I happened to ride past the newly repaved and restriped Park Avenue this past weekend and noticed the new bike lanes have been placed. It’s still a work in progress, but here’s what it looked like as of 10:00 AM this past Sunday.
Park Avenue near 42nd Street.
The first thing that struck me about this new design is just how wide the new bikeway is. I didn’t get out a tape measure, but I’m guessing that this is a Hennepin County standard 6′ bike lane between an additional 4-5′ of buffer space on either side of the lane. This results in what looks like about 15′+ of pavement dedicated to a single bike lane!
Agencies are typically trying to find ways to sandwich narrow bike lanes within constricted rights-of-way. In this case, however, since the County removed one of the travel lanes on Park Avenue, they’re now faced with the opposite problem. What to do with all of this extra space?
Is wider always better? Are larger buffer spaces always better than smaller buffer spaces? Maybe. Maybe not. Bike lanes any wider than about 7′ or 8′ are generally not encouraged because motorists begin to confuse the bike lane with general purpose lanes.
This will be an interesting experiment to see how well motorists respect the bike lanes. Since the bike lane (including the buffer space) is plenty wide enough to function as a lane for motorists, and since there are no physical barriers keeping motorists out of the lanes, I wonder if we will experience problems with motorists encroaching into the bike lane too often.
I’m not sure. This will be an interesting case study to keep an eye on.
What do you think of the new lanes? Have you had a chance to ride them yet?
MPR News has a great article about a MnDOT safety campaign aimed at improving conditions for pedestrians:
October is the most dangerous month for pedestrians. The days are shorter, the nights longer, and drivers have a harder time seeing pedestrians.
With that in mind, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials will be out waving signs in busy intersections today to encourage drivers and pedestrians to watch out for each other.
Public safety officials are concerned that the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries have remained consistent in recent years, while the number of fatal vehicle crashes has declined.
“I think it’s just a little bit harder of a nut to crack,” said Sue Groth, the state’s traffic engineer.
Crossing Park Ave.
“The laws are harder to enforce, and it involves both motorist and pedestrian behavior,” Groth said. “A lot of this could be solved just with pedestrians and motorists looking for each other, making eye contact and following the laws.”
Groth said many motorists don’t yield to pedestrians who are in the crosswalk, and many pedestrians either don’t pay attention or cross the street against the light or away from the crosswalk.
The numbers bear that out. Because motorists and pedestrians are equally at fault, transportation officials are targeting both groups with the safety campaign.
I love this MnDOT safety campaign, and I think efforts to modify behavior are a critical step towards improving safety conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians. However, one thing the MPR article didn’t pick up on, but the MnDOT press release made pretty clear, is the increasingly important role of technology. The press release contained a more complete quote from Groth:
“This is an important area to focus on because pedestrians are more vulnerable than motorists who are protected by the vehicle, seatbelts and air bags during a crash.”
As much as engineers are continuously making improvements to roadways, we’re also pretty sure that the lion’s share of the credit for reducing motorist fatalities belongs to the automobiles themselves. Still, campaigns to raise awareness and modify behavior are important.
I love the idea of developing a statewide network of scenic bikeways. In some ways, we’ve already been doing this for years, since planners and engineers tend to assume that cyclists always prefer scenic (rather than direct) routes. It’s not immediately clear to me how the scenic bikeways idea is wholly different than the U.S. Bicycle Route System that is already well underway (other than the obvious statewide vs. national scope). Minnesota’s first contribution to the USBRS is the Mississippi River Trail, which is clearly intended to be a scenic bikeway, as opposed to filling any sort of utility transportation need. We can reasonably assume that anyone traveling over x miles is doing so primarily for recreational purposes, but there is still some value in developing separate systems for both scenic and transportation bicycle travel, though there is likely to be much overlap.
I could appreciate this illustration from the wonderfully entertaining blog Bikeyface about some potential new pavement markings engineers could start using to organize and segregate different types of roadway users.
Urban Replanning, via Bikeyface, on flickr
This is tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but the toolbox of available bicycle pavement markings has been rapidly expanding over the past decade. How many markings is too many markings?
Three of the largest national biking advocacy groups announced several months ago that they intended to merge into a single entity. Today, they announced that after more discussion, they have decided to remain separate and distinct entities. They made the announcement by each of the three groups posting identical blurbs on their respective blogs:
I was excited for this merger, mostly because the three groups were similar enough that I could barely tell them apart to begin with. It would mean two fewer organizations to keep tabs on. So many of their press releases were identical already that to get identical content from three different organizations in my RSS reader was a bit annoying.
One wonders if this fell apart because of ideological differences between the groups (perhaps pushback from LAB’s many vehicular cycling advocates?), or if it was simply because the merger would inevitably mean that someone would find themselves redundant and out of a job. It would be hard to argue in favor of any merger plan that leaves you unemployed. Or maybe just a mundane legal issue. I don’t know.
At any rate, it appears we will continue to have to sift through identical content from three different organizations for the foreseeable future. Oh well.
Richard Masoner at cyclicio.us has a nice picture of some 4″ tall rubber curbs some cities are using to delineate bike lanes and keep cars from encroaching.
4th St Cycle track by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious, on Flickr
I like this kind of installation, although most communities here in MN would probably shy away from something like this because of concerns about snow removal (which is a valid concern). I’ve heard some critics claim that this type of product has a potential to harm cyclists, because if a cyclist accidentally strays into the curbs, they may be likely to topple over them into traffic lanes. This is a possibility, I guess, but I guess I’m not too worried about that (especially if the adjacent lane is a parking lane, not a travel lane, like in this particular location).
A new bike counter (a.k.a. the bicycle barometer) — the first of its kind in the United States — went live at midnight last night and at this morning’s press conference the number was already well over 2,000.
The counter has been placed on the northern side of the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge, right where the path splits off onto Waterfront Park and into downtown. Standing at about eight feet high, it features an illuminated tally of “Cyclists today” and a vertical chart of “Cyclists this year” (that goes up to 2,000,000).
The counter works via four sets of air hoses strung across the Hawthorne Bridge path (see images below). There are two sets of two hoses placed about 10-15 feet apart on both sides of the bridge. According to PBOT data collection expert Tom Jensen, when someone on a bicycle rolls over the hoses, their weight depresses the hose, which creates a pulse that is converted into a radio signal that beams wirelessly to the counter.
PBOT bike coordinator Roger Geller said they’re using air hoses instead of induction loops (commonly used to trigger traffic signals) because the hoses are more accurate.
I love the juxtaposition of old and new technology. Pneumatic tubes have been around for years, but they remain one of the most cost effective ways of collecting bike data. Combine them with the new twist of providing real-time readout, and it’s a fun way to demonstrate support for cycling. I’m trying to imagine the best place for something like this in Minneapolis. Probably along the Midtown Greenway somewhere, although it would be cool if the number of cyclists counted could also be displayed someplace where non-cyclists could see it as well.
Since a Nice Ride station selectively increases accessibility around it, researcher Jessica Schoner explained, “Our theory was that people are going to take additional trips to that destination or they’re going to switch destinations and go to [one] near a Nice Ride station, because they can bike there conveniently…and then they’re going to spend money near these stations.”
The researchers also found that Nice Ride users spent, on average, an extra $1.29 per week on new trips because of Nice Ride. Projecting that out for the overall survey sample amounted to more than $900 per week in new economic activity, or about $29,000 over the Nice Ride season (April through November), Schoner said. And extrapolating that for the entire population of Twin Cities Nice Ride subscribers would generate an additional $150,000 over the season.
I really like this study, and I hope we continue to see more studies like it. This study has some data collection weaknesses (for example, it appears to rely on users self-reporting the extra money that wouldn’t have otherwise been spent), but it’s an important step in the right direction. If we want to make a stronger case for investment in cycling and walking, we need to be able to present economic data that supports the case.
One problem that decision-makers continue to face when deciding what type of bicycle facilities (if any) to invest in is that there just isn’t very good data available about the relative safety of different facility types. It would be great if we could say something like, “cyclists on trails are 50% less likely to be in a crash with a motor vehicle than a cyclist in a bike lane”, but we just can’t say that confidently. There have been a lot of studies that try to reach conclusions like this, but there are simply too many variables (primarily the riders themselves) to make any conclusive statements.
The most often-cited source comes from a study by William E. Moritz in 1998. The study is clearly dated, but it is convenient in that the results seem to present a simple message about where crashes are occurring. In fact, this is the source that even the MnDOT sponsored safety website Share The Road cites. Here are the results, as presented by Share The Road:
From Share The Road:
A 1996 [Ed. - the data was collected in 1996, the study was completed in 1998] study determined the likelihood of a bicycle accident by facility type. (This is the only major study that adjusts crash data for the number of miles bicyclists actually travel on these facilities.) The study found that riding on the road is not only safer—but much safer—than riding on these other types of facilities.
Bicyclists are 25 times more likely to experience an accident when riding on a sidewalk than riding on a major street—even one that neither has a designated bike lane nor is designated as a bike route. And bicyclists are twice as likely to experience an accident on a multi-use trail than on an unmarked street.
Bicyclists are discouraged from riding on the sidewalk. Not only is there potential for a collision with a pedestrian. More importantly, motorists are not expecting a bicyclist, moving much more quickly than a pedestrian, to cross the street in a crosswalk. So, motorists often fail to detect bicyclists on sidewalks and strike the bicyclist in the crosswalk.
However, it’s important to keep in mind the methodology of the study. Moritz’ data is self-reported survey answers about crash incidents and miles traveled on each facility type from members of the League of American Bicyclists – hardly a population representative of cyclists generally (especially in urban areas), and self-reporting distances is problematic as well.
Moritz data may be true for some cyclists some of the time, but we can’t make broad statements about bike safety based on this or similar studies. In any given corridor, there are enough variables (most notably among the cyclists themselves), that this study, and most other similar studies, aren’t particularly useful in making a recommendation about which type of facility will minimize the risk of crashes. This isn’t to say that there aren’t known safety issues related to, say, cycling on sidewalks in urban areas, or that there aren’t other studies beginning to fill this gap, but additional study is needed before we can confidently cite any specific safety statistics.