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

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