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Posts from the Bicycling Category

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It Just Got Easier for Cities to Design Walkable, Bikeable Streets

The federal government threw out 11 rules that prevented cities from building walkable streets Photo: NJbikeped.org

The federal government threw out 11 rules that prevented cities from building walkable streets. Photo: NJbikeped.org

We probably haven’t seen the last of engineers who insist on designing local streets like surface highways. But at least now they can’t claim their hands are tied by federal regulations.

Last week, the Federal Highway Administration struck 11 of the 13 design rules for “national highways” — a 230,000-mile network of roads that includes many urban streets.

The rule change eliminates a major obstacle to safe street design around the country. The old rules applied highways design standards — wide lanes, no trees — to streets that function more like main streets, with terrible consequences for safety and walkability.

In October, FHWA proposed eliminating all but two of the old standards on streets designed for speeds under 50 mph, citing a lack of evidence that the rules improve safety. Now, those changes are official.

Ian Lockwood, a consultant with the Toole Design Group and formerly the transportation director for West Palm Beach, Florida, said the changes are important. The new rules open the door to treatments like road diets, bike lanes, and street trees — the kind of street designs that lead to a safe pedestrian environment, not high-speed traffic.

“This allows the designs to better support the place and not so much how fast people can drive through it,” he said.

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How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars

NACTO_transit_lanes

Here’s how many people a single traffic lane can carry “with normal operations,” according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

How can cities make more efficient use of street space, so more people can get where they want to go?

This graphic from the new NACTO Transit Street Design Guide provides a great visual answer. (Hat tip to Sandy Johnston for plucking it out.) It shows how the capacity of a single lane of traffic varies according to the mode of travel it’s designed for.

Dedicating street space to transit, cycling, or walking is almost always a tenacious fight, opposed by people who insist that streets are for cars. But unless cities make room for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders, there’s no room for them to grow beyond a certain point.

NACTO writes:

While street performance is conventionally measured based on vehicle traffic throughput and speed, measuring the number of people moved on a street — its person throughput and capacity — presents a more complete picture of how a city’s residents and visitors get around. Whether making daily commutes or discretionary trips, city residents will choose the mode that is reliable, convenient, and comfortable.

Transit has the highest capacity for moving people in a constrained space. Where a single travel lane of private vehicle traffic on an urban street might move 600 to 1,600 people per hour (assuming one to two passengers per vehicle and 600 to 800 vehicles per hour), a dedicated bus lane can carry up to 8,000 passengers per hour. A transitway lane can serve up to 25,000 people per hour per travel direction.

Of course, it usually takes more than changing a single street to fully realize these benefits. A bike lane won’t reach its potential if it’s not part of a cohesive network of safe streets for biking, and a transit lane won’t be useful to many people if it doesn’t connect them to walkable destinations.

But this graphic is a useful tool to communicate how sidewalks, bike lanes, and transitways are essential for growing cities looking to move more people on their streets without the costs and dangers inherent in widening roads.

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London’s New Mayor, Sadiq Khan, Pledges to “Accelerate” Cycling Progress

London bike advocates proved they were a political force to be reckoned under Mayor Boris Johnson. After cyclists demonstrated that they would not be satisfied with half-measures, Johnson started to make serious headway on safe bike infrastructure in his second term.

London's new Mayor Sadiq Khan says he wants to do better than Boris Johnson on cycling. Photo: Sadiq Khan on Facebook

Newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan, left, says he wants to build on the progress for cycling under Boris Johnson. Photo: Sadiq Khan/Facebook

It looks like that progress will continue even with a new mayor from a different party.

Last week, Londoners chose Sadiq Khan of the Labour Party to succeed Johnson, a Tory. His resume includes a stint as Transport Minister in the government of Gordon Brown. He took office today.

Streets and transportation are a top-tier responsibility of the London mayor, who appoints the board of Transport for London, an agency that controls not just streets but also the London Underground. All five of the major mayoral candidates pledged to support cycling — and Khan was one of the more enthusiastic ones. He signed on to the London Cycling Campaign’s policy agenda and promised to see through Johnson’s plan to triple the number of protected “cycle superhighways.”

Campaign platforms don’t always translate to concrete policy once candidates are in office, and Khan has missed the mark with some of his public statements. But his statements indicate that the expansion of the city’s bike network will continue under his leadership.

Here’s a look at his positions and public statements about streets, cycling, and transit.

On bicycling and street safety

“My aim is to make London a byword for cycling around the world,” Khan told the Guardian. Speaking to Cycling Weekly, he said he wants to “build on” and “accelerate” the progress made under his predecessors.

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Room to Breathe: The Feds Just Made It Easier to Fit Bike Lanes on Streets

Photo: Adam Coppola.

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.

A large car is less than seven feet wide. But thanks in part to an obscure federal rule, millions of miles of traffic lanes on local streets around the country are 12 or more feet wide.

Lanes that wide, it’s now known, make urban streets less safe. They give many people a false “freeway” feeling behind the wheel, leading to speeding and worse. And for cities looking to boost the appeal of biking, wider lanes mean less room for buffers, planters and other separators that dramatically improve the biking experience.

But for road projects that get federal funds, dangerously wide auto lanes have often been suggested or required.

Until yesterday.

Though they rarely make headlines, the “13 Controlling Criteria” have loomed large in the work of traffic engineers across the country since they were adopted in 1985. The idea then was to create a simple, hard-to-break list of basic guidelines for street design: shoulder widths, grades, cross slopes and how close to the roadway an “obstruction” (such as a tree or post) would be allowed.

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Bike to School Day Photos From Across the U.S.

Today is Bike to School Day, and tens of thousands of American children (hopefully more) are learning how rewarding and fun it can be to get to school on two wheels.

Walking and biking to school accounted for 50 percent of all school trips in 1969, compared to 13 percent today. Now it’s not even permitted in some places — parents in Collingswood, New Jersey, for instance, are fighting school administrators who banned elementary school students from biking to school.

The fact that we need a special event to encourage something that used to be so common speaks to how much work is left to be done to improve conditions for cycling. For sheer inspiration, it’s tough to beat Bike to School Day and the sight of kids biking the streets.

Below are some photos we culled from the #BikeToSchoolDay hashtag, showing young people on two wheels heading to school in neighborhoods around the country.

Hoboken, New Jersey:

Many schools organized “bike trains” with parent or police supervision. Here’s an example from Corte Madera, California:

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Cycling Booms in London, and the City’s Not Looking Back

Image: City of London

If current trends continue, there will be more people bike commuting in central London than car commuting by 2018. Image: City of London

Boris Johnson says that one of his goals as mayor of London was to make cycling “more popular and more normal.” As Johnson’s eight-year tenure winds down, it looks like the progress he made in his second term has accomplished that mission.

If current trends continue, bike commuters will outnumber car commuters in central London by 2018, according to a recent report from Johnson’s office [PDF]. Citywide, Transport for London estimates people already make 645,000 bike trips on an average day.

When Londoners head to the polls later this week to elect their next mayor, five candidates will be on the ballot, all of whom have signaled they will continue to expand the city’s bike network, reports the BBC’s Tom Edwards. Most of them have pledged to triple the amount of protected bike lanes in the city.

You can trace the London cycling boom to several factors, including the introduction of congestion charging under Johnson’s predecessor, Ken Livingstone, in 2003. But the big turning point came during Johnson’s second term, when bike advocates prompted him to get serious about installing protected bike lanes.

In his first term, Johnson championed the construction of “cycle superhighways” on some of the city’s busiest streets. But these routes, which offered little or nothing in the way of physical protection, didn’t live up to their billing. Cyclists were not satisfied with them and staged huge protests calling for safer bike infrastructure. The BBC’s Edwards recalls how cyclists booed Johnson when he was seeking reelection four years ago.

In recent years, Johnson has devoted more resources to protected bike lanes, upgrading the existing “cycle superhighways” and laying out a plan for more. He now says his “single biggest regret” was not doing so sooner.

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In Rainy Areas, Protected Bike Lanes Can Cut Road Construction Costs

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.

As protected bike lanes arrive in American suburbs, some city builders are making an unexpected discovery.

Not only are protected bike lanes by far the best way to make biking a pleasant transportation option for shorter trips — sometimes they can also significantly cut the cost of constructing new roads from scratch.

In the central cities where protected bike lanes first arrived, brand-new roads are rarely built. But now that many suburbs are upping their own game on bike infrastructure, a protected bike lane is being planned into streets from the get-go.

“It’s definitely something that we’re seeing more of,” said Zack Martin, engineering manager at the Washington State development consulting firm MacKay Sposito. “It’s coming up on I’d say most of the new arterial roads we’re looking at.”

In a blog post last month, Martin explained the unexpected reason protected bike lanes can save construction costs: rainwater.

Curb-protected bike lanes, his firm realized, can reduce the huge cost of managing rainwater that falls on pavement and then flows into streams and rivers. That runoff is a major source of water pollution, which is why the federal Clean Water Act requires local governments to minimize it. But in rainy parts of the country, preventing excess runoff from pavement that cars are driving on has also become a major cost factor in road construction.

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The Calgary Model: Connect Protected Bike Lanes Fast, Watch Riders Pour In

calgary fast facts

Graphic: City of Calgary. Click to enlarge.

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.

Last week, we shared a new report about the best practices for cities that want to make faster, cheaper changes to their streets.

Today, let’s take a moment to recognize the North American city that has used these tools better than any other to rapidly improve its bike infrastructure.

The city is Calgary, Alberta. The secret is that it piloted a connected downtown network of low-stress bike routes all at once.

calgary map 570

Downtown Calgary. Images: City of Calgary.

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When to Use Protected Intersections? Academic Study Will Offer Advice

An intersection in Austin gives room for a driver to stop mid-turn while people bike past rather than putting cyclists in a driver’s blind spot. Photo: Greg Griffin

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.

If 2015 was the year protected intersections arrived in the United States, 2016 is the year the country’s bikeway pros are starting to really figure them out.

Inspired by Dutch streets, protected intersection designs use a few simple tricks to rearrange traffic at intersections so that people on bikes and in cars don’t have to constantly look over their shoulders for one another.

Last week, Portland State University announced a $250,000 project that will use simulations to put people on virtual streets and test their use of protected intersections. The goal: create data-driven standards to tell cities where protected intersections are needed.

“At what traffic volume?” asked Justin Carinci, a spokesman for PSU’s National Institute for Transportation and Communities. “At what speeds?”

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Why Bike Lanes With Lots of Bike Traffic Can Still Appear “Empty”

Wherever there is a bike lane, there is probably an angry driver complaining that it is always empty.

San Francisco’s Market Street bike counter. Photo: Streetsblog

That tends to be the case even when plenty of people do use the bike lane. And there are reasons for that, writes University of Minnesota professor David Levinson. Mathematical, geometrical reasons. Like the fact that free-flowing bike traffic will look much sparser than gridlocked car traffic, even when the number of cyclists using the bike lane is the same as the number of motorists in an adjacent car lane.

“The view from the dashboard, from the front window of the car, is going to be looking at the view of cars and the density is high,” Levinson told Streetsblog. “And you’re going to look at the other lane and see there’s no bicycles in it and you’re going to think nobody’s using it.”

So the view from the dashboard is, not surprisingly, skewed in a way that works against bike lanes. If you want to get a real read on how well a bike lane or a car lane is being utilized, you need to count how many people pass through each lane during a given period.

“The productivity of the system is measured by throughput,” Levinson said. Unfortunately, he added, few places do bike counts thorough enough to assess how many people are using bike lanes.

Which doesn’t mean that today’s bike lanes actually get more use than car lanes. After all, it takes a whole network of safe bike lanes to make most people feel comfortable biking for most trips, and almost all American bike networks are still pretty sparse. But Levinson’s observation highlights the fact that looks can be deceiving when it comes to bike lanes, and you can’t reach a firm conclusion based on a casual glance.