Monday, April 26, 2010

Hilltop Bike Lanes Up for Discussion Again

Consider Biking is once again calling upon people to show up at several meetings to support the installation of bike lanes in the Hilltop neighborhood along West Broad Street in Columbus.

And, once again, I'm going to come out against this - but with a slightly less fervent attitude than I did before, which I'll explain.

I still think that bike lanes are unnecessary and even dangerous for the very cyclists they attempt to attract. I still think that the city's efforts should be more on enforcement and education than on engineering - that is, they should be telling people how bicyclists on the streets have the rights that the law already gives them (and that has been defended properly in a court of law), as well as ticketing people for violations of ALL traffic violations to make the streets safer for everyone.

But... what I am in favor of is the idea of a road diet on West Broad.  That is, making the pedestrian space larger and the car space smaller, removing some car lanes in favor of pedestrian areas, and altogether slowing down traffic in that area to make is safer and more friendly for the entire area.

Bike lanes are a way for politicians and advocates to show off their support of cycling.  They're a tangible output that everyone sees.  And, as we've pointed out before, on the surface they seem like a great idea.  Same with sharrows, more bike paths, etc.

But the practical side of them is that they create road-user segregation and the idea that they're designed to keep cyclists out of everyone else's way - and that goes against the idea of Complete Streets.  And they're more dangerous than simply taking the lane on a street.

Taking measures to slow down traffic across the board, though, is a great safety measure for all road users - pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and motorists.  Slower traffic means safer traffic.  A road diet would be welcome for everyone - bike lanes just divide us.

People, not speed.

13 comments:

  1. We've been going back and forth on the same issue here in Raleigh. One of the main roads is being redone. A lot of people are pushing for bike lanes. For the reasons you mention, I'm not in favour except: I can't deny that bike lanes make people /feel/ safer and quite possibly more likely to ride. Ordinarily I'd say that feeling safer even when studies show you might not actually be safer is a bad thing, but then I also feel like cycling in general has an unjust reputation for being unsafe, or at least the safety concerns are blown way out of proportion to reality, so making people feel safer might just bring their safety views closer to reality. And studies I've seen seem to indicate that the biggest factor in overall bicycle safety is the number of cyclists on the road. The more there are, the lower the odds for any individual to be in a bike accident. I think they chalk this up to drivers being more accustomed to bikes and better knowing how to act around them, but whatever the reason, if more cyclists = safer cycling, then I am hesitant to voice my opposition to anything that might put more bikes on the road.

    Those are things I've thought about as we go through this, and that's the reason I've stayed out of the public debate. I'm not sure bike lanes are the best option for safe riding, but if they encourage more people to ride, and more people on the road is good for safety, then I don't want to speak out against the bike lanes.

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  2. Hi Rob,

    I'd agree with you if things were altogether neutral otherwise. But in Columbus's case, we've increased our mode share to cycling over the past few years without having any real usable bike lanes. So to me, they're an unneeded amenity that doesn't really do anything except send the wrong message. That money could be used much better to educate and enforce than to create something that sends the wrong message and is overall dangerous.

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  3. And they're more dangerous than simply taking the lane on a street.

    I haven't found any studies that show an increase in bike crash rates after bike lanes are installed. Have you?

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  4. The West Broad Hilltop bikelane issue is much more than removing parking one side to add a bike lane. It consists of a highly dense 0 setback commercial area that relies on it's on street parking. City plan, which the GHAC voted against, was to remove on street parking for the bike lane. GHAC, HBA and Highland West Neighbors Association approves permanent parking both sides, Slowed Traffic, improved pedestrian use and minor diversion, about 0.5 miles of bike lanes through improved arterial road.

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  5. John - yes, I have.

    http://www.cyclecraft.co.uk/digest/research.html

    http://www.ecf.com/files/2/12/16/070503_Cycle_Tracks_Copenhagen.pdf

    The consensus is that while collisions on straight-aways are slightly reduced, the collision rate at intersections is increased. I quote from page 2 of the PDF above:

    "...it can be deduced that the construction of cycle tracks has resulted in three important gains in road safety: fewer accidents in which cars hit or ran over cyclists from the rear, fewer accidents with cyclists turning left and fewer accidents in which cyclists rode into a parked car. These gains were more than outweighed by new safety problems: more accidents in which cyclists rode into other cyclists often when overtaking, more accidents with cars turning right, more accidents in which cars turning left drove into cyclists as well as more accidents between cyclists and pedestrians and exiting or entering bus passengers."

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  6. Nancy, that's understood. But this is a bike commuting blog, and that's the issue that's really important here.

    I would, however, call attention to studies that say making streets more bike friendly actually will increase income for business owners along those routes.

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7497/is_200909/ai_n39231977/

    http://dc.streetsblog.org/2008/08/11/what-does-summer-streets-mean-for-business/

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  7. Jamie,
    I think you need to read your links more carefully. Neither were about bike lanes.

    I've read the Copenhagen study before. It is a study about the safety of cycle tracks and of separated bike lanes (they call them "cycle lanes"), but not standard bike lanes. I think the differences in facility design are significant enough that the results are not applicable to standard bike lanes.

    The cyclecraft UK link was almost entirely about cycle tracks and some about the Dutch "cycle lanes."

    This LAB study found that bike lanes are safer. Rob hit the nail on the head. Bike lanes encourage numbers and we know there is safety in numbers from other cities that have successfully increased their bike mode shares. They also discourage riding on the sidewalk and riding the wrong way in traffic, both of which are dangerous.

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  8. I disagree that the differences between separated bike lanes and non-separated bike lanes are enough to warrant treating them differently statistically. The only difference between them structurally is that there is some sort of barrier between the cycle lane and the main roadway. That barrier would only serve to cut down on side-swiping and overtaking-related collisions - which would explain the reduction in those sorts of collisions that the report described. Once you arrive at an intersection, the cyclist crosses with traffic in an unprotected area (unprotected by barriers, that is). It's here that the collision rate was reported to be increased - and the structure of those sections of roadway aren't going to be significantly different than those of unprotected bike lanes.

    I also find that LAB study to be of questionable value. The survey group is comprised of LAB members - a group who are more likely to be significantly experienced cyclists and therefore more accustomed to the proper use of the roads, bike lanes, and the like. I find that cross-section of society to be a poor choice for the study. The types of cyclists likely to be attracted to cycling by the sudden inclusion of bike lanes are not likely to be those who are already trained and/or experienced members of the LAB, but rather your run of the mill "learned to bike when I was a kid" type cyclists.

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  9. As an LCI, and frequent cycle-commuter, I agree that painted bike lanes are something of an anathema for most of us. Between the inevitable conflicts/competition for space at intersections, the fact that painted bike lanes are rarely maintained as well as the motor lanes to their (usually) left, and the intimation that "bikes don't belong in the main lanes," I generally choose parallel routes that don't have the bike lanes. I've been known to ride in the traffic lane beside the bike lane (yeah, I have something of a chip on my shoulder about this...) to show that I'm NOT required to ride in the "glass lane."

    I'm far more visible to overtaking motorists if I'm in their lane than if I'm off in some painted bike lane next to the suddenly-opened car doors.

    I would far prefer sharrows in the right lane to a painted bike lane. The message there is that bikes are part of traffic, not a sideshow.

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  10. Hi bikeolounger,

    I'm an LCI myself - just certified last summer. And all the concerns you have are the ones that I've been talking about myself both here on on my Examiner site.

    I also prefer sharrows to bike lanes, but if it's all the same I'd much rather just have a city-wide set of "Bikes Have Full Use of Lane" signs that remind motorists that we're out there and you never know where we might be. And I'd REALLY rather have proper enforcement of traffic codes, period - for motorists and cyclists.

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  11. The facilities are completely different, largely due to visibility of the cyclist and the operation by the motorist.

    A cyclist on a cycle track or a Dutch "cycle lane" is outside the 20-degree cone of vision of a motorist and often obstructed by parked cars as well. This is basically like riding on the sidewalk (if not worse), and is not the same as riding in a bike lane adjacent to traffic.

    Standard bike lanes can also be ended in advance of an intersection with dotted lines to make it clear that drivers need to merge to the right before turning. This puts the crossing conflict in advance of the the intersection instead of in the intersection, improving safety. This is not an option with a cycle track, which is basically an extension of the sidewalk and would cross the intersection at a crosswalk.

    I also question the LAB study, mostly because I'm not sure how accurate someone can be in reporting how many miles they rode in bike lanes, paths, etc... over the course of a year. The user bias is also a good point.

    Nevertheless, stats like this continue to validate the safety in numbers effect:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/05/05/cycling-injuries-continue-to-fall-even-as-more-new-yorkers-ride/

    Bike lanes encouraging cycling, and more cycling improves safety.

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  12. When you have a bike lane that is adjacent to traffic, you run the greater risk of sideswiping and drifting-related injuries, unlike with the cycle tracks. Also, we all know where trash and debris from the road end up after a while - on the side of the road, or in this case in the bike lanes. So there's a greater risk of cyclists needing to veer out of the bike lane. And the same mindset that makes motorists try to sneak by cyclists on a non-bike-lane-equipped road, that painted line that indicates where a lane is demarcated, gives a driver a false sense of how close he or she can get to a bike lane. Here's a great example of this from Orlando (via the CycleDallas blog).

    You say that "Standard bike lanes can also be ended in advance of an intersection with dotted lines to make it clear that drivers need to merge to the right before turning." The bike lanes that we have in Columbus, few though they are, have this in place. And, were they to be used properly by either cyclists OR motorists, they'd help out with the collision factor at intersections.

    However, the use of the dotted lines is most certainly not clear, as you can observe by sitting and watching one of these intersections for a while. That's an education issue. If you've ridden bike lanes like this for any amount of time, you know that most drivers don't have any idea how to negotiate those. And on the occasions when I do have to drive, most cyclists don't understand that you're supposed to move over into the general traffic lane when going straight through an intersection. Again, this is an education issue.

    Stats like those in the Streetsblog article do show that increases in cycling may make for fewer collisions, that's most certainly true. But there's nothing there to indicate that bike lanes are the reason for the safety increases.

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  13. Sideswipe, drifting, and rear-end crashes just aren't that common compared to the turning crashes on cycle tracks.

    Having poor local street-sweeping doesn't seem like a reason to oppose bike lanes to me, but it's a good reason to pressure the city for better street-sweeping.

    If drivers in Columbus can't turn across a bike lane without remembering that they just passed a cyclist in said bike lane, then maybe bike lanes aren't right for Columbus. They work fine everywhere else though.

    The bike lanes aren't the direct reason for the safety increase in cities across the country. The change in motorist expectations due to more bikers being on the road are the reason for the safety increase. The bike lanes are partially responsible for the increase in the number of cyclists. If you can double Columbus' bike mode share with education and enforcement alone, then I think you will still see improved safety. Although education and enforcement are critical, I don't believe it will ever be enough to significantly change the bike mode share.

    If you design roads for cars, you will get mostly cars and a few young, fit, brave, mostly male cyclists.

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