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Protected Lanes Are a Great Start — Next Goal Is Low-Stress Bike Networks

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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.

For decades, protected bike lanes were a “missing tool” in American street design. Now that this is changing, bikeway design leaders are identifying a new frontier: low-stress grids.

Dan Goodman of the Federal Highway Administration says the federal Department of Transportation is shifting its strategy from emphasizing biking facilities to emphasizing biking networks.

“Separated bike lanes are part of the toolbox that get us to connected networks,” said Dan Goodman of the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Human Environment.

Speaking at the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference in Pittsburgh, Goodman said a draft 2014-2018 FHWA strategic plan prioritizes, for the first time, the enhancement of pedestrian and bicycle networks instead of just “one-off” facilities.

“We want people to be not just thinking about resurfacing one mile and having the bike lane die, especially if there’s a shared-use path one block away,” Goodman said. “We want to focus on filling those gaps… That’s something that you’ll be hearing us talk about a lot more.”

Under Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, creating connected networks is one of four overarching policy priorities for the U.S. Department of Transportation, he said. (The others are safety, data and performance measures, and equity.)

Martha Roskowski, vice president for local innovation at PeopleForBikes, described “the network” as “where things are going.”

Read more…

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Governor Brown Signs Bill Allowing 3-Bike Racks on Some Buses in CA

Under a new law California law, transit agencies are now allowed greater use of racks that carry three bikes, like this one on L.A. Metro’s Orange Line BRT. Photo by Ensie via Flickr

California transit agencies are now allowed greater use of bus-mounted bike racks that hold three bicycles. Governor Jerry Brown signed A.B. 2707 Tuesday, a bill authored Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) to allow 40-foot-long buses to be equipped with folding bike racks that can carry up to three bikes.

It was the first bill signed by the governor this year that’s on Streetsblog’s unofficial watch list of bills related to sustainable transportation.

Current law restricts the length of vehicles on California roads to a maximum length of 40 feet. An exception was created for AC Transit in the Bay Area, after legislation was passed several years ago to allow the agency to exceed the length limit when it added three-bike racks to the front of its buses.

Another bill in the most recent legislative session was aimed at creating a similar exception for Santa Cruz, but it was dropped when L.A. Metro came forward with A.B. 2707 to change the law throughout the state. Metro will soon receive a large order of 40-foot buses, and thanks to the new law, will be able to expand its bike-carrying capacity on the majority of its fleet.

“It’s a major, major gain. I’m terrifically happy this made it through the system,” said Bart Reed of the Transit Coalition, which had been pushing local legislators to address the issue since 2012“If a bus only comes by every half hour, then there’s only space for four bikes every hour. People were being left stranded. This bill will enhance capacity by another half.”

A sticking point in 2012 was pushback from operator unions, who wanted a say in when and how the longer bike racks are used. Until now, exceptions to the 40-foot rule have allowed three-bike racks on buses up to 60 feet long, but only after approval from a Route Review Committee that must include representatives of the transit agency, the driver’s union, and an engineer.

“The Route Review Committee is required to convene and unanimously approve every route for triple bike racks,” said Michael Turner of Metro. “Our concern is that we have over 100 bus routes, with over 2,000 buses in service. We want to work with our operators, but it’s not good policy to give them veto authority; it’s also not practical, given the size of our operations.”

Since Metro the Route Review Committee requirement has only been applied to 45- and 60-foot buses, the agency decided to focus its legislation on allowing three-bike racks on the 40-foot buses that will make up about half of their fleet once the new buses are delivered.

“Bike use has been growing, and we’ve seen more demand, especially on our rail system,” said Turner.

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“Build It for Isabella”: Putting a Face on Why People Hesitate to Bike

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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.

Eight years ago, Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller wrote one of the most influential pieces of modern American bike-planning theory when he divided the potential transportation bikers in his city into four distinct groups:

It was an antidote to one of the most common and dubious ways people think about about bicycling: by dividing the world into “cyclists” and “non-cyclists.” Because of course that’s not how things really work.  People are constantly choosing whether to use a bicycle for a trip; the fact that most Americans choose not to isn’t so much about their fundamental nature but about their culture, their resources, and their streets.

Geller was just spitballing with the percentages displayed above, but they were more or less validated by subsequent academic research. And though this framework didn’t capture everything — dangerous traffic is far from the only barrier to bicycling — it was a new, deeply useful way of thinking and talking about the ways infrastructure affects our choices.

Here at Green Lane Project HQ, Geller’s concept has been a major force behind our work helping cities build protected bike lanes.

But like Bob Edmiston of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, who has created a useful riff on the concept with a character called Wendy (“the willing but wary cyclist”), we think these phrases are sort of a mouthful for people outside the world of bike pros. And we also think they don’t fully capture how much is at stake on our city streets.

So we’ve been looking for a new way to capture the concept.

Read more…

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Tomorrow: Oakland Drops Protected Bike Lanes on Telegraph Avenue

Oakland’s recommended plan for Telegraph Avenue includes no bike lanes near the freeway ramps at 51st Street. Image: City of Oakland

Oakland has dropped protected bike lanes from its draft proposals to redesign Telegraph Avenue, and the buffered bike lanes that are included would disappear at the most dangerous section, throwing people on bikes into mixed traffic with motor vehicles. The city will hold two open houses this week where the public can weigh in on the draft plan [PDF], on Thursday evening and Saturday morning.

“New bikeways need to be ‘continuous’ and not force you to continually mix with cars and trucks that travel up to 35-40 mph,” wrote Dave Campbell of Bike East Bay in a blog post. “Buffered bike lanes improve the experience and make it safer for people who currently bicycle and want to ride on Telegraph Avenue, but buffered bike lanes between parked cars and moving cars do not attract new people to bicycling or encourage others to replace one or two car trips a week with a bicycle trip.”

Bike East Bay is urging people to attend the workshops and tell planners they want continuous protected bike lanes along Telegraph. They are also calling on the city to create a pilot project for protected bike lanes using temporary paint and planters materials, similar to the block-long demonstration the organization created on Bike to Work Day.

When Oakland city planners held initial workshops on Telegraph “Complete Streets” project in the spring, a few local business owners complained about losing on-street parking spots, but much of the public strongly supported a much calmer, safer street for walking and biking.

city survey of people who use Telegraph found that 60 percent wanted protected bike lanes on the street, including 53 percent of “frequent drivers.” The city initially included parking-protected bike lanes as an option for most of Telegraph, but that option is apparently being abandoned.

The latest plans [PDF] include improvements to pedestrian crossings, raised medians, bike boxes, and bus stops configured so the bike lane runs between a boarding island and the sidewalk. But the bike lanes disappear completely where they’re needed most, near the intersection at 51st Street where drivers heading to and from Highway 24 ramps cuts through the area.

At most intersections, like Telegraph and MacArthur seen here, bike lanes become protected briefly at bus stops but then throw riders between parked cars and moving cars. Image: City of Oakland

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Tell SFMTA How the New San Jose Ave Bike Lane and Road Diet Are Working

How does northbound San Jose Avenue feel ever since it got a road diet and buffered bike lane? The SFMTA has launched an online survey where you can weigh in on the project. It’s your chance to let planners know if you think the street’s safer and calmer, and how it could be improved.

As we’ve written, the “Bernal Cut” finally got a road diet in June, following years of advocacy from neighbors who have pushed for traffic calming. Over 20 years ago, Caltrans invited more speeders to the street by adding a 280 off-ramp lane. Under the current pilot project, the SFMTA and Caltrans replaced of one of San Jose’s three traffic lanes with a buffered bike lane, matching the geometry of San Jose’s southbound side.

The agencies are measuring the traffic-calming effects of the change: if the number of drivers traveling faster than 35 mph doesn’t drop to 15 percent or less, Caltrans will test the removal of the second off-ramp lane it added in 1992 as a temporary measure.

San Jose has a speed limit of 45 mph, and before the redesign, 15 percent of drivers traveled faster than 48 mph (a figure known to engineers as the “85th percentile speed”). On the off-ramp, that speed was 57 mph.

The SFMTA said on its website that agency staff made some preliminary observations on how traffic was moving on August 13 “during both the AM and PM peak travel periods,” finding:

  • The two new merges at the foot of the off-ramp, one with San Jose Avenue and one with Monterey Boulevard, are working well, and drivers are negotiating them with no visible difficulty.
  • Motorists were observed driving in the bike lane, particularly between Milton Street and St. Mary’s Avenue.  Project staff are looking into the travel patterns of these drivers and are exploring ways to mitigate this unsafe behavior.
  • Congestion approaching Randall Street has increased, but has not affected the freeway off-ramp.  Staff noted congestion on San Jose Avenue prior to the implementation of the pilot, and are currently measuring detailed queueing times.  Additional wait time is only present for up to half an hour during the AM and PM peak periods.

This unremarkable picture doesn’t quite jibe with the carmageddon-like scenarios described by a few motorists who have jumped into the comment section on our June article, claiming it’s resulted in car backups a mile long. Of course, it typically takes months after street redesigns for changes in behavior to settle in, as drivers adjust and more people decide to try bicycling on the improved route.

In any case, the SFMTA needs to hear from a greater number of people to get a more complete picture of how San Jose’s working.

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The Letter to the Times That Foresaw NYC’s Biking Triumph 10 Years Ago

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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.

With the recent news that Bicycling Magazine has named New York America’s best city for biking, this seems like a particularly good moment to share the very first time protected bike lanes were mentioned in The New York Times.

It happened on October 10, 2004, in a letter to the editor from a man named Kenneth Coughlin. It was a response to a personal narrative the previous week from a young Times reporter who had made the daring decision to start riding her bicycle to work. In that article, then-Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall had made the prediction that New York City could one day be “one of the world’s great bicycling cities.”

It seemed like an obviously ridiculous claim. In a city of 8.2 million, fewer than 20,000 New Yorkers biked to work at the time. There was no Streetsblog, no Summer Streets, certainly no Citi Bike. The Times reporter, Lydia Polgreen (later a decorated Times correspondent in Africa, now the newspaper’s deputy international editor), described an incident in which she spent 20 minutes just looking for a place to lock her bike. Still, Polgreen came away from her first summer of bike commuting convinced that New York (“flat and compact … perfectly suited to biking”) had potential.

You can still find Coughlin’s 151-word reply to Polgreen on the NYT’s website. Here it is:

Read more…

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New Report Out of NYC: Protected Bike Lanes Improve Safety for Everyone

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Injuries are down across the board on protected bike lane segments with at least three years of post-implementation crash data. The total number of injuries for cyclists dropped slightly even as the volume of cyclists on these streets increased, leading to big drops in what DOT calls “cyclist risk.” Chart: NYC DOT

In sync with Bicycling Magazine naming New York America’s best biking city, the NYC Department of Transportation released a report this week full of stats on the safety impact of protected bike lanes. It’s the most robust data the city has released about this type of street design, and the results prove that protected bike lanes make streets safer not just for cyclists, but pedestrians and drivers as well.

Segments of protected bike lanes in green had six years of before-and-after data for the study. Image: DOT

Segments of protected bike lanes in green had at least three years of post-implementation data and were part of this analysis. Image: DOT

For this analysis [PDF], DOT looked at protected bike lanes in Manhattan with at least three years of post-implementation crash data: segments of Broadway and First, Second, Eighth, Ninth, and Columbus Avenues. These streets saw big growth in cycling and major improvements in cyclist safety. The safety benefits extended to all road users, with total traffic injuries dropping 20 percent and pedestrian injuries down 22 percent.

The biggest improvement on these streets is in the diminished likelihood that a cyclist will suffer an injury — a metric DOT calls “cyclist risk.” Because injuries tended to fall or hold steady while cycling increased, most of the streets saw cyclist risk drop by more than a third. On Broadway from 59th Street to 47th Street, for example, bike volumes jumped 108 percent while crashes with injuries fell 18 percent.

The best results were on Ninth Avenue between 23rd and 16th Streets, where cyclists were 65 percent less likely to be hurt after the protected bike lane was installed. Only one of eight segments, Broadway between 23rd and 18th Streets, saw an increase in cyclist risk.

Read more…

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How Vancouver Designs Intersections With Bike Lanes to Minimize Conflicts

Vancouver, land of the 5 percent bicycle mode share. Photo: Paul Krueger/flickr

For the last installment of our series previewing the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference, which starts Monday in Pittsburgh, I talked to Jerry Dobrovolny, transportation director of the city of Vancouver, BC, about how the city designs intersections where there are protected bike lanes. (The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.) Members of his staff will be presenting on this topic next week.

Vancouver is famous for its livable urban core, the ease with which its citizens can live without a car (as 26 percent of downtown residents do), and its enviable investments in bicycling and transit. Read on and tell me: Don’t you wish your city’s transportation chief talked like this?

Tell me a little bit about how Vancouver designs intersections to minimize car-bike conflicts, and why a focus on intersections is important in designing good bike infrastructure.

Clearly, it’s conflict zones that require the most attention. For separated bike lanes, those conflict zones are either driveway entrances or intersections. Intersections have more interactions going on and that’s where most of the collisions occur.

Over the past number of years, as we’ve been on our journey here in Vancouver — changing the types of infrastructure that we provide — we’ve been looking around the world quite actively to learn from what others are doing, to see what’s working and what isn’t working so well. It was pretty tough for us a couple years ago, because we didn’t really have a lot of places to go in North America. When we launched our Transportation 2040 plan two or three years ago, we actually hired the bike planner from Copenhagen to help with the bike section.

Since then, in the last year and a bit, NACTO has done some amazing work, and there’s a whole variety of U.S. and Canadian cities that have done some really amazing work. So we’re having a much better dialogue between cities in North America now compared to three years ago.

I want to talk just a little bit more about the mechanics of the intersection design. I saw the Dunsmuir Street bike lane. Can you walk me through that one and what the engineering there accomplishes?

The separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver received the first generation of the city's intersection treatments. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/pwkrueger/5133829565/in/photostream/##Paul Krueger/flickr##

The separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver received the first generation of the city’s intersection treatments. Photo: Paul Krueger/flickr

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Tow Truckers Pledge to Reduce Fell Bike Lane Parking, Thanks to Sup. Breed

“Three tow trucks blocking the bike lane on Fell now. Forcing people on bikes towards vehicle traffic,” writes Patrick Traughber on Twitter.

Updated 9/5 with comment from the SFPD captain below.

Ted & Al’s Towing company pledged to make a stronger effort to avoid parking its trucks in the Fell Street bike lane, an illegal practice that forces bike commuters to veer into heavy motor traffic.

Supervisor London Breed on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

D5 Supervisor London Breed said that her staff came to an agreement with Ted & Al’s owner Larry Nasey and Raj Vaswani, the new SFPD Park Station captain. “Both were very responsive and helpful, and we are optimistic that this dangerous, illegal parking will not continue,” she said.

“Public safety is my greatest concern,” said Breed, who pushed the SFMTA to accelerate the installation of the neighboring bike lane on Oak Street last year. “When these tow trucks park in the bike lane, they force bicyclists into an active lane of traffic and jeopardize everyone’s safety.”

Nasey said he couldn’t promise a complete end to tow trucks stopped in the bike lane, since the driveway there is the only entrance they have to the building, and truckers must often wait for others to make room first. But managers will encourage truck drivers to move out of the bike lane more quickly, and to stop in one of the three traffic lanes available to motor traffic instead when car traffic isn’t too heavy.

“Had the bike lane been there [first], I never would’ve put my business there knowing the disruption it would cause,” said Nasey. “But because we’re there, and now the bikes are there, we’re trying to work it out so we can co-exist.”

Read more…

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Bill Streamlining Protected Bike Lanes in CA Awaits Governor’s Signature

With Governor Brown’s approval, protected bike lanes like these ones on San Francisco’s Market Street could become easier for cities to build. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

A bill that would make it easier for California cities to build protected bike lanes was passed by both houses of the state legislature this week and only awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s signature.

The bill, A.B. 1193, was authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by the California Bicycle Coalition.

The bill serves several purposes. First and foremost, it requires Caltrans to establish engineering standards for protected bike lanes or “cycletracks,” a new category of bike lanes for cities to use.

At the same time, it removes a provision in the law that requires that any bike lane built in California adhere to Caltrans specifications, even if it is built on a local street that is not under Caltrans’ jurisdiction. This frees up local jurisdictions to choose other guidelines, such as the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) Urban Bikeway Design Guide, if the Caltrans standards do not adequately address local conditions.

Caltrans endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide earlier this year but has not adopted it, meaning that cities that want to build separated bike lanes must still go through a process to get an exemption.

Last-minute negotiations on the bill addressed concerns about liability by adding several conditions that have to be met before non-Caltrans criteria can be used. A “qualified engineer” must review and sign off on a protected bike lane project, the public must be duly notified, and alternative criteria must “adhere to guidelines established by a national association of public agency transportation official,” which means the NACTO guidelines would could be used whether Caltrans has officially adopted them or not.

And unfortunately for lay people, Caltrans balked at removing its convention of naming bike lane types by “class” and numeral, saying it is just too embedded in its documents. So the new protected bike lanes category would be officially named “Class IV Bikeways,” adding to Class I Bikeways (bike paths or shared use paths), Class II bikeways (bike lanes), and Class III bikeways (bike routes). Memorize that.

“We’re very excited to have gotten to this point after months of harder-than-expected negotiations and stalwart support from Phil Ting,” said Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition. ”He really wants to see protected bikeways get more popular.”