Thursday, September 8, 2011

Anatomy of a Bike Lane

One of the streets I commute on Monday through Friday is West Dayton Street. This runs by the UW dorms and lots of other student housing. It goes from Monroe Street close to the stadium to within a few blocks of the capital square. It’s a logical choice for commuting to the square from the near west side as it's the best and most direct route.

Most of Dayton is a two way street with no on street parking and a third center lane for turns. It has a bike lane on each side of the street. Closer to the capital it loses the third lane and there is on-street parking on one side. This is a residential area with mostly rental housing.

Dayton is a two way three lane with the center lane a turn lane

On Street parking starts at the intersection of Bloom St. and
Dayton heading away from the capital and continues for two blocks.
The only way to stay out of the door zone is to ride out of the bike lane.

In order to understand Dayton Street we really have to understand how it relates to the streets around it. One block closer to the UW and running parallel to Dayton is Johnson Street. This is the major arterial street coming into the Isthmus from Middleton. Johnson is a very busy one way four lane street with no bike infrastructure of any kind.

A block up from Johnson is University Avenue which runs by the UW. This is another very busy one way major arterial with three motor vehicle lanes, a bike lane on one side, and a protected cycle track running counter flow on the other.

On the other side of Dayton is Regent Street but that is not an inviting preposition for bikers, besides heading a good deal away from the capital.

It is possible to get onto lower State Street and bike up to the capital area but inevitable during rush hour the bus traffic on State is also not an inviting proposition. You can be almost guarantied of getting stuck trolling behind a bus as it makes its numerous stops along the street. During rush hour State is thick with city buses.

If you're trying to get to and from the capital area to the near west side Dayton is by far the best choice. Many other folks agree as it is well used by cyclist all day. There is little doubt W. Dayton is one of the most used bike lanes in the city.

The street itself has a bit of a bi-polar attitude. It appears the city decided to try and turn it into both bike friendly and car friendly. It has a center lane for turning for all but a few blocks so traveling by motor vehicle is mostly very smooth. It does have a very long light at Park Street, which appears to be the cities way of trying to discourage motor vehicles from using it as and alternative commuter route to the University/Johnson corridor. From the amount of traffic on Dayton the strategy doesn’t appear to be working. The long light ends up being an irritant for both pedestrians and bike users that invites running the light. There is lots of pedestrian traffic because of the student housing in the area. As mentioned, bike traffic is heavy as even with a good deal of motor vehicle traffic it is still by a long shot the quietest street in the area for getting around on a bike.

Bike Lane leading into right hooks on N. Bassett
Of course the high volume traffic traffic in the area does create problems for bike users. N. Bassett is problematic as the bike lane leads into right hooks on this busy one way. Since Dayton Street has no center lane at this point getting in a good position to go straight is not all that easy. This is farther exasperated as many motor vehicles fail to use their blinker. This is a classic conflict of interest as bike users mostly want to go straight and motor vehicles want to turn right.

Intersection of Bloom and Dayton. This needs a stop
Light so pedestrians and bikes can safely cross
Bloom Street is another problem area. During rush hour the only way to cross this street is to wait for traffic to back up far enough on Bloom Street so traffic stops. Fortunately this normally doesn't take long, though it's certainly not anywhere close to ideal.

Even with it's problems W. Dayton is one of the better bike lanes in the area simply for the fact that for a good deal of the street bike users don't have to deal with parked cars.  It could undoubtable be improved if the remaining on-street parking was removed.

Having biked in the area for years.... well... decades to tell the truth, there is much room for improvement. Besides the issues already mentioned there is one approach to Dayton that would vastly improve the situation for bike users. To make Dayton more friendly for both bikes and pedestrians traffic calming is in order. There is one inexpensive change that would do more then anything else, and that is to remove the center turning lane. With the added space there would easily be enough room for a buffered bike lane on both sides of the street. This would do a number of things, but the main one, besides giving bike users more room, is to slow traffic down. Without a doubt it would also decrease traffic as the street would be a good deal less car friendly. The temptation for motor vehicles to use the street as an alternative commuter route to the University/Johnson corridor would be greatly reduced.

It makes even more sense when we consider that residents in the Dayton Street area very likely have among the highest bike ownership and the lowest motor vehicle ownership in the city. It only makes sense to have a street that more closely matches what the people in the area actually use. Motor vehicles have plenty of other options while bike users have very few, and none of them as good. It would be a very good thing if we made Dayton Street a premium area for bike users instead of just..... okay

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Share and Be Aware" and falling down on a bike

It’s late summer and the bike education programs are in full swing. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin has a new long range program advocating that motor vehicles “share the road” with bicycles. The “Share and be Aware” educational program by the bicycle Federation of Wisconsin has put out a video explaining the campaign, plus a few advertisments.

I assume the purpose of Share and Be Aware is to make life safer for bike users and pedestrians. Since crashes with motor vehicles are the main cause of injuries for bike users it makes sense to direct the safety campaign at drivers, though parts of it are about educating bike users in the best way to use a bike in traffic.

It’s interesting to take a look at just how safe bike use is. The Wisconsin DOT put out the facts in this PDF

In it the DOT states
The number of bicyclists killed has remained steady for the past 20 years.
If we take into consideration that bike use has increased by over 40% in the same period of time this is actually good news. Injuries have actually gone down by 40% since 1990. The increase in bike use is without a doubt because of better infrastructure. Add to this
Fatalities per Exposure Hour (Data compiled by Failure Analysis Associates, Inc.)
Motor vehicle travel: .47 
Bicycle travel: .26
This shows that bike users have just a bit over half the injury rate per hour of use that a motor vehicle user has. Using a bike is indeed one of the safer modes of personal travel out there. Anther interesting statistic is that children sustain between ⅓ and ½ of all bicycle injuries each year. If we subtract that from the above numbers it’s clear that using a bike for an adult is a relatively safe activity.

The real question is, with all we know about the safety of bicycle use, why is it that people perceive bike use to be unsafe? If my memory serves me right 40% of people would like to ride a bike for commuting but do not because of safety concerns. It seems to be at odds with reality.

I’ve been biking in Madison for over 30 years and have never been in an crash….. but there sure have been some close calls. I’ve been cut off by motor vehicles doing a right turn and had to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision, been buzzed by vehicles driving within inches of me, and need I even mention car doors swinging open. Add to that I’ve been intentionally harassed to many times.

The subjective safety level is a very different story from the actual safety level. This is coming from someone who bikes mostly in the Isthmus area of Madison. With over 7% of all trips on the isthmus made on a bike it would be a good guess that the Madison isthmus is bike central for the state of Wisconsin.

I can understand why many folks do not ride a bike and chose other modes of transport. There is little joy to be found in the standard bike lane on a busy street in urban areas. Rubbing shoulders with SUV’s, city buses, and inattentive drivers can be waring, and does not inspire people to dust off there bicycle. The push for more education will do little to change that.

In order to get more folks on bikes what is needed is to make bike users feel safe, comfortable, and dare I say relaxed riding a bike. The typical middle aged working person has long since given up on the hassle of biking. And who can blame them. Mixing up motor vehicles with bicycles that are less than 1/100 the weight is simply not a good idea if you want people to actually use bikes. A painted white line on the street is not nearly enough.

David Hembrow wrote an excellent piece on bike safety
He explores the idea of three different types of safety, actual, subjective, and social. All are essential in getting people to chose a bike as a mode of transport. The latter two are what has been dismissed by much of the current thinking on bike infrastructure in this country, though that’s beginning to change.

David Hembrow states
No-one will do anything that feels too dangerous to them. Everyone wants their child to be safe and their partner to be safe. That's why so many journeys which ought to be cycleable are made by car. There is no point in arguing with people's decisions, or ridiculing them. The person making the decision to use a car has made it for quite logical reasons. Their level of confidence about cycling in the conditions around you is not the same as your own.
What to do... If you want people who do not cycle to take up cycling, then the right thing to do is to campaign for or design in road conditions which make cycling into an appealing option. That is what the Dutch have done. Everywhere. It is the key to the high cycle usage and high cycle safety figures.
I particularly like the statement below
Don't make the mistake of thinking that subjective safety is a concern only for inexperienced cyclists. No-one suffers from cycling being pleasant. Steps to increase the subjective and social safety of cyclists lead to a better cycling experience for all.
He goes on to explain the type of infrastructure needed to increase bike use.

That’s in sharp contrast to the Platinum Bicycling Committee Report that claimed that the reason people don’t use bike lanes on arterial streets is because they are either young or inexperienced. That statement is an insult to peoples rational decision as to why they do not use a bike.

All one needs to do to get a feel for subjective safety is to take a bike ride on any of the heavily used mixed use paths in Madison. People know what they like, and all the coxing and prodding out there isn’t going to change that. The Share and Be Aware program will have little to no effect on getting people to use bikes. It’s a feel good educational program that has failure written all over it. If anything it's a distraction from the real problem.

There is only one proven method to increase bike use in urban areas, and that is better infrastructure. That means separated cycle tracks on all high speed and/or high volume streets. Without that people will continue to make the choice of using a car instead of a bicycle. The role of education is very limited in what it will, or can do.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Good and the Bad of the Madison Platinum Bicycling Committee Report

The Platinum Bicycling Committee Report was adopted by the Madison Common Council in April of 2008.  It’s been over three years since report was adopted by the city council and I thought it might be interesting to see if any recommendations in the report have actually come to pass, and just what some of those recommendations where.

I’ll stay with the committees suggestions for bike infrastructure even though there are many others. As for the others, some are good, many are indifferent, and many of them trail off into the bureaucratic jungle…. where I won’t follow.

First a few of the good recommendations, with a number of them now being moved forward.

This is on page 20
Study and determine a location for two to three bike boulevards. Construct one and evaluate.
Details : A bicycle boulevard is a corridor where bicycles have preferential status. No through motorized traffic is allowed. Only local motorized traffic is allowed (for instance, to residences). A combination of signs and traffic calming devices are used to limit automobile traffic. Typically, a bicycle boulevard would have few traffic signals or signs causing the bicyclists to have to stop. Bicycles are thus provided a long linear stretch for quick and efficient travel. Bicycle boulevards tend to work best on grid street systems, where alternative parallel routes exist for motorized traffic. Examples include East Mifflin Street and Kendall/Bluff Streets. If successful, expand. 
The above is very likely the best recommendation of the committee, though a few of there ideas on boulevards have not been fully realized. The “no through motorized traffic” hasn’t come to pass as of yet, but at least the boulevards are off the ground and running.  Bring ‘em on as we need a lot more.

On page 27
Allow two-way bicycle operation on short one-way streets.
Details : Example is Henry Street from Dayton to State. Possible additional locations are East Mifflin and East and West Main off of the Square. Examples exist in Denmark and Switzerland.
There are an increasing number of the above in the downtown area. I use them on a regular basis and can attest to how well they work. Taking a little short cut by going against traffic on a one way can be a big benefit to bike users.

On page 19
Construct Bike Boxes at select and appropriate signalized intersections  
Details : A Bike Box is an advance stop bar for bicycles. It provides a safe area for bicyclists to wait at traffic controls/signals that allows them to get an advance start on motor vehicle traffic, which stages at a stop bar behind the bicyclist. Often, the pavement within a Bike Box is painted. Potential locations are inbound Williamson Street at John Nolen/Blair and westbound State Street at Henry/W.Johnson Streets.
Bike boxes showed up in numbers in 2011. I use the one on Park and Dayton on a daily basis and can say without hesitation that they work very well. The longer I use it the more I like it. The main function is simply moving traffic back a few more feet which gives pedestrians and bike users more space. It’s good for everyone, including motor vehicles.

On page 35
Conduct a review of complex intersections and determine solutions to improve bicycle/pedestrian safety and comfort.
Details: Review intersections and determine solutions (examples include Monroe/Regent and Blair/John Nolen/Williamson/Wilson)
The intersection of Monroe/Regent was redone in the spring of 2011 and includes a bike specific light. Well done. Blair/John Nolen/Williamson/Wilson remains the same and needs work.

On page 48
Institute a Sunday Parkways ride once per month. 
Details: Sunday Parkways are times set aside on weekends and holidays for traffic-free biking and walking on a network of selected streets. In effect, streets are transformed into trails. Hundreds of thousands of cyclists use Sunday Parkways called Ciclovia in Bogotá, Columbia, and Via RecreActiva in Guadalajara, Mexico. Sunday Parkways do not impact motorized traffic flow like other special events, since all cross-traffic flows normally. Participants stop at all traffic signals, so that only the closed street is affected. Often on a divided arterial, the Sunday Parkway uses one half of the roadway and motorized traffic uses the other half. Sunday Parkways provide close-to-home recreational opportunities for all ages and all types of active travel.
This has evolved into Ride the Drive. A big success for the bike culture of Madison with turnouts into the tens of thousands. Of course it’s only twice a year but it works. A nice time for all.

On page 63
Investigate implementation of a bike sharing program
Details: Many communities throughout the world are using bike sharing programs or short-term, on-demand bike rentals to encourage bicycling. Madison had a brief bike sharing program called “red bikes” in the 1990s. Currently, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is researching a bike sharing program. The city should work with the university to investigate expanding such a program citywide.
This has come to pass with the B-Cycle program sponsored by Trek. There are now about 24 bike kiosk on the Isthmus with more to come.

On page 28
Convert current bike route network and signage to a destination-based network.
Details : Signs will indicate where bicyclist can get to and the distance. Examples exist in Chicago and Portland. May include the naming of some routes and the signage may be phased in.
A nice idea but as of yet I haven’t seen it. At least not on my normal commuter routes. Hopefully they will show up in the future.

There are a number of other interesting ideas but I hit on most of the big ones.

And now the committee falls down a good long way as we move into the bad. As good as some of the above points are, the ones below show just how out of touch the committee was as far as bike users go.

On page 24
Review the impact on commuting bicycles of the Rush Hour Parking Policy that converts parking lanes to motor vehicle lanes.
Details: Investigate solutions to current conditions. Many excellent streets for bicycling (such as Monroe Street, Williamson Street Regent Street and segments of Park Street) become virtually impassable for bicycles during the rush hour. Solutions may include improved alternate routes and signing.
This one is a bit off the wall as some of the streets named easily fall into the category of bike hell. Regent Street between Park and Monroe is among the worst streets in Madison for a bike user. Lots of traffic on a two way street with parked cars on both sides with little to no space for a bike. Williamson and Park Streets are not much better, and there are parts of Park Street that when ridden once is not repeated except under extreme duress. Monroe is the best of the lot but still to be avoided. With a mixed use path running parallel a block over why bother. When I read this I began to wonder what city they where talking about, or what planet they where from.

On page 17
Adopt and implement a Complete Streets Resolution.
Details : Complete Streets are defined in the Themes section of this report. While paths are useful, especially for recreation, paths can only be safely located in certain areas. Streets must also form the core of the bikeway system. The resolution should state that all new arterials, collectors and select commercial streets shall have bike lanes. Reconstruction of existing streets (such as East Washington) will likewise be updated to meet Complete Street criteria. Place design and construction of bicycle facilities (street and path) at the same level as other modes.
The idea of complete streets is a good one, but the devil is in the details. The reconstruction of East Washington is now completed exactly as the committee recommended, and it is very much a failure. This is a good example of how not to design bike infrastructure. Putting an unprotected bike lane on a high volume arterial road is a bad idea. With traffic moving at 35+ mph the subjective safety level is very low. It is simple being avoided by the majority of bike users. The area is a bicycle desert compared to the mixed use trails and bicycle boulevards closer to the Capital.  Expecting this to be a main corridor for bike users shows a lack of understanding of what the majority of bike users want.

This is likely the most critical missed point of the study. Arterial streets are often the only way to move from one part of the city to another. Get these wrong and the whole system falls apart. The committee got it wrong and bike users will be paying the price for decades.

On page 39
Include specific recommended bicycle connections to major activity centers in neighborhood plans.
Details: Neighborhood plans should include specific recommended bicycle connections to major activity centers within the neighborhood, such as employment areas, business districts, parks, schools and other civic uses, adjacent neighborhoods, and city-wide and regional bicycle transportation routes and facilities. These plans should recognize a hierarchy of bicycle facilities that may include off-street bicycle paths and trails, marked on-street bicycle lanes, and identified routes to major neighborhood destinations using low-volume local streets, which may or may not be officially designated, that can provide an alternative for younger or less-experienced bicyclists who are not comfortable using the bicycle lanes provided on collector and arterial streets.
The last bolding is my own in the above. This is a continuation of the complete streets point. After several years of study the committee came to the conclusion that the reason folks are not using arterial streets as bike corridors is because they are younger or less-experienced.  This is rationalization at its worst.

This idea is not only extremely misguided, it nullifies large areas of Madison to the great majority of bike users. This is a hugh stumbling block for Madison’s goal of reaching a greater share of bike use for commuters.

The bright spot in the report is the emergence of bicycle boulevards. It is really the last great hope, along with an expansion of mixed use paths, of putting together a coherent network that works for everyone. The rest of the report is more of a tweaking of what already exist. Unfortunately, with the committees rejection of protected cycle tracks, as they are not even mentioned, the job building an infrastructure that attracts more bike use will be much harder.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bicycle Boulevards Continued

The above videos show advanced design for bicycle boulevards for the city of Portland Oregon. Not only does Portland have a lot of them, the city is planning on greatly expanding the network.  They even have innovative designs as in there boulevard flower on intersections where two boulevards intersect. They have also gone a long way to make it inconvenient for motor vehicles to use these streets as a commuter route. It has made for a much better experience for bike users of all types, including children.

The city of Madison has just started experimenting with bicycle boulevards. The first for the state of Wisconsin came in the city of Madison in 2010 with East Wilson. That was followed up in 2011 with East Mifflin and Kendal Avenue. Admittedly they are not up to the standards of what Portland is doing, but it’s a start. There are two more in the planning stages in Madison. A short one on Spaight St and a much longer boulevard on Ruskin Street on the North side.

Off the top of my head I can think of one more that would work well for a bicycle boulevard. West Shore Drive and South Shore Drive running around Monona bay would do well being turned into a boulevard. It’s already heavily used by bicyclist and even has a number of traffic calming technics in place. It wouldn’t take much to turn it into a boulevard.

No doubt there are many other streets that would do well as a bicycle boulevard. Of course it’s important they actually go to places bike users need to go. It’s especially important to cover areas that are not well served with good bike infrastructure.

What the videos show is how much bicycle boulevards can enhance bike use for a relatively small amount of money. It’s more an act of political will rather then economics. From what I have seen both East Wilson and East Mifflin are well used. Even in this short period of time they can easily be called a success. Let’s hope the city of Madison fast tracks more bicycle boulevards as they are much needed and appreciated by bike users.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Push for Cycle Tracks and Buffered Bike Lanes

In northern Europe it is well known that the best way to increase bike use is to use protected cycle tracks. By giving bike users a protected space it encourages all types of people to use bikes. This includes young and old, school children, mothers with children, blue collar workers, white collar workers, and anyone else who wants to give it a try. Unfortunately the Wisconsin DOT has been dead set against them as can be seen from there guidelines in “ WISCONSIN BICYCLE FACILITY DESIGN HANDBOOK". I covered there misguided approach here

There may be hope for a better future though. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin has recently released a position paper on cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes. 

It’s about time as it’s long overdue for Madison and the state of Wisconsin to take a serious look at what a positive effect protected cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes could have on bike use in  Madison and throughout Wisconsin. All the evidence points to the fact that implementing these facilities would be a sure way of increasing ridership and bike use in our state.

Here is a bit of what the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin has to say about protected cycle tracks:

Enhanced safety sensitivity: Buffered bicycle lanes and cycle tracks increase bicyclist perception of safety over a standard bicycle lane and provide more room to avoid collisions with parked car doors or other obstacles.
Decrease bicyclist/motorist conflicts: Both facilities better define a space for bicyclists on streets than standard bike lanes. It is clearer where both bicyclists and motorists belong, lessening bicyclist/motor conflicts and interactions.
Increased ridership: Data from New York City and Vancouver, British Columbia, suggests that buffered bike lanes and cycle tracks increase bicycle ridership as much as 30%.
Appealing to more Madisonians: Large numbers of people who are not comfortable bicycling in standard bicycle lanes or in traffic report that they would be comfortable bicycling in buffered bike lanes or cycle tracks.
Appealing to women and children: Evidence from Europe shows that women and children are more likely to bicycle when facilities such as cycle tracks are available.
By adding buffered bike lanes and cycle tracks to the Madison bicycle network, the city can increase overall bicycle ridership, particularly among women, families and those not comfortable riding on existing on-street bicycle facilities.
I couldn’t agree more. Another group that is starting to push for cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes is 20by2020. This is a Madison advocacy group that has a goal of trying to get bike use up to 20% for all commuter trips made in the city of Madison by 2020. No doubt they realize that without some big changes to the bike infrastructure of the city the goal of 20% is unreachable.

We can look at some of the major bungles the city has made recently to illustrate how far we are falling short. Two major road construction projects in the last few years have been East Washington Avenue and Monona Drive. Monona Drive is in the city of Monona but I’m including it here because it is a major arterial street and therefore relevant to this discussion.

East Washington is a major arterial street which underwent significant reconstruction a few years ago. What bike users got was a bike lane on a heavily used major street that is very intimidating for many if not most bike users. After the Yahara River there is no good way to access the area on a bike. The Capital City Trail does intersect it a bit farther up from the Yahara but that can be well out of the way for some cyclist. After that you’re on your own. Biking out to East Town can be a nightmare. This would have been an ideal place to have a protected cycle track running from the Yahara River all the way to East Town, opening up a large part of the city for increased bike use. Instead we got a lousy bike lane on a high volume street that gets little use. You wouldn’t want to see your kid out on this one. I say thanks but no thanks to this one.

More recently, Monona Drive is much the same story. It’s a major arterial that is undergoing reconstruction. This could have been a major route for bike users if done right with a cycle track. Instead we have yet another on street bike lane on a high volume street. This was done despite the fact that it has been repeatedly shown that many, if not most bike users will avoid it. Add to that an ever shrinking sidewalk. The sidewalk was initially going to be 10 feet. Then it shrank to 8 feet, and then it shrunk a bit more and then I lost interest in the whole debacle. A lack of vision for the area by the powers that be is an understatement.

It has been assured that motor vehicles are the only from of transportation the city considers legitimate in these areas.

Madison is still doing some good things. The new bicycle boulevards are a step in the right direction. Overall though there is a decided lack of vision as can be seen in all the major reconstruction projects. There is another major project coming up on Fish Hatchery Road that looks to be headed it the same direction.

Let’s hope with groups like the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin and 20by2020 now starting to push for advanced bike infrastructure we can begin to move beyond the 5 foot on street bike lane into something much more appealing for far more people than what we have now.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Ride On The Boulevard

I admit I don’t often ride my bike on the East side of Madison. Except for an occasional run to Willie Street Coop my usual commuter routes simple don’t take me in that direction. What I’ve missed is a new type of bike infrastructure that has shown up as of recent. This is of course the Bicycle boulevard.

This is what Bike Madison has to say about Bicycle boulevards

Bicycle boulevards are low speed, low (motor vehicle) traffic volume, local streets that are designated for use primarily by bicyclists. Motor vehicles are welcome on bicycle boulevards. Special blue street signs and shared lane (sharrow) pavement markings signify that motor vehicles must be attentive to the large numbers of cyclists and lower their speeds. 

They also provide a link to the concept of Sharrows which are integral to Bicycle boulevards

Sharrows are pavement markings installed in travel lanes, reminding motorists that they should expect to see and share the road with bicyclists by slowing down and passing only when safe, giving at least three feet of clearance when passing.
Sharrows can be used on a variety of street types. They may be used on busier streets where we would prefer to have bicycle lanes but do not have the space for these, or they can be used on lower volume streets where we are encouraging bicycle traffic (bicycle boulevards).
In areas with on‐street parking, sharrows help bicyclists position themselves within the lane so as to avoid being hit by a suddenly opened car door. Although it is the motorist’s responsibility to check for bicyclists or other traffic before opening their door, riding too close to parked cars is still a common mistake that can lead to serious injury.
Sharrows are also used to help bicyclists position themselves in a lane near an intersection to avoid turning movement crashes such as the “right hook”.
What do sharrows mean for bicyclists and drivers?
BicyclistsUse the sharrow to guide where you ride within the lane— generally through the center of the sharrow. Remember not to ride too close to parked cars—watch for opening doors. Be aware of your surroundings and follow the rules of the road.
DriversExpect to see bicyclists on the street. Remember to give bicyclists space when passing. At least three feet of clearance is required. Be aware of your surroundings and follow the rules of the road.

Sharrows have been around a while as can be seen by the faded Sharrow markings on both East Wilson and East Mifflin. The designation of a Bicycle boulevard first appeared in 2010 on East Wilson Street. That was a first for the state. This connected parts of the mixed use bike path running parallel to Williamson Street. In 2011 most of East Mifflin Street was also designated a Bike Boulevard. The four blocks remaining that lead into the Capital Square are in the advanced planning stage.

The more recent East Mifflin boulevard is providing a much needed bike corridor to the North side of the city. When it is completed it will run from the Capital all the way to the Yahara River. There are certainly problems if you want to bike farther north, but with this critical link bike users do not have to use the longer route of the mixed used path running along Williamson Street and then turn north along the Yahara mixed use trail. Worse then that is to brave the heavy traffic of the East Johnson/East Gorham corridor, or the heavy traffic of East Washington. All the these streets have bike lanes but because of heavy arterial traffic are unattractive for many bike users, including myself.

Nice wide street on the
East Mifflin Bike Boulevard
Another plan the city has that connects to the East Mifflin boulevard is a cycle track from Pinckney to Fairchild along Mifflin Street. This would run right by the Capital counter flow of traffic and would be a critical link. It would connect the heavily used State and West Mifflin to the East Mifflin Boulevard. As of now bike users have to either bike around the square, or if you want a shortcut ride on the sidewalk. I would have to assume this would be much like the counter-flow cycle track on University Avenue.

It would not be a good idea to get to excited about this part just yet as it's only in the planning stage. This is the definition of planning stage from Bike Madison

The project is out in future, most likely without a definite construction year, no construction funds budgeted in current year and no design-level survey completed. We are still looking at the feasibility of the project and possibly seeking federal or other funds.
As nice as it would be there may be a bit of a wait on this.

I took a bike ride on both boulevards recently to get a feel for how it works.

They could use some tweaking, but overall it’s very nice. It is many times better then the adjacent East Washington bike lane or the East Johnson/East Gorham bike lanes. They are also better then even the best on-street bike lanes. The day I tried it out was a Sunday and traffic was very light. Actually I saw one van pulling out from a house and that was it. It was a pleasant trip that would be very attractive to both bike commuters and recreational users. On a Sunday I saw plenty of the latter.

A few to many of these
There are a few to many stop signs on both boulevards and even some uncontrolled intersections on low traffic streets on the East Wilson section. There are no traffic calming measures in place and it could likely use a few. Especially if the stop signs are to be faced the other way to give bikes the right of way. It would be to tempting for motor vehicles to use it as an alternative commuter route without something to slow them down. My suggestion would be to block off a few intersections so it is not a through street for motor vehicles. This could be done with bike users allowed through. There would still be local access but this would essentially guarantee very low motor vehicle traffic. Perhaps even more so then standard traffic calming.

There is one boulevard on the West side on Kendall Ave. I was not as impressed with this one despite the fact that it has some traffic calming. These include three bike friendly speed bumps and a traffic calming island. The problem is Kendall Ave is very narrow in parts. Narrow enough so that with the one side of the street with parked cars it is difficult for two cars to pass each other, much less trying to squeeze bikes into the mix. It was much to busy on the day I took a ride and it doesn’t take much to create congestion. To be fair this may have something to do with construction on Old University one block over which is temporarily one lane. Regardless, this boulevard is ripe for more serious traffic calming to discourage motor vehicles. Eliminating parking where the street is narrow would also be a big help, along with giving bike users the right of way on the all to many stop signs.

Overall bike boulevards are a very necessary addition for the bike users of Madison. It will be very difficult, if not impossible to create a comprehensive bike infrastructure with the use of mixed use paths even though they are by far the most popular type of bike infrastructure in the city. They are also much cheaper. As an example a new bike boulevard in the planning stage is on Ruskin Street starting at Aberg Ave up to Elka Ln and to Windom Way. This would be 14 blocks and cost $17,000. That’s a fraction of what a mixed use path would cost. Admittedly that doesn’t include any traffic calming.

With the seriously misguided refusal of the state of Wisconsin and the city Madison to use cycle tracks but for a last resort in extreme situations, as opposed to the first choice as it should be, boulevards  may be the next best alternative to fill in the bike infrastructure that mixed use paths can’t do. I like to think of them as glorified bike lanes that gets past many of their limitations if done well. It's a realistic way of achieving a high quality infrastructure for cyclist.

This is the underpass of East
Washington Avenue, a major arterial street.
This mixed use path runs along the Yahara
River and connects the East Mifflin
Boulevard with the Mixed Use Path/Bike
Boulevard running parallel Williamson
Street. Very nicely done
As with the mixed use trials I would like to see a lot more Bicycle boulevards in the city. Especially in critical bike corridors that are now ill served. As with cycle tracks, no additional land needs to be purchased so the cost is relatively small. As they become more popular with bike users they can be tweaked at a later date to meet the demands of increased bike use.

Hopefully the powers that be are noticing the increasing demand for better bike infrastructure and are willing to stand up and do something about it.

A good blog article appeared last year in "Over the Bars in Wisconsin" (Formaly "Over the bars in Milwaukee"). This covered the initial East Wilson Boulevard. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

All Hail To Mixed Use Bike Paths

The best bike commute in my normal routine, and one I actually look forward to, is my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s on Monroe Street.

It’s not because I love Trader Joe’s so much, though it's a fine grocery store and I do like its kind of off beat way of doing things. Its because of how I get there. For a good part of the bike commute I get to travel on a mixed use bike/pedestrian path. I can catch it a few blocks from where I live and get off a short block from the store. It’s a pleasure all the way. The city did some work on the Regent/Monroe intersection this spring to make it even better. Besides improving the intersection with a much larger island, the city put in a stop light specifically for bikes.

Bike Light on the corner of Monroe and
Regent. This is the busiest intersection
on the west side of the mixed use path
How about that. Makes a person feel kind of... special.

I could get spoiled with this. I might even start expecting this type relaxing, high quality bike infrastructure all over the city if the folks who make these things happen aren’t careful.

This is part of the same mixed use path that runs through the whole Isthmus and points beyond. You can take it to the northeast running along Lake Monona and then parallel to Willie Street, or take the Southwest Path and get all the way to the Dune Marsh area. Expect to meet lots of other folks on two wheels on the way as its heavily used. Oh... and a few pedestrians also. Most of this path except for the part running along Lake Monona is a former railroad track. This offers a little bonus as it is basically flat.

A typical weekday
afternoon on the path
This is by far the longest and most useful stretch of protected mixed use path in the city. There are a few other pieces of the path that branch off from this. Most notable of this is the path that starts from the Mills Street entrance to the Arboretum and follows Wingra Creek all the way to Olin-Turville Park. From there you can take the Monona Lakeshore Path back into town or go the other way to Nine Springs and beyond. There are a few other more fragmented pieces of mixed use path scattered about the city but nothing like this, and nothing quite as useful as this part of the path travels through the whole Isthmus. If you live close to the path it’s the best way to get into and out of the Downtown on a bike. Rush hour and weekend bike traffic is impressive.

It is interesting to see what the WISCONSIN BICYCLE FACILITY DESIGN HANDBOOK has to say about shared use paths. This on on page 4-1.
4. Shared-use Paths
Shared-use paths are largely non-motorized facilities** most often built on exclusive rights-of-way with relatively few motor vehicle crossings. Properly used, shared-use paths are a complementary system of off-road transportation routes for bicyclists and others. They serve as a necessary extension of the roadway network. Shared-use paths should not substitute for on-road bicycle facilities, but, rather, supplement a system of onroad bike lanes, wide outside lanes, paved shoulders, and bike routes. 

From there It goes into detail as to when and how they should be used. The bolding is my own. It appears the city of Madison is stepping outside the bounds of the handbook a bit with its use of shared use paths. Besides what is already done there are others being built or in the planning stage. There is little doubt the city realizes just how popular these paths are and that the folks of Madison want more of them. The city even has a few cycle tracks in the planning stage which differ from mixed use paths in that they are protected bike only paths as opposed to mixed use. Unfortunately it is very slim pickings for cycle tracks even in the planning stage.

Of course their can be a few problems with mixed use paths. A few cyclist don’t care  for having to deal with pedestrians. I personally don’t have a problem with this but then I’m not the fastest bicyclist around. Dealing with pedestrians is not a problem if biking at a reasonable speed. A bigger problem is how to deal with cross-streets. Most of these paths are gong through mid-block areas so when a cross-street comes up it is not where cars expect them.  The west side of this path is pretty good with a few exceptions. There is a minimum of cross-streets, and where there is it tends to be lightly traveled or well controlled. Going east there are more cross-streets so things do slow down some. A bit more work may need to be done to warn motor vehicle traffic of the path.

Overall though mixed use paths are a welcome relive from on-street bike lanes. Their popularity shows how much they are appreciated by bike users. I only wish we had a lot more of them.

The bigger issue is that they don’t necessarily go where folks on bikes need to go. Many are built more for recreation rather then commuting. Nearly all  are built along creeks, lakes shores, and former railroad tracks. To expand the network land must often be purchased which adds a good deal to the expense. There is certainly going to be limitations as to how extensive a network can be set up.

As nice as mixed use paths are, in order to build a high quality bike infrastructure that functions well for commuters and actually gets people from point A to point B, there needs to be a closer look at other ways to get around the limitations of mixed use paths. Along with the limitations of on street bike lanes there are some large gaps in the bike infrastructure of Madison.

A problem area I’ve already mentioned is the Fish Hatchery Road area and points south of the Beltline, though this areas will be greatly helped with the upcoming Cannonball mixed use trail that is in the planning stage or under construction.

I could easily throw in East and West Washington Avenue. East Washington is a street that shows the limitations of on-street bike lanes This is a major arterial street that runs from the Capital in the heart of downtown all the way to East Town Mall. A good deal of the way has an on-street bike lane. The problem is that it is little used because the people of Madison have wisely decided that on-street biking on an arterial road with traffic moving at 35+ mph is just not a good thing. I remember all to well driving with a friend on East Washington and pointing out the bike lane. I didn’t see a single bike all the way. I don’t blame bike users for avoiding it. It has a low subjective safety level.

Something missing from the infrastructure is cycle tracks, especially along critical arterial streets that would move cyclist from one part of the city to another. That along with intelligent intersections that get bike users through busy intersections with a minimum of bike/car interactions. This is something almost completely absent for the cities bike infrastructure. Without this it will be much more difficult to create a high quality infrastructure that actually gets bike users around the city with a high degree of real and subjective safety. Something that people will actually use. Fact is it will very likely be impossible without it.

This of course entails doing something that very much goes against the grain of a car-centric attitude. That would be taking space away from the infrastructure for motor vehicles and giving it over for bike infrastructure. Something as easy as taking away on-street parking on critical bike corridors and replacing it with a protected cycle path would greatly enhance bike use in the city. This is the easiest, least expensive, and best way to get more folks on bikes by creating a much safer experience for cyclist. Heaven forbid we should actually take away a lane of traffic.

Then set up intersections so bikes can safely get through with a minimum or interactions with motor vehicles and we’ve immediately greatly improved what we now have with minimal cost. No need to buy more land as the city already owns plenty to do the job.

Unfortunately that is hugely controversial with the car-centric approach to transportation that now exist. Even in a supposedly progressive place like Madison for the most part bikes are still not considered a serious mode of transportation. Or at least not serious enough to take anything away from motor vehicles. Until recently bikes where considered largely for recreation and sport.

That attitude is beginning to change as more people are now using there bikes for basic transportation.

With the heavy use of the mixed use bike/pedestrian paths the city will have to be very careful. By dangling a tasty appetizer in front of bike users we may just want to have the whole meal.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Madison Bike Lanes Continued

I covered some of the limitations of bike lanes here. As this is the major type of bike infrastructure in Madison it needs to be explored farther.

Johnson Street heading out from
This is a photo of Johnson Street heading north out of downtown. This is good example of a badly designed bike lane.

As can be seen from the photo Johnson Street is a one way two lane road at this point with parking on both sides of the street. Between the parked cars and moving traffic is a narrow space marked as a bike lane on the left side of the street. This is narrow even by bike lane standards. Because of the parked cars and the dangers of riding in the car door zone bikes are forced uncomfortably close to moving traffic. It is just not that wide of a street and even cars are uncomfortably close to the other lane of traffic. Biking on this street is not an inviting experience. Everyone dislikes it including motor vehicles.

East Gorham Street heading
into downtown
Going into the Isthmus one block over is East Gorham Street. This is another multi-lane one way street. This is a bit confusing as the right side of the street is not marked as a bike lane, though it is about as wide as Johnson. I did see a bike lane sign but no markings on the pavement. It may be an indication that the sidewalk is a bike lane. I’m a bit confused on this and it’s a good guess most other bike users are also.

Fortunately there is a bike Boulevard on East Mifflin St. the city has been working on. Though it hasn't been completed as of yet the boulevard will serve as the main bike corridor coming into and out of the area. This is new for 2011 and is long overdue.

The question has to be ask how the city of Madison made, and continues to make, such obvious blunders in its bike infrastructure?

The answer may lie in the WISCONSIN BICYCLE FACILITY DESIGN HANDBOOK. This is a guide for traffic engineers for the state of Wisconsin on how to build bike infrastructure. With few exceptions it is followed religiously, even when common sense and experience tells us it's not going to work in a given situation. The handbook goes into detailed guidelines on how to design on-street bikes lanes, and in fact that is the main method recommended for moving bikes about. Unfortunately the guide has serious flaws and misconceptions as to what works for bike users. It often appears to be written more for the convenience of traffic engineers rather then the good of bicyclist. One major flaw in the handbook is the wholesale rejection of protected bike paths. Most other flaws flow from that.

A few paragraphs on page 3-7 are all that is said about protected bike paths. Added to the list below are my observations.

Barrier-delineated bicycle lanes were popular in the early days of bicycle planning and design (fig. 3-10). However, their popularity has largely waned over the past several decades. This is particularly the case in communities with active bicycle facilities programs. With few exceptions, raised barriers (e.g., pin-down curbs, raised traffic bars, and asphalt concrete dikes) should not be used to delineate bicycle lanes, for a number of reasons:
• Raised barriers restrict the movement of bicyclists needing to enter or leave bike lanes (e.g., to make left turns); - It's difficult to understand the logic of this as the barrier is obviously not in use on cross streets. There is no problem with entering or leaving the bike path.
• A motorist entering from a side street (fig. 3-10) can effectively block the lane; - Clear markings are needed on the street to tell motor vehicles where to stop. Colored bike paths are also a big help in delineating the bike path and clueing in vehicles as to where to stop. Bad driving habits are not an excuse for the continuation of bad bike infrastructure. This may be more an issue of being a bit more inconvenient for motor vehicles. In a car-centric infrastructure this is number one bad.
• They make it impossible to merge the bicycle lane to the left of a right-turn lane; - This one seems to be a variation of the first one. It’s hard to critic it as it doesn’t make sense.
• They are often used incorrectly by wrong-way bicyclists; - Well designed protected bike lanes and infrastructure do not invite misuse by bicyclist, in fact quite the opposite, just as well designed streets do not invite misuse by motor vehicles. 
• They can be considered a hazard that can catch a bicyclist’s pedal or front wheel, especially in narrow bike lanes; - Obviously bike lanes should be designed wide enough and with well designed curbs to eliminate the problem.
• They use space that could be included in the bicycle lane; - As bad as the rest of the logic is for not using protected bike paths this one is really off the wall. It's quite obvious that with a protected bike path there is no need for an on street bike lane. The handbook appears to have jumped from contorted logic into La La land.
• They collect debris and increase maintenance needs, as well as impede standard maintenance procedures, including snow removal - Bad maintenance is no excuse. The actual maintenance on protected bike lanes is far less then streets for motor vehicles. This is just a way of treating bikes as second class. The attitude appears to be “If it’s to much hassle we won’t do it”.
What the handbook has done is taken the worst designs in cycle tracks and used that as an excuse to abandon the idea. Instead of working to solve any problems, and they are all readily solvable as has been shown in other parts of the world, and more recently in places like Portland Oregon and NYC, they simple called it quits.

What the handbook fails to mention is that in northern Europe, which has the highest level of bike commuting in the western world, protected bike paths are the major reason why bicyclist are safely able to get from point A to point B with such ease, and why so many people use bikes as a basic mode of transportation. This includes all types of people including the old and young, mothers with children, slightly overweight, or not so slightly, and all the other working Joe and Jane's that make up the tapestry of cities. It’s a proven method that works. The city of Madison has a dysfunctional bike infrastructure and they have followed the Wisconsin handbook to a tea.

What is needed is to look at what bike users need to feel safe and what encourages their use. As an example take a look at the heavy use of bikes on the mixed use protected bike/pedestrian paths in the city to see what bicyclist want. In order to feel safe there needs to be a separation of bikes from motor vehicles whenever possible. The daunting bike lanes that are all to common in the city do not give a feeling of safety. This is especially bad as many of these bike lanes are the only way to get around the city in any reasonable way. It severely limits where a bike can go and who is willing to use a bike as a basic mode of transportation.

A bike is not a car just as a pedestrian is not a bike. We wouldn’t think of placing pedestrians on the street with traffic and we discourage the use of bikes on sidewalks, yet we consistently place cyclist in intimidating situations and expect them to... just deal with it. Cyclist fall somewhere in between so mixing with motor vehicles is certainly acceptable on low volume lower speed streets. Overall though it’s a separate mode of travel that needs its own infrastructure to deal with its own needs. Most certainly on streets with higher volume and speeds.

Bikes travel at slower speeds and weigh much less then even the lightest car. It doesn’t take much to intimidate a bicyclist with a vehicle weighing 3000 lb. or more and traveling at 25 mph+. A badly thought out bike lane immediately places a bike user in uncomfortable and intimidating situations and simple discourages use by many potential users.

The WISCONSIN BICYCLE FACILITY DESIGN HANDBOOK is a recipe for failure. There appears to be little thought as to what works for  bike users trying to get from point A to point B. Its lazy thinking at its worst. Placing an unprotected bike lane on a 35 mph street with motor vehicles actually moving closer to 40 mph doesn’t work. Placing a bike lane between parked cars on one side and moving traffic on the other doesn’t work. The average person choosing to use a bike will avoid these lanes. All the pushing and education in the world is not going to change that because the subjective safety is very low. The experience for a bike user is very much a negative one.

Having said that there are some well designed on-street bike lanes.

Dayton Street with green bike box
This is a photo of Dayton Street close to the University. It is wide enough for comfort, and best of all it has no parked cars on the right side of the bike lane. This adds a much greater real and subjective safety level for bicyclist. The city has also added a green bike box on the busy intersection of Park and Dayton which further enhances its use. Traffic is also slower then the main arterial streets, though if the city enforced the actual speed limit it could be further improved. This is about as good as it gets for a bike lane. This is well used as it runs by the UW dorms, but if it was as badly designed as East Johnson Street there is little doubt its use would be far lower.

Madison has a reputation as a bike haven and that is certainly true for recreational cyclist. Bicyclist can get on a mixed use path and get out of town in short order. The Capital City Bike Path running south of Madison is wonderful for recreation and from there you can move to points beyond. All this done on mixed use protected paths and lightly used rural roads. For commuters trying to move about within the city it’s a different story.

If the city wants to increase bike commuter use as it consistently claims it does it needs to take a different approach as to the question of bike infrastructure. Madison may have been on the cutting edge of bike use 20 years ago, but they are sadly out of date as to what works and what doesn’t. It appears to be clinging to concepts that have proven themselves over time to be very limiting.

The current handbook needs to be thrown out and completely re-written to deal with the realities of what works for bike users, not what is the least expensive or the most convenient to design.

When every time someone uses a bike for a basic commute it becomes an exercise in bravity the use of bikes for commuting will continue to be a small percentage of what it could be. If we really want to get more folks using bikes, and not just the young and fit and somewhat reckless, the city of Madison and the state of Wisconsin need to take a much closer look at what people who use bikes need to feel safe when choosing to use a bike instead of a car.

Madison has a strong bicycle culture and its long past due to move it to the next level.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ride the Drive (the mad mad world of Madison bikes)

I spent Sunday afternoon June 5 riding the 6 mile meander through the downtown area of Madison that was the course for "Ride the Drive".  The city of Madison shuts down 6 miles of streets to cars so bicyclist have the whole road to themselves. It's an amazingly relaxed ride when you don't have to look over your shoulder for the next speeding SUV. 

Lots of smiling faces and good times for the estimated 20 to 30 thousand folks who showed up. 

As I said, lots of folk and lots of bikes. A  very relaxing time.
Lots and lots of bikes of course and many booths set up. Recumbents where easily spotted and comfy commuter bikes where everywhere, and of course lots of lycra clad sporty speedsters. But I ended up taking mostly photos of the offbeat whacky bikes. This is stuff you just don't see every day. 

Pictures speak louder then words so have a look

A bit of Cycle Chic right here in Madison. The blond women in the upper center is the owner, with matching dress of course.

A three wheeled cargo type bike with a little one inside

Tandem recumbent with another little tot in tow. 

All those folks sitting down have peddles, though I can't say they where all peddling.  I have seen pictures of this type of bike from the Netherlands, only there they serve beer.

One of the many side by side tandems that could be seen. Next to it is a tricked out cruiser

A beautiful condition 1968 Raleigh Sprite. This one made in England and fully decked out from the factory with rack, leather Brooks saddle, and five speed internal gear hub as opposed to the usual three speed. The owner bought it at a garage sale in northern Wisconsin for $40.

One of the bikes from a booth set up with many experimental type bikes.  The public was invited to give-em a spin. As far as I know they weren't for sale but just lots of fun.

A large wheeled bike. You can compare it to the 26 inch wheel bike next to it. It's supposed to give you the feel of when you where a kid riding a bike much to large for you.

A grass bike. Quick growing grass seed is glued on the bike and it grows. It last about two weeks. Then I suppose it needs to be replanted.

This one deserves another look so my friend Carol gives it a spin. Yes, that is grass growing on the helmet.

A bike with bowling balls for wheels.

And it's actually ridable.
Unfortunately the mayor of Madison, Paul Soglin, canceled the "Ride the Drive" scheduled for September, though there is one at about the same time next year. Drop on by and bring the kids. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Beyond the Bike Lane

As I mentioned in an earlier article bike lanes are the most common type of bike infrastructure in the city of Madison and surrounding areas. There is good reason for that as It is relatively inexpensive as it’s just a bit of paint. But is it the best option, and more importantly, does it encourage more people to leave their car behind and get on a bike? No doubt it helps some, but there are real limitations as to how far we can go with bike lanes. There is far to much interaction between bikes and motor vehicles for comfort of either, especially on busy higher speed roads.  Add to that the idea of mixing buses and bikes is simple a bad idea with a low level of subjective safety for bicyclist. No doubt it’s not a joy for bus drivers either. Another major problem is parked cars opening doors onto bicyclist. The threat of this pushes bicyclist farther into traffic. All of this and more simple encourages folks to stay off there bikes.

If we really want to encourage more people to use bikes it has to be taken to the next level, and that would be separated and protected bike paths. This also includes carefully thought out bike/car intersections to avoid as much conflict as possible and well thought out bike paths that actually get bicyclist from point A to point B in a fast direct route.

Since this would mean taking up a bit more space then is currently used for bike lanes, in many cases it would mean eliminating a lane of motor vehicle traffic and converting it a protected bike path. There are a number of ways of doing this. A few photos to illustrate what a protected bike path is

This from Vancouver with a physical barrier between bikes and motor vehicles. Notice how the bike path is not also a pedestrian path. It’s separated from all other modes of transportation. This creates a high degree of real and subjective safety for bicyclist. It also makes driving easier.

This from NYC that uses parked cars as a barrier from moving motor vehicles with a buffer zone to create a protected bike path. This is relatively inexpensive as it simple moves parked cars into the street and creates a bike path next to the sidewalk, as opposed to placing the bike lane next to moving traffic. Again, bikes, motor vehicles and pedestrian have their own space. 

One of the major issues with protected bike paths is how to deal with intersections. These two videos show one way to do it. Notice how the intersection is designed to keep bicyclist and motor vehicles separated. There is little problem with interaction as each have their own set of lights.

On this type on intersection below the interaction is even less.

Of course not every road needs this type of bike infrastructure. What’s necessary is to have a network setup so bicyclist can get from point A to point B by the most direct speedy route, same as motor vehicles. In a very real sense we need highways for bikes in urban areas. That’s what this is about. It’s not necessary on residential streets as traffic is normally light and slow. 

Without this bike highway getting from point A to point B can be an exercise in frustration. Bikes are to often forced into intimidating situations. Getting there by the fastest route often means using busy fast roads. Often times it's the only way to get there. Vehicular cycling, which means bikes using the roadways in the same way as motor vehicles, simple doesn’t work well on these types of roads. 

To many bad interactions between bicyclist and motor vehicles is a sign of a poorly thought out infrastructure. A mistake is made in thinking we just need to educate both bicyclist and drivers on... better etiquette... or whatever it is they are trying to educate us on. There is something to better education, but it's only a small part. Without better infrastructure there is only so far we can go. Both drivers and bicyclist would benefit from better infrastructure for bikes. 

Money isn't a problem. We are spending many millions of dollars on roads in Madison and the surrounding communities. A very small percentage of that goes to bicycle infrastructure. Last I head about 3 1/2%. Considering that bike infrastructure cost far less then what infrastructure for motor vehicles cost there is no excuse for what we have. Its simple a matter of political will, or lack of it. 

Another interesting video on peace braking out with motor vehicles. And notice how many bikes there are. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bike Lanes For All... or Some (Be Brave)

One of the biggest controversies and debates among folks who are advocating for a higher percentage of bike use in urban areas is how to deal with the infrastructure. It’s one thing to suggest people get on there bikes and commute to work, grocery store, running errands etc, but it’s a whole other issue to set up an infrastructure where people feel safe doing so. Add to that getting from point A to point B in a direct speedy route, and reduce or eliminate conflicts with vehicles and pedestrians. Do we simply try to educate the public with a “let’s all just get along” approach and advocate for vehicular type infrastructure, which essentially means do nothing to the actual road network? That of course has been the way things have gone for much of the US until recently and it's not working. Bike usage has not increased significantly no matter how much education we push. Or do we make special considerations for bike use with special bike lanes, including protected bike lanes with a physical barrier between vehicle traffic and bikes?

This is a list of some of the main (but not all) types of bike infrastructure found in Madison and surrounding communities. This is off of the Bike Madison web site
Bicycle boulevards are low speed, low (motor vehicle) traffic volume, local streets that are designated for use primarily by bicyclists. Motor vehicles are welcome on bicycle boulevards. Special blue street signs and shared lane (sharrow) pavement markings signify that motor vehicles must be attentive to the large numbers of cyclists and lower their speeds. 
Bike boxes are rectangles, painted on the pavement at intersections, which move car traffic back several feet from the crossing and allow space for bicyclists to position themselves in front of waiting traffic. Bike boxes are intended to reduce bicycle and car collisions, especially those between drivers turning right and bicyclists going straight by providing greater visibility. 
A bicycle lane is a separate lane on the street for bicyclists. This lane is sometimes shared with parked cars, buses or right turning vehicles.
A separate bicycle path physically separated from vehicle traffic. These are nearly always a mixed path with pedestrians, skaters, dog walking, and bikes on the same path. (Okay... I couldn't actually find a definition of a bike path on the Bike Madison site so the above is my interpretation of a bike path) 
A cycle track is an exclusive bike facility that combines the user experience of a separated path with the on-street infrastructure of a conventional bike lane. A cycle track is physically separated from motor traffic and distinct from the sidewalk. Cycle tracks have different forms but all share common elements - they provide space that is intended to be exclusively or primarily used for bicycles, and are separated from motor vehicle travel lanes, parking lanes, and sidewalks. In situations where on-street parking is allowed cycle tracks are located to the curb-side of the parking (in contrast to bike lanes).
Cycle tracks may be one-way or two-way, and may be at street level, at sidewalk level, or at an intermediate level. If at sidewalk level, a curb or median separates them from motor traffic, while different pavement color/texture separates the cycle track from the sidewalk. If at street level, they can be separated from motor traffic by raised medians, on-street parking, or bollards. By separating cyclists from motor traffic, cycle tracks can offer a higher level of security than bike lanes and are attractive to a wider spectrum of the public.
The most common form of special bike infrastructure in Madison is the bike lane.  Basically a bike lane is a white line painted on the street a few feet from the curb, or set off from the door zone of parked vehicles, or a mixed lane of buses, bikes, and right turning vehicles. There is no physical separation of bikes and motor vehicles. This type of lane is common throughout the city. They are relatively inexpensive as its simple a painted white line. The real question is do they really get more folks to dust off the bike in the garage or are they just a cheap feel good measure by the city so politicians can tell use what a great job they’re doing..... without really doing much of anything.

After 30+ years of using a bike in Madison I have mixed views on bike lanes. On one hand it does improve things if designed well. It simply gives a bit more space for bikes on the street which is a good thing. Vehicles know they should keep out of the bike lanes so in general will give a bit more separation as opposed to squeezing bikes into the gutter. Recently I have been seeing one way streets with two way bike lanes, with one going against traffic. That’s a very good idea as it finally acknowledges that bikes are different from motor vehicles (who knew). Just marking off a few feet on one side going in the opposite direction of a one way is all that is needed and it can make life better for bicyclist as they can now take a more direct route to where they are going.

Of course Madison and the surrounding communities have their share of badly designed bike lanes. Fish Hatchery Road is a notoriously bad design. This is an email exchange I had with the city of Madison about the area

I recently ran an errand out to fish Hatchery Road coming from the near west side. Coming off of Mills and taking the bike path is no problem, that is until I hit Fish Hatchery, I took the bike lane on Fish Hatchery as directed (there is a bike lane on both sides). That was a big mistake. Besides the bike path being full of gravel and sticks etc, and being generally in bad shape, the path just kind of fizzles out, but by then I was trying to get across the overpass of the belt line. This is done with on and off traffic going to and off the belt line. 
This has to be the worst and most dangerous bike path in Madison. Not surprisingly no one uses the bike lane. That was the first and last time I will use it. 
Much better to go across the street and use the sidewalk. Of course sidewalk biking is not the best idea but in this case it is infinitely better then the designated bike lane. Even the belt line overpass is much better as you can use stop lights to get across. 
My advice is to shut down the bike lanes on both sides of the road on Fish Hatchery as it is just not a good place to try and squeeze in a bike lane on to a very fast and busy street. Much better to make a dedicated bike path next to the sidewalk (the one everyone is using as a bike path anyway) that is completely separated from traffic. 
This route is the only way in the area to get across the belt line and it is very poorly designed. The bike lanes on Fish Hatchery are at best an afterthought and at worst flat out dangerous.
Alan Selk
And the first reply
Fish Hatchery Road south of Wingra Creek to the Beltline is a County road.  I will contact them about the need to sweep the bike lanes there.  The state has an upcoming project to rebuild the bridge over the Beltline and the approaches to the bridge.  The city recognizes the problems you mention with bicycling over this bridge and we are working with the state to redesign Fish Hatchery Road from Badger Road the Greenway Cross to better serve bicyclists.
Another project that might help you is the Cannonball Path.  This year we are finishing the section south of the Beltline form Greenway View to the Arboretum, as well as starting the design process for construction a pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Beltline west of Fish Hatchery Road.  The bridge will hopefully be constructed in 2012 along with a connection to Fish Hatchery Road where the railroad tracks cross near the recycling business.  
Please let me know if you have any further questions or comments. 
Arthur Ross, Pedestrian-Bicycle Coordinator
City of Madison Traffic Engineering Division
215 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., Suite 100
PO Box 2986
Madison, WI  53701-2986
And a few days later I received this

Thanks for passing this on. I agree completely with Mr. Selk, and also with your response. FYI the city is also working with Dane county on a reconstruction of Fish Hatch from  Emil to Wingra, which will result in newly paved and marked bike lanes (also scheduled for 2012). Nonetheless, the interchange will continue to be daunting to most bikers even though there will be some improvement. If someone wants more info on the State or County project I'm glad to help.
Tony Fernandez
voice: 608-266-9219
fax: 608-264-9275
Notice the resignation in the “Nonetheless, the interchange will continue to be daunting to most bikers even though there will be some improvement”. An improvement over an impossible situation is not saying much. I’m not hopeful there will be any meaningful improvement for bikers. There is little doubt bike users have remained an afterthought in the bridge reconstruction plans.

Another example of a badly designed bike lane is on West Broadway. I recently took a bike ride to the South Town Dr/West Broadway area in Monona. I couldn’t help but notice a good example of a very badly thought out bike lane. Below is a photo of a bike lane that simply stops in the middle of traffic with no clue as to where bikes should go. To say it’s confusing would be an understatement.

This first photo on the left clearly shows a bike lane. Got that.
And then..... it ends. Yes, those two lines on the bottom left are the bike lane which ends in the middle of traffic. There is no clue as to what a bicyclist is supposed to do. Go right, go straight.... donno.
I'm not sure you can see it in the photo, but after the intersection, if your brave enough to get across, the bike path continues.... I think. It does get very narrow so you're essentially in the gutter (Edit; I have been informed there is no bike lane after the intersection). As I said, a good example of a very bad bike lane.

No doubt there are others but these are two I have recently run across. In both cases it would be better if the bike lane wasn't there. As is, bike users are lead into bad situations with no clue as to what's coming. These situations are not for the faint of heart.

The section of University Ave that runs by the UW is a good example of a border line bike lane.
That's the bike lane moving out from the bottom left. On the left of the bike lane is vehicle traffic and on the right is a bus lane. There are of course cars moving from left to right across the bike lane for right turns. Doesn't really matter if the lane is safe, the subjective safety level for bikes is low with traffic on both sides of the lane. It is no surprise it is not well used even though it runs right by the UW.

Ironically the other side of the street running opposed to the flow of traffic is one of the only, if not the only protected bike only paths in Madison. There is a pedestrian sidewalk on the right and a wide protective curb on the left separating the path from traffic. This is a well used bike path. University Avenue is about the only way to get around the area on a bike as the next block over is Johnson Street which is a very busy 4 lane road with no bike lanes. It's unfortunate the bike lane going with traffic on University is so poorly done as it undoubtably cuts down on bike use in the area, which of course includes the UW and thousands of students.

I could go on and on with examples of mediocre bike lanes in the city of Madison and surrounding communities, but that's the nature of bike lanes. It's a stop gap measure that can improve things, but they have there limitations. Bike lanes can help, but poorly designed bike lanes do little and the worst of them are actually dangerous.

In a future article I'll be covering the ideas behind separating bikes from motor vehicles in a more complete way then is possible with bike lanes. The Dutch have been at it a long time and have it down to a science. There are reasons why Northern Europe has the highest bike use rate in the western world.

Here are a few clues. First a little history. Then here and here. And a little entertainment here, here,  and here. And not a bike helmet in sight.