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Posts from the Bicycling Category

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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.

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Can We Bike Our Way to a Stable Climate?

Crossposted from the Frontier Group

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Earlier this week, I had the chance to talk about the role of bicycling in addressing climate change at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists. The conversation was framed around the Paris climate agreement – the pact signed by 195 nations in December that commits to limiting global warming to no more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels.

Achieving the Paris targets will require the virtual elimination of greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century in the United States. That, in turn, will require a fundamental transformation of our energy system and our economy – especially when it comes to transportation.

America’s transportation system is exceptionally polluting, contributing about 5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation in the U.S. produces more carbon dioxide than the entire economy of any nation in the world other than China, Russia and India. The average American produces roughly three times as much carbon dioxide from transportation as the average resident of the United Kingdom, France or Germany. There is, quite simply, no solution to the world’s climate crisis that doesn’t involve profound changes in how Americans travel.

Bicycling, on the surface of it, would seem to have little immediate potential to change that reality. Few Americans bike and most American roads are laid out in ways that are hostile to even those cyclists willing to make the long-distance trips between destinations required in so many of our sprawling, car-oriented communities.

But the Paris agreement challenges us to reframe the conversation – to ask ourselves not just how we can reduce emissions quickly, but also how we can build lasting communities capable of being entirely carbon-free by 2050. Getting large-scale emission reductions right away, through measures such as improved vehicle fuel economy, is still critically important. But no amount of incremental tweaking of our current wasteful and inefficient system is likely to get us to zero.

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Explore National Transportation Change Trends by Age Group

Cross-posted from City Observatory

In some ways, the urban renaissance of the last decade or two has been quite dramatic. Downtown or downtown-adjacent neighborhoods in cities around the country have seen rapid investments, demographic change, and growth in amenities and jobs. Even mayors in places with a reputation for car dependence, like Nashville and Indianapolis, are pushing for big investments in urban public transit.

Because many of those who work in urban planning live in or near these walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, it may be easy to imagine that their changes are representative of the overall pace of transition to a more urban-centric nation. Butas we and others have discussed before, in at least one way — transportation — change has actually been excruciatingly slow at the national level.

According to the American Community Survey, from 2006 to 2014, the proportion of people using a car to get to work declined — from 86.72 percent to 85.70 percent. Even among young people, the shift seems underwhelming: from 85.00 percent to 83.94 percent. (Though, as we stressed last week, these Census data only cover journey-to-work trips and tend to overstate the extent to which households rely exclusively on cars for their transportation needs.)

The changes for transit, biking, and walking are, obviously, similarly small. Transit mode share increased from 4.83 percent to 5.21 percent; among those 20 to 24, the increase was 5.53 to 6.35 percent. The overall share of walking commutes actually fell.

In fact, we’ve built a little tool to let people explore these data in an interactive way, selecting mode type and age ranges to see how things have changed, and haven’t, over the last almost-decade. The tool displays the same data in two ways: first, as a graph (above), and then as a simple table (below), for those who find that easier to read. (On the graph, yes, we have allowed the y-axis to begin at numbers larger than zero — in large part because the changes are so small that a chart that began at zero would be unintelligible. We will trust our readers to be sophisticated enough at reading graphs to understand.)

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Bike Counts Rising Fast at Automated Counters Around the World

Medellín, Columbia. The country has two Eco-Counters.

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.

The battle to make biking a viable transportation or recreation choice for more people is fought mostly at the local level: a protected bike lane here, a BMX course there, a new mom-and-pop bike shop down the street.

But it’s sometimes nice to remember that this fight is happening, on some level, every day in every country around the world.

And at least in the industrialized world, Team Bike is generally winning.

That’s the takeaway from the first three years of data from Eco-Counter, a France-based firm that has installed 12,000 automated people-counters around the world to measure bike and foot traffic. One is in front of the Strathmore Building on the campus of UCLA; another is on the Avenida Figueroa Alcorta protected bike lanes in Buenos Aires; a third is on the car-free Sillsteg Bridge in Innsbruck, Austria.

Starting in 2013, the company began analyzing data from 1,500 of these counters to create something unique: an index that tracks changes in bike counts across all these locations year after year.

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Chattanooga’s Custom-Built De-Icer for Protected Bike Lanes Is Adorable

Photo and video: City of Chattanooga.

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 we wrote the other day, clearing snow and ice from protected bike lanes isn’t hard. It just requires some effort.

Fortunately for Chattanooga, Tennessee, that’s no problem. This winter, to keep their protected bike lane on Broad Street rideable through the snow, road crews there set up a Kawasaki Mule to trickle just the right amount of brine into the space between curb and planters:

As other cities have discovered, early de-icing treatments can be especially useful on protected bike lanes, because unlike cars, bikes don’t tend to splash liquid de-icers away when they pass through. And early de-icing is especially important, because bike tires don’t break thin layers of ice as they form. If you don’t de-ice a protected bike lane early in a big snow event, the lane could be out of commission for a day or more.

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Study: Sharrows Don’t Make Streets Safer for Cycling

Sharrows are the dregs of bike infrastructure — the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling. They may help with wayfinding, but do sharrows improve the safety of cycling at all? New research presented at the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting suggests they don’t.

Sharrows are useless and perhaps even harmful, a new study found. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

Sharrows without traffic-calming won’t do much to make cycling safer. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

A study by University of Colorado Denver researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall examined safety outcomes for areas in Chicago that received bike lanes, sharrows, and no bicycling street treatments at all. (The study was conducted before Chicago had much in the way of protected bike lanes, so it did not distinguish between types of bike lanes.) The results suggest that bike lanes encourage more people to bike and make biking safer, while sharrows don’t do much of either.

Ferenchak and Marshall’s study divided Chicago into three geographic categories using Census block groups: areas where bike lanes were added between 2008 and 2010, areas where sharrows were added, and areas where no bike treatments were added. They then looked at how bike commuting and cyclist injuries changed in these areas over time.

They found that bike commute rates more than doubled in areas with new bike lanes, compared to a 27 percent increase in areas with new sharrows and a 43 percent increase in areas where nothing changed.

Meanwhile, the rate of cyclist injuries per bike commuter improved the most where bike lanes were striped, decreasing 42 percent. Areas that got sharrows saw the same metric fall about 20 percent –worse than areas where streets didn’t change (36 percent), although the difference was not great enough to be statistically significant.

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How Much Can Bicycling Help Fight Climate Change? A Lot, If Cities Try

A new study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy attempts to measure the potential of bikes and e-bikes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Buenos Aires has been ambitiously building out a network of well designed, separated bike infrastructure. If this kind of commitment were employed worldwide, the environmental and financial repercussions would be enormous. Photo: ITDP

Buenos Aires has been building out a network of protected bike infrastructure. If this kind of commitment were employed in cities worldwide, the climate benefits would be huge. Photo: ITDP

ITDP’s conclusion, in short: Bicycling could help cut carbon emissions from urban transportation 11 percent.

The authors calculated the carbon emissions reduction that could result if cities around the world make a strong, sustained commitment to promoting bicycle travel.

In a scenario where 14 percent of travel in the world’s cities is by bike or e-bike in 2050, carbon emissions from urban transportation would be 11 percent lower than a scenario where efforts to promote sustainable transportation sidestep bicycling.

The ITDP scenario calls for 11 percent of urban mileage by bike by 2030 before hitting 14 percent in 2050. For many big American cities where bicycling accounts for a small share of total travel, that may sound like a high bar — and that was part of the point. The ITDP targets will require a significant public policy commitment. But the goals are achievable and aren’t as daunting as they might seem, the authors say.

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