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. 


  1. Bike lanes should not be placed between the parking lane and the curb. Such placement reduces visibility at driveways and intersections, increases conflicts with opening car doors, complicates maintenance, and prevents bike lane users from making convenient left turns.
    Raised pavement markers, curbs, posts, or barriers should not be used to separate bike lanes from adjacent travel lanes. Raised devices are difficult for bicyclists to traverse because they are fixed to the pavement surface immediately adjacent to the travel path of the bicyclists. In addition, raised devices may discourage or prevent right-turning motorists from merging into the bike lane before turning. Raised devices can also make it more difficult to maintain the bike lane.
    AASHTO Guide to the Development of Bicycle Facilities, 2012

  2. I would take everything AASHTO says with a healthy serving of salt.

    You are advocating the continued mixing of bikes and motor vehicles, and I would assume that means on all busy streets This is a recipe for failure and bikers simple won't use it in any significant numbers. Besides that little AASHTO is saying makes sense in the real world.

    "Raised devices are difficult for bicyclists to traverse because they are fixed to the pavement surface immediately adjacent to the travel path of the bicyclists."

    The above is a non-sensical statement. It's some pretty twisted logic at best, and I'm being generous by calling it logic. Of course the barrier is difficult for bikes to traverse. They aren't meant to traverse, there meant to separate vehicles and bikes. Hopefully it would also be difficult for vehicles to traverse.

    "In addition, raised devices may discourage or prevent right-turning motorists from merging into the bike lane before turning. "

    I would hope so as they are there to keep bikes and vehicles separate. Vehicles have no business merging into a protected bike lane.

    You have really missed the point of the article. It's about keeping cars and bikes separate. I haven't read the latest edition of AASHTO but in the past they have shown to have little to no interest in increasing bike use for commuters. From what little I have seen from the latest edition it appears nothing has changed, There recommendations may be okay for an area just starting out with bike infrastructure, but in Madison, which already has a large portion of bike users it is of little use. If we want to move beyond the 6% or so of people commuting by bike we currently have in Madison we need to move well beyond the recommendations of AASHTO.

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