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Three Street Design Pros on the New Golden Age of Traffic Engineering

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail creates the feeling of an off-street trail in the middle of a Midwestern downtown.

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.

James Bond needs a Q. Scooby-Doo needs a Velma. Katniss Everdeen needs a Beetee.

And today’s urban biking movement won’t get far without engineers, either.

As the country’s civil engineers converge for their profession’s annual pilgrimage to the Transportation Research Board conference, people of every discipline who are using protected bike lanes and other tools to make biking mainstream might take a moment to consider the potential of a group that too many modern bike advocates cast as villains: engineers.

For Linda Bailey, executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, there’s no better monument to this potential than the country’s Interstate Highway System.

“They made these facilities where people — amateurs! — drive 80 miles an hour within inches of each other,” Bailey said. “And very rarely does anything go bad.”

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Eyes on the Street: Octavia Car Queue Squeezes Out Bikes on Page Street

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A typical queue of cars on Page Street at Octavia Boulevard. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Page Street is a pretty great bicycle route to get downtown from the western neighborhoods — until you reach the two blocks that are typically backed up with cars waiting to turn on to Octavia Boulevard and the Central Freeway. Bike commuters are forced to squeeze by stopped cars, either to the left (in the mostly empty oncoming traffic lane) or the right (the door zone tunnel).

This situation isn’t new, and some sustainable transportation advocates in Hayes Valley have long called for solutions to provide a safe path for people on bikes.

Muni riders recently got an effective fix for the same problem on Haight Street, one block over, where a bus-only lane was created by narrowing traffic lanes, running to the left of the right-turning car queue. Since Page isn’t as wide as Haight, there isn’t room to provide a similar treatment for bikes without subtracting car storage or the westbound traffic lane, making those two blocks one-way (for cars, at least).

This problem is enough to deter some people from biking on Page, even though the rest of the street is a pretty low-stress route (and mostly downhill, eastbound). For the less risk-averse among us, rolling by the left of the car queue while holding the brakes is tolerable, but I’ve heard from many people (including my wife) that these blocks can really be a deal-breaker for the whole route. Alternative streets — Oak, Fell, and Haight — are not as safe, direct, or intuitive.

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U.S. Awareness of Protected Bike Lanes Is Literally Growing Exponentially

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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.

As people in the protected bike lane movement start to get a handle on 2015, it’s worth pausing to look at the magnitude of 2014′s success.

If any one chart can tell the story best, it’s probably this one.

There’s a word for that sort of growth: exponential.

In fact, we can even put a formula on it: approximately 38 percent growth every year since 2006, almost like clockwork.

Buried inside this trend is another one that shows how our language is changing. Last year was the year when most professionals settled on the phrase “protected bike lane” as the best way to describe these designs to a general audience.

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As Protected Bike Lane Design Evolves, New Lessons Emerge

Dedicated bike signals in downtown Seattle mean that bikes and cars never have to mix on Second Avenue’s new protected lane. 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.

Last year offered lots of case studies for those of us working to make the case for protected bike lanes. With the explosion of protected lanes in the United States, we have far more robust evidence — both anecdotal and quantitative — that they increase ridership, make streets safer, and benefit cities economically.

Here are some useful lessons on design from the cities pioneering the use of protected lanes:

1) People like dedicated bike signals much better than merging with a turn lane

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In Civil Court, Specious Claims Used to Defend Trucker Who Killed Le Moullac

The attorney representing the truck driver who killed Amelie Le Moullac while she was riding her bike now says she was to blame because she was wearing earbuds at the time.

Amelie Le Moullac. Photo: Voce Communications

Even though the SFPD clearly faulted Gilberto Alcantar for killing Le Moullac at Folsom and Sixth Streets in August 2013, District Attorney George Gascon declined to file charges, and the trucking company that employed Alcantar is fighting a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court.

As reported by KQED’s Bryan Goebel (Streetsblog SF’s first editor), the attorney defending Alcantar and Daylight Foods, his employer, is using the same victim-blaming false claims that an SFPD sergeant made. The defense attorney also asserted that Le Moullac was to blame for her own death because she was biking with earbuds, even though a witness countered that claim:

In his opening statements, Alcantar’s attorney, Brent Anderson, alleged Le Moullac was wearing earbuds and was distracted. A photo displayed in court showed a piece of Le Moullac’s helmet found at the scene tangled in what Alcantar’s attorney said were earbuds.

That allegation was disputed by [a] Muni driver, who testified the helmet was “intact” and Le Moullac did not have any buds in her ears.

Anderson claimed the truck slowed to 7 mph before turning onto Sixth Street, and alleged Le Moullac was riding “two times as fast” and “caught the truck, and was passing it on the right, while the truck was making a right.”

“Those were the choices that she made,” Anderson told jurors. “We think it is unfair to blame Mr. Alcantar for this accident.”

Anderson said bicyclists have an “obligation” to pass on the left of a right-turning vehicle, which is good safety advice but not actually the law, according to the California Vehicle Code.

Once again, the SFPD already determined that Alcantar made an illegal right turn in front of Le Moullac — a clear violation of the law. The Le Moullac family’s attorney also claimed Alcantar didn’t use a turn signal, though Anderson disputed that.

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How SFPD Caught One of the Violent Panhandle Bike Thieves

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Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFPD says it has arrested one of the bike thieves who assaulted six people biking on the Panhandle in October and stole their bikes. Lieutenant Jason Sawyer of SFPD Park Station’s Investigations Unit said police “have no doubt” that the juvenile male was one of the assailants who threw bottles at bike commuters and jammed sticks into their spokes late at night.

Sawyer said police caught the suspect by setting up a sting after one of the victims saw their bike on sale on Craigslist. The victim contacted police, who initiated a faux sale to arrest him. Typically, bike thieves sell the bikes to a third party first, he said.

“He was not the smartest crook,” said Sawyer. “He basically committed the crime, and was right there selling the bike as well.”

Police must still prove that the suspect was directly involved with the attacks, but they “have no doubt,” Sawyer said. “As soon as he knew we were looking at him, all these robberies stopped. There were a rash of them within a few days — all very violent. Nothing since.”

In a blog post, the SF Bicycle Coalition gave “many thanks to the SFPD for responding swiftly to our calls, and for following through on the investigation.”

“Biking on the Panhandle needs to remain safe and comfortable, serving as a busy and important connector for people biking between the Eastern and Western neighborhoods of our city,” the SFBC wrote.

Sawyer said police can’t release many details on the ongoing investigation, or information about the suspect, because he’s a juvenile. He has been charged with possession of stolen property in the juvenile court system, but charges for the robberies haven’t been brought yet since the victims haven’t been able to identify their assailants. “It was dark and they were very terrified,” he said.

“We know he did it; he knows that we know he did it,” said Sawyer.

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Caltrain Struggles to Meet Bike Parking Demand at 4th and King Station

Caltrain’s Bike Hub facility will soon give commuters a choice between valet or self parking. Photo: Yelp.

The Caltrain Bike Station parking facility outside its terminal at Fourth and King streets is set to be remodeled and slightly expanded to accommodate the growing number of Peninsula train commuters who are arriving by bike. But demand from bike-to-Caltrain commuters may continue to overwhelm the small, staffed bike station.

Paltry funding over the years proved insufficient for Warm Planet Bikes, the original parking station operator, even after Caltrain approved an additional $50,000 in 2012. Warm Planet operated the space as both a bike shop and parking station from 2008 until last year, but parked bikes blocked merchandise and cut into their revenue.

Within the first six months, the facility was already over its capacity. “When we opened the facility, we knew that the space was smaller than the original project required,” said Kash, the owner and president of Warm Planet Bikes, now operating as a full-time bike shop on mid-Market Street.

In 2013, Caltrain selected BikeHub through a competitive bid for a 3-year, $245,000 contract to operate the space. Despite a doubling of capacity to 200 spots, demand has not let up. Josh Carroll, who manages the bike station, says he has squeezed in up to 250 bikes on the busiest days.

Caltrain now intends to remodel the bike station to accommodate more overflow bike parking, said Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn. The remodeled facility will offer a combination of valet and self parking for Caltrain commuters, allowing riders to park their own bikes while the station is unstaffed, whether early in the morning or late at night.

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California Bicycle Coalition Announces Its 2015 Legislative Agenda

The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) released its ambitious agenda for the 2015  legislative session. Their top priority is to increase funding for cities to build complete bike networks — not just piecemeal bikeways.

CalBike thinks bicyclists would learn more from skills classes, like this one offered by Bike East Bay, than from paying traffic fines. Photo: Melanie Curry

Also on its agenda is the less glamorous but equally important task of clarifying some outdated regulations that prevent people from riding bikes. The list includes:

  • Defining low-speed electric bikes and allowing them on bike paths
  • Creating subsidies for electric bikes
  • Clarifying vehicle code rules including what happens at inoperative signals and when protected bike lanes cross intersections
  • Insurance reforms to help bicyclists collect damages in near collisions
  • Ticket diversion programs for cyclists

Funding for Bicycle Networks

CalBike’s goal is to create a funding source for competitive grants that could fund larger projects than the current Active Transportation Program (ATP) can support. Although the details are not yet fully fleshed out, the new grants would require the development of a complete, connected bicycle network, thus creating an incentive for cities to think more broadly about bike planning.

“We need to more rapidly and more broadly fund bike infrastructure,” said CalBike board member Christopher Kidd. “We’re hoping to change the ways that cities think about bike projects. Much of the time the available funding is so small that it only covers particular bike lanes, individual complete streets projects, and bike paths, and we end up with disjointed, piecemeal bike routes rather than networks.”

“It could be really game-changing for the way we build out our bike networks,” he added.

The existing ATP tends to focus on funding individual bike infrastructure projects rather than encouraging cities to think holistically about how bikes fit into the transportation system. CalBike hopes that with a new, larger funding source, cities and counties will be encouraged to take a much broader look at their bike networks, and address the gaps that remain after they tackle the easy parts first.

“We saw that on Telegraph Avenue [in Oakland],” said Kidd. “If there’s a difficult part of the project, it makes more sense to put it off, and to first do the things that are easy. But that is how we end up with all these gaps. And those gaps are what’s keeping more people from getting on bikes.”

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Oakland Council Approves Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Ave

Oakland has approved a redesign of Telegraph Avenue that includes protected bike lanes separated by curbs and parking spots. Image: Oakland Public Works

The Oakland City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a road diet and parking-protected bike lanes to Telegraph Avenue, eliciting cheers from East Bay bike advocates.

The vote allows the city to begin work on the first phase of the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets plan, which covers the segment between 41st and 19th Streets in downtown. Planners hope to include the road diet and protected lanes in the city’s scheduled repaving of Telegraph Avenue in the spring, using inexpensive materials to get it on the ground quickly.

Of the 20 people who addressed the council about the Telegraph plan, 17 were supporters sporting green stickers that read “Protected Bike Lanes,” and three opposed it. Supporters included reps from Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Bike East Bay, neighbors, business owners, a developer, and others who bike.

Parking-protected bike lanes are coming to this section of Telegraph, looking towards downtown from 24th Street. Photo: Melanie Curry

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CA Seeks Input on 2015 Active Transportation Program Guidelines

A rendering of a proposals for Oakland’s Lake Merritt/Bay Trail connector, the design of which was funded by the Active Transportation Program. Image: Oakland Public Works

The California Transportation Commission (CTC) is seeking input on revised guidelines for the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The ATP is the main source of state funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, mostly through federal transportation grants to local cities. The proposed changes to the ATP guidelines are mostly minor, but include eliminating the requirement for matching funds and de-emphasizing bike plans.

ATP is a very new program. Its first funding round was just completed in November, so it’s too early to judge the on-the-ground success of any of the projects it’s funded. Nevertheless, the second funding cycle will commence in the spring. CTC staff has proposed changes to program guidelines [PDF] and invited potential applicants and interested parties to weigh in. Although the changes are not extensive, they were the subject of three hours of detailed discussion at CTC’s workshop last Monday in Sacramento.

The CTC plans to revise the guidelines based on comments from this workshop and a second one, which will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on January 8 at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) offices, on the 12th floor of 818 West 7th Street, in downtown Los Angeles.

The guidelines are scheduled for adoption by the CTC in March, and the Round Two call for projects would then go out immediately, with applications expected to be due in June.

Caltrans plans to offer workshops in March to go over program requirements, answer questions, and train applicants on the new benefit/cost model it has developed for the application process. Check the Caltrans website for updates.

After the jump are a few highlights from last week’s discussion.

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