Moving Forward With Bicycle Facilities

Last year I reported here, based on a conversation at a STAR Team meeting, that the city was uninterested in painting more bicycle lanes. With the creation of new lanes on Division and Benton and  the discussion at night’s STAR Team meeting, it has became clear to me that painting more bicycle lanes is in our future.

What changed?

Remember the report by The Network (a group of young professionals attached to the Chamber of Commerce) about how to attract and retain young professionals? Here again were the top four results:

  • Expand trails and bike routes for recreation and transportation.
  • Enact a smoking ban in bars, restaurants and other public places.
  • Improve wages by supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses.
  • Address the lack of diversity through increased awareness and support for minority-owned businesses.

Wow. We got top billing. Fantastic.

I believe the city is taking these things seriously. That’s great!

But “trails and bike routes” has apparently been translated into “bicycle lanes.” That’s not necessarily surprising. That term is, as much as anything, a metaphor for “facilities” in the minds regular folks. “Facilities” can be all kinds of helpful and progressive things.

I am not a fan of bicycle lanes in general (click here). So if you ask me if I like bicycle lanes or want to see them painted in Springfield, I’ll tell you “no.” This does not mean all lanes are bad or that I am against all facilities. It means, specifically, that I worry that some lane advocates (not necessarily our bicycle advocates) will promote poor facilities and may push for a law requiring lane use once lanes are painted (thus making bicycling suck for experienced traffic bicyclists).

I think the foundation of a good bicycle system begins with a good transportation system for all road users — one that is equitable for all users. All users should be educated in how to use the road safely and how to share it with a wide range of other users who all have equal rights and responsibilities (and equal expectations of courtesy and civility). Shared use ought to be an ethic promoted and enforced by all users.

Bicycle facilities should not reduce the bicyclist’s level of service, i.e. make it more difficult to get from point A to point B safely and efficiently or to deny access to roads. Facilities should not create traffic conflicts by encouraging bicyclists to ride in places or in ways that put them in danger. And facilities should not contradict the law or sound traffic education, e.g. creating a lane that runs against traffic. Finally, if you create facilities then I believe you (the city) are obligated to maintain them, which means keeping them cleared of debris, snow, and ice.

Progressive facilities should empower people to make the choice to ride a bicycle for transportation by making it efficient and enjoyable, i.e. easy access to destinations and no manufactured conflicts with motorists. Separation is fine as long as it does not create inferiority for the bicyclist compared to other forms of transportation.

The differences between these kinds of facilities are easy to see. Compare, for example, our greenway trails (progressive) to the new bicycle lane on Benton (regressive). (Note: That was an example. I do not mean to suggest that separated greenways are the only form of progressive facility.)

Since Springfield is moving ahead with “bicycle lanes,” I am going to seek out and publish examples of progressive facilities. And I will support such facilities, even when they involve painting lines on the street.

I will also, however, squawk like crazy if we build lanes that create conflicts or put novices in danger. I am unwilling to increase participation at the cost of safety when our roads are already safe.

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Comments 6

  1. Keri wrote:

    I just got back from a trip to SoCal. I did some video in Irvine. The standard bike lanes there are 8ft wide. Where the intersections were far apart, they were very comfortable (clean, too). Unlike our 5ft bike lanes, they did not result in reduced passing clearance vs controlling the lane. Where they were more problematic was on the approach to interchanges with lane diverges. I prefer to set up in the thru lane well ahead of where the traffic flow develops for a diverge — that makes me less disruptive and reduces my workload. The bike lane channels in way too far, but its presence results in harassment for not using it (whereas I rarely experience incivility for riding the way I do here).

    Posted 17 Nov 2011 at 4:04 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Keri… Thanks for that information. Are you going to publish any video/photos of the 8-foot lanes?

    Posted 17 Nov 2011 at 4:07 pm
  3. Keri wrote:

    Andy, yes. I have some plans for it.

    Posted 17 Nov 2011 at 4:47 pm
  4. Steve A wrote:

    Sadly, though I share your opinion, we represent a “fringe of a fringe.” I just visited Bikedfw and their survey revealed only 7% of respondents thought cycling education was the best way to increase safety. Two of the votes for Bike Ed were from me. I feel fortunate that I live in a location where good connectivity makes it difficult to “lane me off” the road.

    Posted 17 Nov 2011 at 7:59 pm
  5. Dave wrote:

    What about creating bicycle-only facilities that are grade-separate, much as we hope pedestrian sidewalks are grade separate?

    Posted 19 Nov 2011 at 5:53 pm
  6. Andy Cline wrote:

    Dave… How would you handle intersections with grade-separated paths?

    Posted 19 Nov 2011 at 6:48 pm