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.

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