installed its first protected bike lane on a short segment of 10th Street at Piedmont Park. But that’s just the beginning of what the city has planned.

Atlanta has committed almost $2.5 million in local funds to building 26 “high-quality” bike infrastructure projects this year, including six miles of protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes and bike boulevards. One of those protected lanes runs right through the center of downtown on Peachtree Center Road.

Joshuah Mello, assistant director of planning at the city of Atlanta, who oversees transportation, says Peachtree Center will be like Chicago’s Dearborn Street bike lane. The bikeways will build on the success of Atlanta’s Beltline trail system, which will connect urban neighborhoods by reclaiming abandoned industrial areas.

Atlanta’s City Council and Mayor Kasim Reed authorized the bikeways expenditure in February and began Phase 1 of the “Cycle Atlanta” plan. Mello said the mayor’s strong commitment to better bicycling was key, as was the city’s involvement in the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). Atlanta joined the organization as a member city in 2011 and the following year hosted one of the organization’s “Cities for Cycling” events.

Now all of Atlanta’s transportation engineers use NACTO’s bikeway design guide for planning in addition to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ guide, which excludes protected bike lanes.

“A lot of our engineers now carry the NACTO guide around to our meetings,” said Mello. “It’s been the go-to document for our city staff.”

Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, said her group is thrilled.

“It’s like Christmas came early this year. We’re really excited,” she said. “I think it’s going to really surprise a lot of people who have almost given up on this kind of thing in Atlanta.”

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The Livable Streets Leader You’ve Never Heard Of: Leicester, England

In Leicester, England, the city redesigned an intersection and DeMontfort University built a more pedestrian-friendly building, improving access to a Medieval fortress structure and bringing pedestrian crossings to the surface. Photos courtesy Andy Salkeld.

Leicester is a city of about 330,000 in England’s East Midlands region. Like many other cities, it developed big mid-century plans to drive highways through its city center and paved over much of its historic core. In some cases, it even paved over its history: the bones of King Richard III, killed in battle nearby, were recently discovered beneath a parking lot. In the past decade, however, Leicester has unearthed more than just a king; it’s also reclaimed space from the automobile and become a model for other cities looking to create more livable communities.

On Monday, Leicester’s bicycle coordinator, Andy Salekeld, spoke at a fundraiser for Recycle-A-Bicycle and discussed the changes underway in his city.

In order to start shaping a new future for cities, Salkeld said, we have to start thinking of automobile dominance as an era in history. “We need to start talking about it as the past,” he said, showing a slide of a mid-century gas station in Leicester that’s received historic designation. “I take people on bike rides to see this,” he said.

Beginning in 2008, Leicester pedestrianized some of its busiest downtown shopping streets. Salkeld said the city has seen a net increase in the number of people coming to the area, boosting the fortunes of merchants during an economic downturn. The city has had to work closely with advocates for the disabled, who are often worried that their needs will not be met in a “shared space” street, Salkeld said. The pedestrian streets program is expanding, using trials to test a concept before etching it in stone — a tactic that Salkeld says they’ve learned from New York.

Another intervention that Leicester is borrowing from other cities is protected bicycle lanes. The Connecting Leicester project includes £7 million for new protected lanes on three major roads leading to the city center, in a bid to help bridge the divide created by the inner ring road, a tangle of flyover ramps and traffic lanes. That road itself is being shrunk, piece by piece, to make the city safer and more attractive for bicycling and walking.

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In California Cities, Drivers Want More Bike Lanes. Here’s Why.

Whenever street space is allocated for bicycling, someone will inevitably level the accusation that the city is waging a “war on cars.” But it turns out the people in those cars want separate space for bicycles too, according to surveys conducted in two major California metropolitan areas. Bike lanes make everyone feel safer — even drivers.

Far from constituting a war on cars, protected bike lanes are a big relief for drivers. Streetsblog SF

Rebecca Sanders is a doctoral candidate in transportation planning and urban design at the University of California-Berkeley. She’s spent a lot of time asking people — drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians — what kinds of street treatments would make them feel safer, giving them a list of safety improvements to choose from. Most drivers said their top priority was bike lanes. (In the Los Angeles area, the top choice was for improved pedestrian crossings, but bike lanes were a close second.)

Sanders began this research with Jill Cooper of Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, under the sponsorship of the state department of transportation (Caltrans). They interviewed drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on major corridors in and around San Francisco and Los Angeles, asking drivers why they picked the mode they did, and asking everyone how they perceived safety issues, especially for biking. Then they asked what kinds of street treatments would make the street safer for them.

“What was interesting about that study was that in the San Francisco Bay Area, the most requested item, across the board, was a bicycle lane on the corridor,” Sanders told Streetsblog. “It was the most requested item by drivers, it was the most requested item by pedestrians, and it was the most requested item by bicyclists. That was quite surprising to us.”

It’s no shock that cyclists asked for dedicated street space in overwhelming numbers, and it stands to reason that pedestrians want bicycles off the sidewalk. Perhaps it should be just as obvious that drivers would welcome dedicated bike infrastructure, too. They find that bike lanes help them be aware of cyclists and make cyclists’ behavior more predictable, according to Sanders’ research. In general, there’s less potential for conflict between drivers and cyclists when they each have their own space.

“We have not done a good job of recognizing and validating the concerns of drivers about predictability,” Sanders said. “For a long time, cyclists have been defensive; they’ve been fighting for space, and legitimately so. But in the process, some areas where we could really work together, I think, have fallen to the wayside. Everybody wants predictability on the roadway. Nobody wants to feel like they’re going to get hit or hit someone else and it’s going to be beyond their control.”

The results of Sanders’ San Francisco-area research are due to be published soon in the Transportation Research Record and are available now on the Berkeley website. Meanwhile, Sanders has continued to look into drivers’ attitudes toward bike lanes, making it the topic of her (as yet unpublished) dissertation. She has conducted focus groups and internet surveys to shed light on what drivers and cyclists need to feel safe.

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GOP Mayor Greg Ballard: Making Bicycling a Priority in Indianapolis

Across the nation, many big-city mayors of both political parties are embracing bikes and livable streets. As you’ll see, Indianapolis’ Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, believes that making city cycling safer and more enjoyable will attract young people and families and benefit business.

Ballard has expanded the number of miles of bike lanes from one (in 2007) to over 75, and there are plans for 200 miles of bikeways by the year 2015. In addition, the city has seen the grand opening of the magnificent Indianapolis Cultural Trail (there’s a great Streetfilm coming on that shortly), which features eight miles of safe biking and walking paths.

Mayor Ballard also does it with his body and voice. He now personally leads four bike rides per year, encouraging people to get healthy, have fun and see their city from a different perspective.