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Posts from the "Bicycle Infrastructure" Category

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Why It Makes Sense to Add Biking and Walking Routes Along Active Rail Lines

Despite high train frequency, southeastern Pennsylvania's Schuylkill River Trail -- 60 miles long and about to double in length -- provides a stress-free biking and walking experience. All photos from ##http://www.railstotrails.org/ourWork/reports/railwithtrail/report.html##RTC##

Despite high train frequency, southeastern Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River Trail — 60 miles long and about to double in length — provides a stress-free biking and walking experience. All photos from RTC

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

You’ve heard of rail-trails — abandoned rail lines that have been turned into multi-use paths for biking and walking. There are more than 21,000 miles of rail-trails across the country, in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

But these trails don’t need to be built on the graves of defunct rail lines. A growing number of them, in fact, are constructed next to active rail lines. In 1996, there were slightly less than 300 miles of these trails. Today there are about 1,400 miles.

Railroads tend to be skittish about approving walking and biking routes because they fear liability if someone gets injured. Even so, 43 percent of rails-with-trails, as they’re known, are located wholly within railroad rights-of-way, while another 12 percent have some segments inside the right-of-way. So negotiating with railroads — from Class I freight railroads to urban light rail operators — is possible, if you know how to approach them.

At the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike conference in Pittsburgh next month, Kelly Pack of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy will be joined by Thomas Baxter of Pittsburgh’s Friends of the Riverfront and Jerry Walls, who chairs the board of the SEDA-COG joint rail authority in central Pennsylvania, to give tips on how to create new rails-with-trails.

While railroads are wary of opening up space near tracks to people walking and biking, there are ways to get through to them. And if advocates in your area aren’t convinced that walking and biking alongside a noisy railroad track is such a great idea, there are arguments to address their perspective, too. Here are eight great things about rails-with-trails.

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One-Day Protected Bike Lane Demos Have Swept America this Summer

A temporary demo during StreetsAlive! in Fargo, North Dakota, on July 15. Photo: Dakota Medical Foundation

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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.

This is what a tipping point looks like.

Around the country in the summer of 2014, community groups across the United States have been using open-streets events and other festivals to give thousands of Americans their first taste of a protected bike lane.

From small-town Kansas to the middle of Atlanta, communities (many of them inspired by last summer’s successful $600 demo project in Minneapolis) have been using handmade barriers and relatively tiny amounts of money to put together temporary bikeways that spread the knowledge of the concept among the public and officials.

“Every traffic engineer who touches a street in Oakland, they were all out on their bikes checking it out,” said Dave Campbell of Bike East Bay, who led the creation of maybe the year’s most beautiful demo on Telegraph Avenue there. (Click to enlarge — it’s worth it.)

“We wanted this to look awesome,” Campbell said in an interview. “People would see this and go, ‘That’s f—— awesome. I want that on my street.’

Here are some of the results from around the country:
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The Plan to Build Bicycle Highways Where Cleveland’s Streetcars Once Ran

A local group is proposing repurposing old streetcar rights of way into protected bike lanes. Image: Bialosky & Partners

A local group has proposed repurposing old streetcar rights of way as protected bike lanes. Image: Bialosky & Partners

Like many cities in America, Cleveland grew into its own as a streetcar city. In the early part of the last century, hundreds of miles of streetcars connected all corners of the city as well as its inner suburbs. The streets where tracks carried passengers — Lorain, Superior, Euclid — were the circulatory system of the city, around which neighborhood life was organized.

St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland was once bustling with activity, when it was a streetcar route. A group of Clevelandites wants to make it active again with bike infrastructure. Image: Google Maps

St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland bustled with activity when it was a streetcar route. A group of Clevelanders want to make it active again with bike infrastructure. Image: Google Maps

But around the middle of the 20th century, streetcars gave way to private cars — upending this way of life. Many Clevelanders got in their cars and abandoned historic urban neighborhoods at disastrous rates, moving to former farmlands where they could shop in big box stores. Streetcar tracks were mostly paved over and forgotten, leaving extra-wide streets behind. The retail spaces that lined those routes are now pocked with vacancies.

But some local residents see an opportunity to transform these historically significant corridors back into something vital and attractive. They call their plan the Midway — a proposal to transform former streetcar rights-of-way with landscaped, center-running bike lanes.

“It seems so obvious to me,” said Barb Clint, director of community health and advocacy at the YMCA of Greater Cleveland. Clint is also a board member at Bike Cleveland, the city’s bike advocacy group. (Disclosure: I’m also on the board of Bike Cleveland and have helped promote the Midway in Cleveland.)

Clint is a veteran of the Cleveland public sector and non-profit scene, and she knows the problems with the city’s streets well. ”We have these massive streets, with severely low volumes of traffic. They’re not comfortable to walk along, they’re not comfortable to bike along because people are driving so fast,” she said. ”We can’t preach at people and tell them they should be more physically active if we’re not providing them safe places to do so.”

Two years ago, Clint and another Bike Cleveland board member, John McGovern, came up with the first iteration of the Midway plan. The beauty of the streetcar routes is that they’re nicely dispersed throughout the city. And in almost all cases, the space is ripe for reuse: Cleveland’s streets lack the traffic congestion of larger, growing cities.

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Hundreds Protest After Omaha Mayor Scraps City’s Only Bike/Ped Planner

About 300 people braved rainy conditions to demand better bike and pedestrian accommodations this weekend in Omaha. Photo: Mode Shift Omaha

About 300 people braved rainy conditions this weekend to demand better bike and pedestrian accommodations in Omaha. Photo: Mode Shift Omaha

Despite rainy weather, about 300 people gathered this Saturday in Omaha to protest the city’s plans to eliminate its “bike czar” position.

Carlos Morales, the city’s bike/ped planner, had been recruited from Los Angeles for the job, which paid $80,000 per year. But the new budget proposed by Mayor Jean Stothert eliminates the position, which had been funded for four years primarily through grants.

Protesters demanded three things, said Stephen Osberg, vice chair of the advocacy group Mode Shift Omaha: 1) They want the position maintained; 2) they want a complete streets policy; and 3) they want a citizen’s advisory board for bike and pedestrian projects.

“There’s been a lot of progress made in bicycle and pedestrian planning in the last few years,” said Osberg, including the addition of bike lanes and work on a major trail project. “But we don’t see the sort of systemic change that would indicate the city has fully integrated multi-modal planning into its agenda.”

Stothert responded to the protest by issuing a statement saying the city would establishing an “Active Living Advisory Committee” run by volunteers. But she maintained that the “bike czar” would be eliminated.

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How Bike-Friendly Streets Help Denmark Combat Inequality

danish bike use by income 570

Source: Transportvaneundersøgelsen, DTU Transport. 2011. Currency conversion: 7.69 DKK/USD via OECD PPP charts, 2011.

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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.

We don’t have to dream of a country where protected bike lanes and other quality bike infrastructure have dramatically improved life for poor people. We can visit it.

It’s called Denmark, and it’s arguably the most egalitarian country in the world.

Data published online for the first time suggests that bicycle transportation has been part of that triumph.

After embracing cars in the 1950s and 60s, Denmark took a U-turn around 1970 and began using protected bike lanes and low-speed side streets to make bicycle transportation an efficient, comfortable option. Today, this small, prosperous peninsula (whose capital, Copenhagen, is about the size of Columbus, Ohio) has the second-highest biking rates in the developed world after the Netherlands.

Ask Danes what sort of Danish people bike and they will probably say: “everyone.” In a sense, that’s true. But it also obscures something you’ll almost never hear a Dane mention: the massive benefit biking provides to the country’s poorest.

As you can see in the top chart, people of all incomes bike in Denmark at some of the highest rates in the world, but biking is most common among the poorest Danes.

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Journey Around Copenhagen’s Latest Bicycle Innovations

Copenhagen just keeps finding fun ways to make it easier and more convenient to bike. On a tour with Mikael Collville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co, I was able to tour some new innovations that have been implemented since I was last in Copenhagen four years ago.

First: If you’ve seen my Streetfilm from the VeloCity Conference 2010 (yes, feel free to watch again here) there is a new busiest bicycle street in the world! The Knippelsbro Bridge boasts 40,700 riders per day! And speaking of bridges, Copenhagen is building six new bike/ped-only bridges to help its people get around easier.

Last month saw the debut of the Cykelslangen “Cycle Snake,” immensely popular with adults and kids alike. You’ll see loads of footage as we travelled back and forth over it. It is truly a handsome piece of infrastructure. Even going uphill seems easy!

You’ll see lots of other things in this Streetfilm that will make you happy — or angry your city isn’t doing more — including wastebaskets angled for cyclists, LED lights that indicate whether riders have to speed up to catch the green light, and a cool treatment for cobblestone streets that helps make biking easier.

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How One-Day Plazas and Bike Lanes Can Change a City Forever

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up lane and intersection treatment at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition installed this pop-up design at an Open Streets event to show neighbors what a protected bike lane could look like. All photos courtesy of Sam Rockwell.

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Sam Rockwell rides his bike every day from his home in Minneapolis to his office at BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota in Eagan, 12 miles away, where he spends his days plotting ways to get other people riding their bikes too.

By all accounts, Minnesota is doing a pretty good job on that front. One way Rockwell — and his co-conspirator at BlueCross, Eric Weiss — are looking to make healthy, active transportation even better is by installing temporary “pop-up” infrastructure around the state so people can take new street designs for a test ride.

Despite relatively high levels of biking, Minnesota has somehow neglected to install even a single on-street protected bike lane — though Minneapolis has approved a plan to build 30 miles of them by 2020. Weiss, Rockwell, and the advocates they work with use pop-up installations to help local leaders and residents see how the infrastructure will look.

“We get that, ‘We don’t support it because we don’t know what it is; we’re never going to know what it is because we don’t have any,’” Rockwell said. “There needs to be some way of breaking out of that cycle.”

The pop-up strategy, he argues, is the way. “These are low-cost, quick and easy initiatives,” he said. “And also low-risk, because in the case of the pop-up cycle track, they put it up for one day on a number of different days throughout the summer, and then they just lift it out. It’s non-threatening.”

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The Bayou Greenways Plan: A Game-Changer for Houston?

Image: Kinder Foundation

The Bayou Greenways project will add 150 miles of biking and walking paths, but will Houston residents be able to safely access it via local streets? Image: Kinder Foundation

Houston’s Bayou Greenways plan is perhaps the largest active transportation project in the country right now — if residents can actually use it for transportation when it’s completed.

Jen Powis of the Houston Parks Board has described the greenway project as a cross between the Atlanta Beltline and the Portland Bike Master Plan, which “re-envisions transportation” in the city. The project is undoubtedly ambitious, but it remains to be seen whether the city will create safe street-level walking and biking connections to the greenway network.

Construction of the Bayou Greenways is already underway. Once complete, it will consist of a comprehensive network of greenways and walking and biking trails along the city’s many natural bayous.

The plan comes from a blueprint more than 100 years old. It was part of early city planner Arthur Comey’s vision for the Houston park system back in 1912. And in many ways, it’s brilliant.

Greater Houston has 10 major natural bayous, which flow out toward the Gulf of Mexico, spread fairly uniformly across the region. These marshy areas aren’t suitable for development, but they can be used for active transportation and recreation. Already there are some 70 miles of disconnected biking and walking paths along these waterways.

The $480 million project will create a network of 300 miles of paths and some 4,000 acres of parkland along these waterways over seven years. If it were completed today, it would be the country’s largest urban trail system.

Linking together the bayous and sprucing them up is expected to pay big dividends. For one, it will greatly expand recreational amenities in the region; six out of 10 Houstonians will live within a mile and a half of a trail or greenway. The city has estimated the combined economic return at $70 million per year. Of that, $10 million is expected to accrue annually from increased property values near the parks and improved business attraction and retention. Another $10 million is expected to come from enhanced water quality and reduced flooding. Finally, the expected increase in exercise and physical fitness is valued at $50 million annually.

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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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