Last night I attended an open house where the city was unveiling their new draft "bicycle master plan".
The plan has a lot of detailed information about specific cycling facilities which they are planning to build, but it's pretty easy to summarize. Basically the approach they seem to be taking is to build semi-segregated cycling infrastructure, such as painted bike lanes and off-street trails. This essentially means that a select network will be indentified for bikes, and that those routes will get painted bicycle lanes and some additional route and road signs, plus some other measures where those are needed.
I should immediately mention that the city has a pretty poor record of actually implementing these types of facilities. I'll provide a couple of specific examples here, but these specific shortcomings are actually just to represent the problems endemic to ALL the lanes I've ever seen the city craft:
- On one major artery, the old road design had very wide curb lanes and was used by a lot of cyclists. Near the terminus of that route was an old railway bridge where the street narrowed by probably 20 feet, causing a kind of bottleneck. Right at that narrowed underpass is the major intersection at the end of that road, busy with cars turning into and out of that narrowed section of road. The city brought in a painted cycling lane for the full length of the road, except right in that problem area, where the lane markings disappear and a sign reads "bike lane ends". I can think of dozens of places where the city creates a long bike lane only to have it peter out just in time for the most dangerous stretch of road.
- Another cycling lane near my home is a major link across downtown, and pretty well the only north-south route designated for cyclists. It's missing signage around the places where it connects to other east-west designated cycling routes and it goes over curbs which haven't been lowered, and none of the intersections with major streets have cross-overs, etc. Essentially, it's an alleyway which has been paved, but there are no actual specific cycling improvements. The paving was recently taken up and replaced with cobblestones and brick, and some of the stuff they used is decorative and polished, and slippery as ice when wet. Etc. Just horrible horrible physical implementation.
So back to the meeting: Quite a bit of data was presented at this meeting from last night. (Like, they had schematic drawings of lots of kinds of bike lanes, and you could pick which physical setup you prefer.)
Among the items presented was a map-chart of accidents and injuries plotted by location. One of the items that clearly jumped out at me were that quite a few accidents that happen on the bike lanes we already have! And it was even clear in a couple of cases that cyclists had hit the actual cycling infrastructure itself.
Another observation that was really obvious was that two of the major cross-town express routes for cars (timed green waves on 6-lane one-way streets with many many intersections) have a very high rate of accidents for bikes. But those streets have a probably proportionate high rate of motorized vehicle accidents as well, and there are lots of pedestrian fatalities every year too, so I'm sure that cycling is dangerous on those roads, but that those roads are generally dangerous.
I was disappointed to see no analysis or typing of that accident data, at least with respect to other qualities like traffic flows. There was a simple pie-chart where the accident was "car-bike, bike-bike, bike-object, bike-pedestrian etc. There was no break-down by things like time of day, what maneuvers were being performed, where within the street things happened, etc. Quite a few of the bicycle fatalities seem to involve drunk-drivers from what my research suggests, so these are not going to be addresses by bike lanes in any direct way, for example.
So, the entire presentation seemed geared towards rigging the procedure and the information for the response that the planners seem to desire: they wish to see the public jump on the idea of more painted cycling lanes, on the roads where there are these accident dots.
Ie., "accidents happen on this road, we're going to put in place a bike lane". Rather than, "we need to bring in measures to calm the car traffic along this stretch", or "we need to add a designated turn lane at this intersection where cars strike cyclists when turning" or "we need to create some attractive alternative routes" or whatever. Basically, it was a choice of...this plan, or no other listed alternative.
I also noted that most of the culprit streets in terms of high bicycle accident rates are already identified and designated on the more general "transportation master plan" for cycling improvements (bike lanes), so the entire "cycling master plan" isn't bringing in any new measures beyond what they have planned to do already...it's basically just an extension of the same approach, with some new details.
So while there are these busy roads that have many more accident dots, and they are proposing bike lanes on those roads. Seems to be a solution: implicitly safety will increase. But will it really? What do you think...will dropping a bike lane on one of these high-way roads drop the accident rates? I've been reading studies that seem to show it doesn't hurt, but that it also doesn't help.
My gut reaction is that, in this context, the issue that they have probably identified has to do with a dramatic need for traffic calming along certain roads. Ie., that might mean bicycle boulevards in certain areas, re-engineering the flow of motorized traffic on certain others, switching one-ways to two-ways, disbanding the timed green waves, installing islands and jut-outs from curbs, adding street parking and so on. I also have a feeling that this is possibly unfeasible politically. But the lanes they are planning I'm really not sure about, especially the way that the city almost certainly will be doing them in terms of how things get implemented.
In a major city close by to where I live, I'm aware that the city originally took the approach of using bicycle boulevards (many still exist), and that cyclists then lobbied for on-street lanes and the number of fatalities increased as these were implemented (and as less experienced riders began to use these heavier traffic routes). That city seems to have now moved on to sharrows for a lot of new projects, but some of the troublesome previously bike-laned routes are actually at this point having car lanes removed and widening the remaining lanes, etc. My city seems to be on step one of that learning curve.
Another place I lived had built up a lot of cycling lanes, but from my perspective as a cyclist, a lot of the design choices "hard-wired" some dangerous traffic patterns, and I typically tried to stay off them if I could. Just scary.
So I'm writing this because I know that other cities have already built the type of infrastructure that the planners here are currently busy designing. We're always behind the curve here. What has been the experience in places you know about, and what feedback should I give to the plan?
Beyond safety concerns, are there other reasons to oppose bike lanes? Or rather, to endorse something different? What are some alternatives I could bring to the table? What has really worked where you live?