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Posts from the Bicycle Infrastructure Category

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Widening El Camino Real in Menlo Park Won’t Cut Traffic, But Bike Lanes Will

El Camino Real facing south at Middle Avenue. Widening the street to six continuous lanes through downtown Menlo Park will attract more traffic and worsen congestion, according to a W-Trans study. Photo: Google Maps

Redesigning El Camino Real to squeeze in more cars will cause more cars to squeeze into El Camino Real, warned the consultant working on a redesign of the street in downtown Menlo Park last week. But creating a safe street for people to get around without a car can actually cut traffic.

At a community meeting last Thursday about the design options for Menlo Park’s stretch of El Camino Real W-Trans Principal Mark Spencer said that widening the street from four to six traffic lanes through downtown would increase traffic volumes dramatically and worsen congestion. Adding buffered or curb-protected bike lanes instead, as recommended by the city’s Transportation Commission in November, would reduce both traffic volumes and congestion slightly, according to the study.

With the six lane option, “traffic volumes on El Camino would go up because it would open up that pipeline to push more traffic through,” Spencer said. “Because of that induced demand, we’re seeing travel times [for car drivers] getting longer.”

A 2008 community-led Vision Plan for El Camino Real in Menlo Park set several goals that street safety advocates say should disqualify the four-to-six lane expansion from consideration. Among those objectives are “maintain a village character,” “provide greater east-west, town-wide connectivity,” and “provide an integrated, safe, and well-designed pedestrian and bicycle network.”

To help meet these community goals, planners recommended maintaining the existing four-lane cross-section for vehicle traffic while adding buffered or protected bike lanes. But with the adoption of the El Camino Real / Downtown Specific Plan in 2012, the City Council also ordered that a six-lane expansion of El Camino be analyzed as well, in the belief that the city might be able to build its way out of congestion.

W-Trans estimates that due to induced demand, widening El Camino Real to a continuous six lanes through downtown Menlo Park would add between 10 and 45 percent more traffic at Ravenswood Avenue, the city’s most congestion intersection. Most of that traffic would be pulled from parallel routes, including Highway 101 and Middlefield Road.

“This option worsens the pedestrian environment as it places fast moving traffic near pedestrians,” wrote Fehr & Peers Principal Jane Bierstedt in a March 2012 report [PDF]. Even without the effect of induced demand, which its preliminary traffic study did not account for, Fehr & Peers found that the maximum travel time savings for car drivers would be 17 seconds at Ravenswood Avenue.

“With induced demand, the delay reduction would be less and operations would likely mimic the four-lane alternative,” concluded Bierstedt.

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Momentum Builds to Eliminate Dangerous Gap in SF Bay Trail

Officials hope to secure funds from San Mateo County’s 2012 Measure A program to extend the San Francisco Bay Trail through Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, eliminating a stressful detour. Photo: Andrew Boone

Prospects for a safer and more convenient San Francisco Bay Trail are looking brighter as momentum builds for strengthening environmental protections along the bay in San Mateo County.

On Tuesday, Menlo Park planning staff reported that the city, in partnership with neighboring East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, as well as the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD), will seek approval from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to designate their many San Francisco Bay shoreline parks and wildlife refuges as a new priority conservation area.

The designation was created by ABAG in 2007 “to attract funds to support the long-term protection of regionally significant open spaces about which there is broad consensus for long-term protection.” The conservation area would include Bedwell Bayfront Park, the Ravenswood Salt Pond Restoration Area, the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, Cooley Landing, and the Baylands Nature Preserve.

One upshot of this development could be a better Bay Trail. “The PCA designation would expand funding opportunities for enhancing the current Bay Trail around Bedwell Bayfront Park and connections from the Belle Haven neighborhood to the Park,” wrote Menlo Park Assistant Community Development Director Justin Murphy in a report presented to the City Council [PDF].

Murphy cited the long-planned $2.2 million Ravenswood Bay Trail, a missing 0.6-mile section of the San Francisco Bay Trail from University Avenue to the Ravenswood Regional Open Space Preserve in East Palo Alto, as a high-priority regional project more likely to receive county and regional grants with the PCA designation. This gap in the Bay Trail forces pedestrians and bicyclists on a detour along a section of busy, four-lane University Avenue that includes narrow bike lanes but no sidewalks.

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San Jose DOT: Ban Sidewalk Cycling Downtown, 5 MPH Speed Limit Elsewhere

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Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose, where SJDOT is proposing banning anyone over age 12 from bicycling on the sidewalks. Photo: Google Maps

On Monday afternoon (October 6), San Jose’s Transportation & Environment Committee will review a proposal by the city’s Department of Transportation (SJDOT) to ban bicyclists over the age of 12 on sidewalks along ten downtown streets, and to set a speed limit of 5 mph for bicycling on every other sidewalk citywide.

The city has been inching towards a sidewalk cycling ban ever since it was first proposed by City Council member Sam Liccardo in March 2013, following complaints by downtown residents who said “they’re afraid to walk on the sidewalks because adult men zip by at unsafe speeds, startling them with a series of near-misses,” and cited injuries suffered by pedestrians. Jack Licursi, Sr., owner of a barber shop on Santa Clara Street, was hospitalized due to a fall he suffered after a bicyclist collided with him when he stepped out of his shop and onto the sidewalk.

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“Public education materials” that SJDOT concluded were unsuccessful at convincing sidewalk bicyclists to share the street with auto traffic. Image: City of San Jose

A coalition of local non-profit groups, including the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC), Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Greenbelt Alliance, and TransForm, supported an ordinance that would define and prohibit reckless bicycling, but opposed an outright ban on sidewalk cycling.

“[A ban] would criminalize a healthy behavior (bicycle riding) being undertaken by those who likely do not ride in the street because of health, age, or safety concerns,” wrote Corinne Winter, Jessica Zenk, Michele Beasley, and Chris Lepe in a joint April 2013 letter.

SJDOT concluded that “Walk Your Bike” signs, pavement markers, and banners installed in late 2013 haven’t convinced enough bicyclists to join the fast-moving bus and truck traffic present on many downtown streets, and so now proposes a sidewalk cycling ban instead. Anyone over the age of 12 could be ticketed for bicycling on the sidewalks of Santa Clara Street and on every street with bike lanes within the “greater downtown area”: Almaden Boulevard, Woz Way, and San Fernando, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th streets.

But traffic conditions, even on streets with wide buffered bike lanes, present too great a hazard for many people to safely navigate by bicycle. These include high-speed traffic, large vehicles like trucks and buses, cars merging across the bike lanes to make turns or park, and vehicles blocking bike lanes that force cyclists to merge into adjacent traffic.

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#MinimumGrid: Toronto Advocates Move Politicians Beyond Bike Platitudes

Bike advocates are putting these questions to Toronto mayoral candidates. Image: #MinimumGrid

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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.

Almost all urban politicians will tell you they think bikes are great. But only some actually do anything to make biking more popular.

In Toronto’s current mayoral and city council election, a new political campaign is focusing candidates on a transportation policy issue that actually matters: a proposed 200-kilometer (124-mile) citywide network of all-ages bikeways.

The campaign, led by advocacy group Cycle Toronto, was given its name by international walking-bicycling advocate Gil Peñalosa. It’s called “#MinimumGrid.” And it seems to be working: Last week, 80 percent of responding city council candidates, including more than half of the council’s incumbents, said they supported building such a system by 2018.

Speaking this month at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh, Peñalosa (a Toronto resident) explained the concept: to move cities from symbolic investments in bike transportation to truly transformative ones.

“We focus on the nice-to-have,” Peñalosa said in his keynote address at the conference. “Signage, maps, parking, bike racks, shelters. Does anyone not bike because they don’t have maps?”

Those amenities “might make it nicer for the 1 or 2 percent” who currently bike regularly, he said. But “nice-to-haves” won’t deliver the broader public benefits that can come from actually making biking mainstream.

“What are the must-haves?” Peñalosa went on. “Two things. One is we have to lower the speed in the neighborhoods. And two, we need to create a network. A minimum grid.”

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Sidewalk Cycling Ban Again Proposed for Downtown San Jose

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A bicyclist navigates between pedestrians on a downtown San Jose sidewalk. Residents have complained of reckless behavior by cyclists on sidewalks for years. Photo: City of San Jose

San Jose Department of Transportation (SJDOT) officials announced at a community meeting Wednesday evening that a downtown sidewalk cycling ban is again under consideration, explaining that the “Walk Your Bike” signs and banners installed in December 2013 had largely failed to convince bicyclists to ride in the streets rather than on sidewalks.

Three members of the city’s Senior Citizens Commission spoke in support of a ban, describing the serious safety hazards that some bicyclists riding on downtown sidewalks have posed to pedestrians.

“I’ve been hit twice on Santa Clara Street,” said Commissioner Martha O’Connell. “If I get hit by a bike, it’s a serious thing for me and a lot of other seniors. Bikers come so close to [pedestrians] that they actually touch their jackets when they pass them.”

O’Connell and other commissioners have diligently documented with photos and written statements the hazard posed by cyclists riding too fast and swerving on downtown sidewalks. “Adult bicyclists continue to ride recklessly on the downtown sidewalks while the bike lanes remain largely empty,” O’Connell wrote in March 2013, in support of a ban on sidewalk cycling.

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One of 140 “Walk Your Bike” signs installed on sidewalks in downtown San Jose in June 2014. Photo: City of San Jose

In an effort to shift bicyclists from the sidewalks, SJDOT blanketed downtown with “Walk Your Bike” signs: 140 green signs and 170 blue pavement markers. No city ordinance was passed requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks, though. Educational banners installed downtown also encouraged cyclists to walk on sidewalks and ride in the streets. But SJDOT counts taken at three locations showed no significant shift in sidewalk cycling between December 2013 and August 2014.

“At this point we really haven’t accomplished enough behavior change to say it’s successful,” summarized Active Transportation Manager John Brazil. “Now we’re looking at recommending some type of ordinance to the City Council’s Transportation & Environment Committee.” Under the proposed ordinance described by Mr. Brazil, anyone 13 years and older could be ticketed by the police for cycling on any sidewalk in San Jose’s “Downtown Pedestrian Priority Zone”, a high pedestrian traffic area bounded by Almaden Boulevard, 4th Street, St John Street, and San Salvador Street.

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Eyes on the Street: New Curbs Coming to Market/Valencia Bike Turn

Photo: Aaron Bialick

In case you’re wondering why the left-turn “jug handle” connecting bike commuters on Market to Valencia Street suddenly disappeared behind construction barricades, we’ve got the answer. The “bike bay” is being re-built with granite curbs, replacing the original concrete curbs with materials that better match the rest of Market Street.

That’s according to SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose. Jose said the re-construction is part of the ongoing work around the intersection of Market, Haight, and Gough Streets, which will create a contra-flow Muni lane and build pedestrian bulb-outs. Even though many have complained that the bike waiting zone and thru traffic lane are uncomfortably narrow, Jose did said the bike bay is not being widened, but that it could be in the Better Market Street project.

When I stumbled upon the construction site last Friday, there was no apparent alternate accommodation for people on bikes waiting for the bike signal to turn left off Market. It wouldn’t be the first time that construction crews have closed a bike lane on that stretch of Market without providing a safe detour.

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SFMTA to Add Bike Lane Buffer on Howard, Fix at Folsom On-Ramp

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Howard Street’s bike lane will be widened with a three-foot buffer zone this year. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

The SFMTA plans make upgrades to the Howard and Folsom Street bike lanes, a couplet of one-way bike routes that run through SoMa. A section of Howard will get a three-foot buffer zone added to its bike lane, as well as painted sidewalk bulb-outs. On Folsom, an intersection with the Bay Bridge on-ramp at Essex Street will be re-configured with a new bike traffic signal.

On Howard, the three-foot-wide bike lane buffer will come from narrowing the street’s three traffic lanes, one of which is about 15 feet wide, down to roughly 11 feet, SFMTA staff said at a community meeting yesterday. That differs from last year’s pilot project on parallel Folsom, in which one traffic lane was re-purposed to expand the skinny bike lane to 10 feet, including a buffer zone.

The Howard project can be implemented this year, much more quickly than most bike lane projects because the SFMTA won’t remove traffic lanes and thus incur a lengthy environmental review, said SFMTA Livable Streets Section Leader Darby Watson. The inner section of Howard east of Sixth Street, however, is narrower, and traffic lane removal would be necessary. Watson said that the SFMTA plans to look at improving that section next year.

A handful of painted sidewalk bulb-outs, similar to those installed on Sixth Street, will also be added at corners on Howard at Sixth and Tenth Streets, to slow drivers’ turns. SFMTA staff noted that they won’t include fixtures within the painted bulb-outs, like the boulders and concrete planters that were placed in the painted bulb-outs along Sixth Street in November. In fact, those fixtures will be removed, since they’ve been trashed and are too costly to maintain.

The Howard improvements are branded as one of the 24 Vision Zero projects the SFMTA pledged to implement over 24 months. “These are targeted improvements to help safety where we know there are a lot of collisions,” said Neal Patel of SFMTA Livable Streets.
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SFMTA Adds Two Left Turn Bike Boxes in SoMa

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New left-turn bike boxes at Eighth and Folsom Streets (top) and 11th and Howard Streets (bottom). Photo: SFMTA

The SFMTA installed left turn bike boxes at two SoMa intersections this week. This type of bike infrastructure, new to SF, debuted at Market and Polk Streets last month with the new contra-flow Polk bike lane.

The new green-backed bike boxes were placed at two intersections where bike commuters often make “two-stage” left turns between bike lanes: Eighth Street for turns on to Folsom Street, and Howard Street for turns on to 11th Street. They provide guidance and visibility, to show where people on bikes should stop and wait for traffic signals to change.

“Making a left turn across several lanes of traffic isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially for people who are less confident on their bike,” said SFMTA Livable Streets spokesperson Ben Jose. The turn boxes should make two-stage turns “more easy, safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities.”

The SFMTA said the boxes were funded by a grant from People for Bikes, a national bike advocacy organization. Left-turn bike boxes are featured in the SFMTA’s “Innovative Bicycle Treatment Toolbox,” drafted two years ago, and largely based on the National Association of City and Transportation Officials’ Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

Jose said the SFMTA “will be evaluating the measures on the ground, and observations will guide future implementation.”

A left turn at Eighth and Folsom in action. Photo: SFMTA

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Eyes on the Street: Easier Bike Navigation at Market and Buchanan

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A man uses a new waiting zone set up for bike commuters where the Duboce bikeway ends, at Market and Buchanan Streets. Photo: Frank Chan/Flickr

Doing the Wiggle should be a little easier, thanks to new green-backed sharrows and plastic posts installed by the SFMTA last week. These help bike commuters navigate the entrance to the Duboce bikeway, at Market and Buchanan Streets.

The sharrows are intended to establish a clearer path for bike traffic heading both to and from the bikeway, navigating around pedestrians in Market’s northern crosswalk across Buchanan. The paths mostly follow patterns long followed by bike commuters, but also set aside a new zone for eastbound riders to wait in without getting in the way of westbound riders.

Previously, the junction lacked any markings to direct bicyclists, who had little to go by other than the crosswalks. Riders heading in opposite directions often waited for the light on the same small spot of corner curb space. An added benefit of the sharrows is that they direct people to cross streetcar tracks at a safe, perpendicular angle.

The three plastic posts installed appear to help solve that problem in two ways: One post separates the two directions of bike traffic, while the other two mark the separation between waiting bike riders and car traffic on Buchanan.

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Mission Boasts USA’s Largest Bike Corral; 55 Across SF Park 668 Bikes

The new bike corral at Mission Cliffs, six car spaces long, is the “largest bike corral in a U.S. urban environment,” according to the SFMTA. Photo: Jessica Kuo

Four years after the SFMTA started converting curbside car parking into bike parking with bike corrals, the city now has 55 corrals that can lock 668 bikes — and still more are on the way.

Most bike corrals replace one car space with about five bike racks, each parking two bikes, and are requested by merchants who want to efficiently re-purpose street space to serve more customers. As the corrals proliferate, they’ve started to vary a bit in configuration to serve more purposes.

The Mission Cliffs corral uses a different type of rack to squeeze in more bikes. Photo: SFMTA

One of the newest corrals, installed in front of the Mission Cliffs indoor climbing gym at Harrison and 19th Streets, has replaced six car parking spaces with parking for 54 bikes. It’s “the largest bike corral in a U.S. urban environment,” according to an SFMTA report [PDF]. This corral uses a novel type of bike rack, purchased by Mission Cliffs, that fits more bikes into the space by vertically staggering them.

Other bike corrals have been placed strategically to open up visibility at street corners, or “daylight” them, and to help keep Muni trains moving. At Carl and Cole Streets, drivers often used to park in a red curb zone intended to provide turning room for N-Judah trains entering the Sunset Tunnel, thereby blocking Muni’s busiest line. The curb space has been filled with five bike racks placed parallel to the curb, making it impossible to leave a car there (well, without running over the racks) while still leaving space for passing trains.

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