Tag Archives: bikes

Equitable Bike Advocacy Includes Bike Infrastructure

Even as mounting evidence such as a research report from Governing reminds everyone that bikes aren’t just for white urbanites, biking has continued to gather a reputation as a domain of hipsters. As a result, despite the diverse ridership, the folks actually advocating for bike improvements have continued to not exactly mirror the people majority of people who are doing the pedaling. Unsurprisingly, this has lead to some friction and calls for more diversity in bike advocacy. The advocacy organizations haven’t missed the memo and have begun efforts like LAB’s Equity and Women Bike initiatives. Additionally, more community-based groups like Slow Roll Detroit have taken a more active role in advocating for bikes as not just transportation alternatives, but vehicles for social change in the community.

Nevertheless, many bike advocacy organizations and staff might consistently not look very much like the largest class or group of people biking. But that might not be inherently a bad thing. The changes that they (usually) advocate for do stand to help disadvantaged communities (of color) just as much as they help MAMILs. There’s no denying the safety benefits of dedicated bikeways and few would argue that a comprehensive network of bikeways that connects a community together and to destinations where its residents can find work, school, recreational activities, and more is somehow detrimental to the communities in which it is located. With many disadvantaged communities already ticking off a higher number of people taking trips by bike, making those trips better and easier to undertake will almost certainly provide an improvement in numerous facets of their lives.

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A man and woman ride salmon on Route 66 in San Bernardino, CA. Bike infrastructure would immensely improve the bikeability of this location.

But what if the community isn’t asking for bike infrastructure? Certainly, there is a concern that advocating for infrastructure in underserved communities that aren’t asking for them is forcing something on the community that they don’t want. Thanks to both the lingering after effects of the highway building era then decades of disinvestment and neglect and because of a concern that bikeways bring gentrification, some advocates are even going so far as to say that disadvantaged communities should not get bike infrastructure and that focusing on “northern European” designs and solutions is out-of-place in communities that frequently have mostly non-white populations. But there are two major issues with the strategy of advocating for bikes by not advocating for bikes that will ultimately do more harm than good.

First and foremost, there’s the safety aspect. Where good, quality bike infrastructure exists, biking tends to be safer. As such, it really sounds extremely backwards to suggest that in the areas that often already have some of the most dangerous streets of a region, safety improvements shouldn’t be undertaken because the community hasn’t asked for them. At the end of the day, people still will continue to have to ride in those areas, often in conditions that are embarrassingly deplorable on many different measures. Not only do they deserve to have a safe place to ride, but it is they who need it most as they frequently have few travel alternatives and many have already been victims of traffic violence too. This is a heightened issue in regards to projects that involve once-in-a-generation opportunities to change the layout of a thoroughfare. Those should not be passed.

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A bikeway in Utrecht provides connections for all to the city center and train station.

Additionally, the backlash against bike solutions that are primarily Danish and Dutch as being inappropriate in communities of color is misguided. There are some things that are just done better in some places than in others and as it so happens, those two countries do bikes well. Not only do they tick off the highest rates of biking in the world, but the stellar provisioning for bikes provides those at the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder a viable affordable option for transportation so the poor aren’t forced to own a car. That’s crucial because while certainly there are plenty of disadvantaged households in America that don’t own a car, many more are practically forced to because it’s the only realistic option in their community, something that’s really becoming a problem in suburbs.

Secondly, bikeways are a commodity and like all commodities, follow the general principles of economics. Students of the discipline know that the availability of something is directly related to its price. In this case, the fact that good, quality bikeways are still relatively scarce in this country means that the few places that they do exist attract a premium in price as people and businesses seek out locations near them. The best way to counter that is not by keeping bikeways out of some neighborhoods, but to instead make sure that they’re everywhere. Ideally, that means that the plan should not be just single lanes here and there, but entire networks that form a comprehensive grid of LTS2 bikeways that are installed as completely and quickly as possible.

However, bike infrastructure is obviously also becoming a victim of its own success. As early advocates undoubtedly had to find a way to justify to their communities why money should be spent on infrastructure that “no one uses“, study after study was undertaken in relation to the economic impact of bikeways. Most of these studies have shown that bike infrastructure can bring positive economic change to a corridor or area. But those improvements do not happen in a vacuum. Increased receipts and especially values lead to higher rents. Once again, the solution isn’t found in not building, but in building everywhere. But, that does mean that going forward, it is perhaps time to lessen the focus on the potential financial benefits of any single project in favor of safety benefits that it would provide (though people also seek to live in places that are “safe”, so that makes it a similar driver of demand).

So with that in mind, organizations interested in engaging in equitable advocacy should do one of two things. When faced with substantial projects, such as placing or moving curbs, the bike aspect absolutely should not be compromised. In many communities, projects like that only happen once a generation or less. It is imperative that whenever they occur, that the very best designs for both safety and efficiency are used because redoing it later would be costly in not just monetary terms, but also lives and political capital. However, for projects that are less involved, it might be better to take some time to further engage the community to develop a concept that truly works for them instead of just ferrying outsiders through.

As more bikeways get built, more communities are asking for them. We need to make sure that they’re able to access those changes and benefit from them. While bikeways do bring change to a community, that change doesn’t have to be bad if the community gets involved to make sure that it works for them, including by broaching other topics that go beyond the bike aspect. Communities need to get in front of change and embrace it instead of waiting for it to arrive and trying to delay it. Doing so will bring many benefits for all.

Bikeways and Traffic

A common complaint and critique of separated bikeways is that “competent” bicyclists can travel at the speed of traffic in the roadway and would be “held up” on bike-specific infrastructure and therefore bikeways shouldn’t be built at all. Though that reality has been repeatedly shown to be inaccurate on well-designed facilities, the belief is still carried forward and trumpeted that bikeways restrict the speed of riders.

However, as cities across the country and globe increasingly realize that there is no way to ever build their way out of congestion, they’re instead turning to other mechanisms and methods of dealing with the growth that is occurring. As priorities change, complete streets policies are being enacted that reallocate the space of existing roads for all modes as well as dictate how new roads should be constructed to make the best use of space to move people, not just cars.

What happens when such a change occurs? Overtoom in Amsterdam (pictured below) gives us a good example. One of the main routes heading into and out of the city, it has space for all users. The exact profile differs based on location, but very generally is arranged with buses/trams/taxis in the central lanes, one lane per direction for general traffic, parking for cars and bikes, separated bikeways, and of course, sidewalks. The result is a thoroughfare that has the capacity to move far more people than the number actually moved on typical arterial that scars many cities, but just as long as they’re not trying to drive alone in a car.

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The predominant configuration of Overtoom for the majority of its length.

The following two videos show how the street looks and works in real life.

This one is composed of several snippets of how the street functions over the course of the evening rush hour. At times of high congestion, the bikeway is absolutely faster than the general travel lanes, even for those who are not riding particularly fast at all.

This second video shows the entirety of the street as it heads out of town.  The location where the first video was filmed is to the right at 0:16, in the shop with the yellow awning. At over four minutes to go just over a mile, the speed of transit for the corridor by car is slower than many people can comfortably bike, even though this doesn’t appear to be filmed during rush hour per se.

As cities grow and become more congested, bikes will continue to be looked as as a way provide an alternative to driving. Though not typically well-understood by many, bikes actually do offer competitive travel times to driving a car, even with infrastructure that people like to assume mandates slow biking. That’s a view that simply isn’t supported by the evidence, especially the prevalence of scooters using Dutch bikeways (often illegally).

Transit Bypasses for Bikes

The latest post from BicycleDutch isn’t even about bikes and transit, it’s about biking in the rain. But the location where it was filmed in Utrecht provides the opportunity to also get another good look at an exceptional solution to a common issue frequently raised about separated bikeways: what to do around a transit stop.

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A pair of bus stops and their bypasses outside of Montfoort, NL. Image: Google Street View.

The preferred approach is to use  floating transit stops that allow bicyclists to pass by without coming into conflict with buses (or trains) and only minimal interaction with passengers. Floating stops can even be used with conventional bike lanes as they remain a great way to address the problem of buses and bikes. Yet, the minute details continue to evade many planners and engineers, resulting in facilities that can be dramatically bad.

 

As can be seen in BicycleDutch’s video, there is a bus stop directly adjacent the bikeway. Yet, despite this being one of the busiest locations for bus activity along Potterstraat, transit users do not present a problem to the bicyclists at all. As they exit the bus, they are on a relatively wide island that is lined with a barrier, ensuring that the interaction between users occurs at as few a points as possible. While most Dutch transit stop bypasses aren’t quite that wide nor do they include a barrier, the concept is still carried forward.

But perhaps the most important part of the design is how the bikeway passes the stop. In the one featured in the video, it is a straight line with no deviation at all. That is preferred, but likely not always practical. In the absence of that opportunity, everything should be done to make the curve as smooth as possible and it should be designed for a realistic biking speed (i.e. 20+ MPH). When done right, riding around a stop is a pleasant experience that is barely noticeable.

In tandem with protected intersections, transit stop bypasses are a great way to build a protected bikeway network. Since both infrastructure elements can work with traditional bike lanes, they offer a great way to tackle the biggest problems of a separated bikeway first, then fill in the remaining gaps as money becomes available. The biggest challenge is getting the minute details right, so planners and engineers should travel to and ride both the best and worst examples to get a real feel of how to build them properly.

An Utrecht Bike Commute: Kanaleneiland to De Uithof/Utrecht Science Park

A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in the Utrecht area of The Netherlands. While there, I was able to spend a lot of time seeing not just the big-ticket items that tourists see, but was also able to see things more from the perspective of a local. One of the things that I endeavored to do was get a clearer view of what commuting around a Dutch city by bike would be like.

The video below shows one such commute from the Kanaleneiland neighborhood to De Uithof Science Park and University Medical Center. The route can also be seen on Google here, but a distinguishing characteristic of bikes in the Dutch transport puzzle is that there are many other options. Such is the case here and while this route was one that was straight-forward, many other options exist, some of which are potentially shorter.

00:00 – Geallieerdenlaan/Eisenhowerlaan/Bernadottelaan/Beneluxlaan (Kanaleneiland Winkelcentrum)

The trip begins at the place where I was staying in the Kanaleneiland neighborhood of Utrecht. It is right down the street from the eponymous Kanaleneiland Winkelcentrum (“mall”), which also includes two apartment and office towers above it. The actual street where the residence is located is pedestrianized, though it theoretically can be used as a through route by motorists too. One end is at another street, the other is in a parking lot. However, it was only on rare occasions where someone did drive in and then it was usually just to get to the garages located behind the houses.

Bike parking in Kanaleneiland.
Bike parking in Kanaleneiland.

The front door opened onto this street and directly across it is a community center and an elementary school. In this part of town, it’s safe enough to leave bikes outside overnight by themselves. As such, the front porch was also the parking area for the bikes. The wheel lock was all that was necessary to secure the bike and still find it again the next day.

After getting on the bike and going up the street, one comes to the intersection with the street for motor traffic, Eisenhowerlaan. This street can best be viewed as a yield street as it is only 20 feet wide and allows parking on one side.

Two cars pass each other on Eisenhowerlaan in Utrecht.
Two cars pass each other on Eisenhowerlaan in Utrecht.

Nevertheless, it is a two-way street and though parking was usually full, traffic could negotiate past each other and make it down the street. The intersection itself is a raised intersection, which further works to keep motorists speeds down. (So effective that it was not uncommon to see people use the adjacent parking lot as a detour around the street itself.)  Also off Eisenhowerlaan is a driveway to the garage and courtyard of the residences, which is where the riding in the video begins. Needless to say, Eisenhowerlaan has no actual bicycle facilities, bicyclists just take part in traffic.

Eisenhowerlaan then leads to Bernadottelaan. Bernadottelaan is a bit wider than Eisenhowerlaan, but the intersection of the two is also a raised intersection. However, Bernadottelaan is one of the main entrances to the community, so it does get more traffic than Eisenhowerlaan, including delivery trucks bringing goods to the stores at the Winkelcentrum. Still, there are no bicycle facilities on Bernadottelaan itself as it is part of the 30 KPH zone (as is Eisenhowerlaan).

The measurements of the transition to cycletrack at the intersection of Bernadottelaan & Beneluxlaan in Utrecht.
The measurements of the transition to protected bikeway at the intersection of Bernadottelaan & Beneluxlaan in Utrecht.

Bernadottelaan is the gateway to the community, so the bicycle infrastructure begins at the intersection where Bernadottelaan meets Beneluxlaan, a major thoroughfare in Utrecht (that changes names at least eight times). The intersection is signalized for motorists and only allows right turns in/out due to a light rail line down the middle of Beneluxlaan. However, bicyclists leaving the community can avoid the stop lights and just enter the separated bikeway, which has a side entrance off Bernadottelaan. They and pedestrians can also cross Beneluxlaan, meaning that it’s potentially easier for residents “on the other side of the tracks” to bike or walk to the Winkelcentrum than to drive.

From there, one joins the bikeway on Beneluxlaan, a 12-foot wide bidirectional facility that runs on both sides of the street. It includes signals at the major intersections, but driveways and some minor side roads are just raised crossings designed to allow bicyclists to continue on interrupted while slowing down motorists for the turns, made possible by the raised design of the bikeway.

01:56 – Kol. Wilheminalaan

The first major intersection is a rotary where Beneluxlaan meets Kol. Wilheminalaan, which is where the path will be turning left. Although everyone has a signal, left turns are not made appreciably longer because there are bidirectional bikeways around the outside of the rotary. In the video, I take advantage of that when I arrive as the light turning yellow and continue through across Beneluxlaan and the tracks. (Note that since the bikeway on both sides of Beneluxlaan is bidirectional, crossing the street and tracks at the Bernadottelaan intersection and reaching this point is totally doable as well. However, in practice, it was usually faster to continue to the rotary and cross one of the arms of the roundabout.)

After crossing Beneluxlaan, a short bikeway provides a connection to a 30 KPH frontage road of Kol. Wilheminalaan. This outer street is about the same width as Eisenhowerlaan and both bicyclists and motorists are allowed to use it in either direction. About three blocks down, a pinch point with bicyclist bypasses at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan is the gateway to the community and allows only one motor vehicle to pass through at a time. However, the access road continues through this intersection with priority over the intersecting road, which itself is the entrance from the main Kol. Wilheminalaan.

Looking east on the Kol. Wilheminalaan access road at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan and associated traffic calming devices.
Looking east on the Kol. Wilheminalaan access road at the intersection with Van Bijnkershoeklaan and associated traffic calming devices. Image: Google StreetView.

After crossing Van Bijnkershoeklaan, it appears that the access road was once a through route for motorists, but two islands have been used to close it off for about half a block except to bikes and mopeds (saw marks can be seen in the asphalt). As such, is officially designated as a mandatory bikeway, but it’s in actuality just a closed road. This forces to go the long way around to enter/exit the community and also provides good continuity of the bikeway. After the blocked portion, the access road is a yield street again with similar features and profile to before.

The yield street continues for a couple blocks, then ones comes to a roundabout. This one is just at two-lane roundabout with priority for bicyclists.  For those who’ve been paying attention, that means that the traveler is now on the “wrong side” of Kol. Wilheminalaan. However, the bikeway around the roundabout is bidirectional, so it doesn’t matter. But from here on,  the bikeway is only one-way, so here we cross Kol. Wilheminalaan to the right side of the street. (In practice, a lot of people would ride the wrong way and some would even start out the right way but cross over on the bridge itself.)

04:35 – Balijebrug/Balijelaan

After crossing to the correct side of Kol. Wilheminalaan, the bikeway and road rise to the height of the Balijebrug over one of the arms of the Kromme Rijn that runs through Utrecht. The bridge also passes over the Kanalweg bikeway that runs adjacent the canal through the entire length of the city that offers a stop-free way to transit past the city and can be reached from the location.

The bridge consists of a lane in each direction for motor traffic, an inbound bus-only lane, buffered bike lanes, and sidewalks. At this point, the name changes from Kol. Wilheminalaan to Balijelaan.  After the bridge, raised the bike lanes transition back into raised 12-foot wide separated bikeways, which are more generous than the ones on the western approach, not least of which being because they’re paved instead of tiled. At the bottom of the bridge, these transition away from the main road back to access roads again. As this is another residential area, these access roads are one-way (except for bikes) 30 KPH zones in the direction of travel.

After about a block, there’s a raised intersection with a side street and all motorists must join the main road. At this point, the access road becomes parking-protected raised bidirectional bikeway for about a block. It continues through the intersection with Rijnlaan, where after a little over a mile of travel, we find the second traffic signal of the journey. In the video, it happens to be green by Utrecht standards when passed and everything turns out better than expected.

At Croeselaan, a left turn pocket allows bicyclists headed toward the station to wait for the light out of the way of others.
At Croeselaan, a left turn pocket allows bicyclists headed toward the station to wait for the light out of the way of others.

This bikeway then continues on for a block to the T-intersection with Croeselaan that includes a left-turn pocket. Croeselaan is the most direct roue to Utrecht Centraal from this area, so there is an elevated number of people waiting to cross here in the mornings. Of course, those going straight don’t have to wait at the light at all. Right before the signals is the intersection with Croesestraat. Croesestraat is another residential 30 KPH zone, so the intersection consists of a raised table with priority for the bikeway.

5:45 – Vondellaan

After passing the T-intersection, the road changes names again. The bikeway is at this point again a raised parking-protected separated bikeway. In the video, there are some markings on the ground that suggest that the bikeway used to be a bidirectional facility, but it appears to no longer be one. Still, several people who apparently haven’t received that memo can be seen salmoning along. There’s also a driveway for a parking garage for the building to the right midway down the block. After continuing around the corner, another left turn pocket and signal for bikes is reached, which happens to be red.

7:50 – Kruisvaartbrug/Bleekstraat/Catherijnsingel/Ledig Erf

The stop for me lasted 65 seconds, but based on the number of bikes already in queue when I arrived, it was likely red for much longer. The long red light times were highlighted by a dramatic approach taken by the Dutch police in Utrecht last year, where they set up after a set of three lights in succession and ticketed cyclists who ran them. That led to dramatic pictures around the web and worked well with a demonstration against long reds in Utrecht.

As can be seen by the tire marks in the planter, many people taking this corner never make it to the intersection.
As can be seen by the tire marks in the planter, many people taking this corner never make it to the intersection.

Of course, as can be seen in the  video, many people take matters into their own pedals and ignore red lights when the way is clear. The presence of many tire marks through the planter convey the same message.

After getting the green, we cross over the Kruisvaart and under the railway. The light on the other side of the tracks really wasn’t quite clear if it was red only for lefts or for all bicyclists. Taking the liberal of the two options, I continued on Bleekstraat. Here, the bike infrastructure is comprised of an “advisory” (dashed) bicycle lane. It’s a suggested area for bicyclists, but not legally required. However, there’s little point in not riding in it since after about a block, it transitions back into a separated bikeway to bypass another T-intersection (though bikes can also go right there to access that neighborhood).

Ledig Erf is at the entrance to the old city area.
Ledig Erf is at the entrance to the old city area. In the background, the Vaartsche Rijn bridge and houses along Westkade can be seen.

At this point, Bleekstraat technically ends and the street that continues is Catherijnsingel. The bike infrastructure also transitions to a mandatory bike lane, though it’s still possible to pass others. This continues as the road curves for a little over a block. After the intersection with Westkade, the bike lane transitions back into a bidirectional raised separated bikeay on the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn and the road also changes names to Ledif Erf. The bikeway passes a square and another left turn pocket. Following that leads over the canal to the old city center, virtually all of which is a 30 KPH zone (and all paved in brick). However, the path forward lies ahead.

09:15 – Alternatives

There are two other ways to reach that location on Ledig Erf from the light on Vondellaan which in my experience, also tended to be a little quicker. The first as seen in the video involves crossing at the Bleekstraat light then making use of the bidirectional separated facility on the other side of the street to continue straight on Vondellaan. After about a block, there’s an intersection and a bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn. One can also reach that point by going straight past the first light (for lefts) on Vondellaan to the intersection than making a “Copenhagen left” to reach the point on the bridge. (There’s also another crossing just past the bridge that is unsignalized that can be used if the immediate left is red.)

After crossing the bridge, a left turn is made onto a bikeway underpass of the railroad concurrent with the Vaartsche Rijn. This connects to Oosterkade, another 30 KPH zone. It has parking on both sides (including locking bike parklets) and is two-way for about three blocks, but the last block is a one-way street for motorists in the direction opposite the direction of travel. That forms the connection to the point of departure from Ledig Erf. Although there is one side street along the way as well, it is a dead end.

The second option starts out largely the same. The choice of either side of Vondellaan remains, the difference is that the left turn is made prior to crossing the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn. At the Juftaseweg intersection, the eastern arm is a new street, Westerkade. This also passes via the same underpass as Oosterkade mentioned above and the Vaartsche Rijn.

The bike parking garage at the under construction Vaartsche Rijn station.
The bike parking garage at the under-construction Vaartsche Rijn station will have room for several hundred bicycles.

At this location, the Utrecht Vaartsche Rijn [Dutch] rail station, part of the ambitious Uithoflijn, was under construction. With tram service planned every four minutes (and probably also “stop train” aka local service, though not quite as frequent)  to Utrecht Centraal, I’d expect that a lot of bicycle traffic that currently uses Croeselaan and Catherijnsingel to get to Utrecht Centraal to start their train trips here instead once it opens. ProRail has considered that and included a bicycle parking garage as part of the station, with room for several hundred bikes. No car parking is provided, but drop off is possible on the Westerkade side, which is a one-way street except for bikes.

After exiting from the underpass, Westerkade is still a one-way street, but in the opposing direction. Except for bikes. It continues up to Catherijnsingel and meets it right before the bridge over the Vaartsche Rijn when the separated bikeway starts again. While there is a traffic light there, signage indicates that bicyclists are allowed to make the right on red, which I do. Continuing on, we’re now on the same corner around Ledig Erf again.

Although they’re both largely paved of brick, those two options tended to be far more popular connections than the first one. There were also noticeably more parents with children on these routes, which can be seen in the video. Nevertheless, none of them ever really felt crowded, even during rush hour. The plethora of options means that everyone has an optimal path for a direct line, so not many people have to detour to get to a good bikeway [PDF], which keeps them from getting crowded.

13:15 – Tolsteegsingel/Abstederdijk/Venuslaan

Continuing around the corner from Ledig Erf, the name of the street changes names thrice within as many football fields worth of space. The corner from Ledig Erf (which is technically going straight on) is a right turn that has awkward positioning and can be a little unbalancing. (But the city has apparently tackled the problem since I’ve been gone and greatly improved the corner, with more changes in the works.)  This is also the narrowest point of the journey, caused by the unsavory geometry of pushing a road through the area where two canals meet. However, as usual, bicyclist can bypass this stoplight as well.

After passing that intersection, the bikeway consists of a one-way path directly adjacent the Kromme Rijn. The main road however curves away from the it to allow space to make an intersection, so those on the bikeway are able to pass the intersection unaffected. (Note that a separated bikeway also continues up to the intersection itself adjacent the road for those who need to access the intersection.) However, the pavement quality under there is atrocious, hopefully Utrecht plans to fix it soon. After the intersection, the road is now four-lane when it rejoins the bikeway. This configuration continues on for several hundred yards. During the time, the road curves around and passes under another rail line.

15:00 – Rubenslaan/Stadionlaan/Herculesplein

At the intersection, the road once again changes names and the infrastructure takes on a new form as well. After passing through the light, there is a short bidirectional bikeway that connects to a one-way (except for bikes) access road that runs the length of the block. This road provides access to all side streets and driveways off of Rubenslaan. There are also a couple parking spaces located along its length. The entrances and exit from this access road all consist of speed tables. At the end of block, motorists must again exit and it transitions back into a separated bikeway for the intersection. This is repeated in the next two blocks as well.

After the third block, the road has changed names again and is now called Stadionlaan. Another bidirectional bikeway takes bicyclists through the intersection, into a parking lot, then into a separated bikeway again that passes under the Waterlinieweg, an inner ring road that goes partway around Utrecht. We now arrive at another light, where the wait is 70 seconds before being able to proceed. Also not ideal, but definitely not the worst light I’ve ever been through either. This leads to another short bidirectional separated bikeay that connects to a parking lot. And a name change.

We’re now on Herculesplein which provides bike connectivity directly adjacent to Herculeslaan. This is a one-way parking lot that allows contraflow cycling. It connects to another bidirectional separated bikeway that goes past the front of the stadium. About a block up the street, we arrive at another intersection. The main road turns, so the three arms meet at about a 120 degree angle. Not quite a T-intersection, but definitely not a roundabout either. Whatever it is, there are bidirectional bikeways around the entire thing. This is also where the path turns left.

20:10 – Weg tot de Wetenschap
A right turn pocket on Weg tot de Wetenschap leads bicyclists to the city center.
A right turn pocket on Weg tot de Wetenschap lets bicyclists heading to the city center via Platolaan stay out of the way of everyone else.

This is the road that leads directly to the final destination at the UMC. This is also the route of the Uitoflijn. Buses are currently in use (one can be seen in the video), but some work has also already been done for the conversion to a tram, including the designation of various facilities. As a result, a 16-foot wide strip of new asphalt now forms bidirectional bikeway that runs the entire length of Weg tot de Wetenschap from Herculeslaan to the campus. Along the route, there are only two stoplights before reaching campus, both of which are usually green. The midway point at Platolaan is a major bike route between the city center and De Uitof, so a right turn pocket is included there as well. The route also passes under the A27 motorway right on the outskirts of campus.

23:30 – De Uithof
The cycletrack that extends through the center of the campus of the science park at De Uithof.
The bikeway that passes through the center of the campus of the science park at De Uithof.

Upon arrival onto the campus of De Uithof science park itself, the bikeway continues on straight with its 16-foot width for a bit, though at some point it narrows to 15 feet. However, motorists must go elsewhere as the road to the left is the Uithoflijn and thus only for transit vehicles (buses at the moment, trams within the next three years). They both continue all the way through the center of the campus. Several bikeways also connect throughout the length of the campus to various other campus destinations and dorms.

The widest official bikeway in The Netherlands with the UMC in the background.
The Dutch take the easy way out and tackle the problem of heavy right turn traffic by building the widest official bikeway in The Netherlands. The UMC is in the background.

After passing through the campus center, the bikeway crosses one of the access roads for motorists on a bikeway that is 27-feet wide, making it the widest official bikeway in The Netherlands. (This was chosen in lieu of using a right turn pocket at the location for the large volume of bikes crossing over here.) The end of the video is the approach to the UMC, though not actually reaching the front doors. Going straight ahead would bring one to De Uithof Park & Ride, which provides remote parking for regional travelers to reach the city center. Farther still along the road, one would arrive at the cities of De Bilt, Bilthoven, and other points north.

Normality

This video is a very typical scene while biking around most every major Dutch city. The infrastructure really doesn’t hold anyone up. Total riding time was about 21 minutes, well short of Google’s estimate of 30 minutes and almost identical to the time for driving (and on a city bike at that, where I certainly wasn’t setting any speed records). Nothing was staged or cherry-picked, I just chose the most straightforward route (that I knew) to take. Both the good and the bad can be seen. But what can also be seen is how many people are enabled by the good bikeways. Separated bikeways can take on many different forms, many of which are able to serve more people than just bicyclists and while they may not have a use everywhere, their importance as part of a menu of solutions for bringing better bikeways to all cannot be overstated.

Consequences of “Draconian” Bikeways: Improved Left Turns

A couple days ago as I approached an intersection, I prepared for my left turn the normal way: merged out of the buffered bike lane and continued over to the left turn pocket. While I sat there in the queue waiting for the light to change, it struck me that the turn would’ve been faster if I’d been able to go straight then made the turn at the corner. This is the type of turn, also known as the “Copenhagen left“, is all but forced by the design of protected bike lanes that prevent people on bikes from leaving them away from intersections. That’s not a major problem, but it has resulted in the protected intersection finally getting recognized as a sensible way to deal with bikeways by Americans. (Though they’re also a great option for intersections even when the roads in question don’t have protected bikeways.)

Many folks bemoan that fact and assume that it would be slower and more inconvenient than being able to turn by merging across traffic to do so. However, most traffic signals are timed in a manner as above whereby missing a light often means a lengthy wait in a stew of exhaust fumes. (Or worse yet, not being detected at all if no cars are already waiting.) At that point, making a Copenhagen left instead would at worst, require just half the waiting of the “proper” left. If all-directions green signaling is used and phased favorably, bikes would have guaranteed faster travel through the intersection almost every single time.

These sorts of improvements and enhancements are what need to be brought up in planning and design discussions to build a transportation system where the bicycle is not just a tool of the poorest of the poor or those who “enjoy” biking, but available to all users regardless of skill level. These infrastructural changes can promote that by not just offering facilities that score high on the safety scorecard, but that also are vital in creating  an environment where a bicycle is timely alternative to driving not just for racers, but for normal people too.

Weekly Review

With a new year comes new plans and development. As we head into the second full week of the year, a lot of exciting things are already shaping up for you to get involved in. Here go a couple.

Jurupa Valley General Plan
The City of Jurupa Valley is holding several meetings concerning the completion of an Interim General Plan.

The City of Jurupa Valley has had a challenging history in its short life. Right after coming into existence, Jerry Brown yanked a major funding source from them and there was concern that the City might be quickly dissolved back into a pocket of Riverside County. Nevertheless, they’ve managed to survive and as they look to celebrate a fifth birthday soon, they’re al looking to become more permanent and want to plan what they’ll be in the future. The City is looking for guidance and input as they seek to develop an Interim General Plan. They will be holding several meetings over the next four weeks, so check out the list [PDF] and attend the one that works best for you.

Perris Optimus Logistics Center DEIR

TODAY [PDF] is the last day to submit any comments you might have to the City of Perris that pertain to the planned Perris Logistics Center in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Report [PDF] for the project. In typical fashion, the plan is to scatter stoplights, dedicated turn lanes, and other similar “improvements”. Stuff that is patently bad for bicycling. Of great concern are the intersections where the roads will balloon in size. That’s not good for speeds and definitely not good for fostering a comfortable riding environment.

But even more concerning is the callous disregard for the City’s Trails Master Plan [PDF], which includes bikeways on many of the streets identified in the EIR analysis as needing widening improvements. What’s more, the traffic analysis was done by the same consultant group that did the Trails Master Plan. It seems like they should have the files on their computer still since the City approved it not even two years ago. All they had to do was look back at the document to realize “oh crap, maybe this isn’t a great idea” for the majority of the stuff that they put in the Traffic Analysis of the EIR.

No surprise, that conversation apparently didn’t occur and without robust standards, we have to fight to get anything beyond BIK LANs next to an expressway. Hopefully, Caltrans develops competent standards for Class IV cycletracks, especially for applications when one is necessary versus using a painted Class II lane. The VMT-based traffic analysis standards are also something to look forward to and will hopefully help alleviate this kind of nonsense for future projects.

Share Info!

That’s all for today, but there’s almost certainly more going on. If there are any projects or planning that you know is occurring, get in touch and share it! One that we’re looking out for is the  Draft Environmental Impact Report for the forthcoming World Logistics Center project that is under consideration for the City of Moreno Valley. That document is due within the next month or so. At that time, it will be interesting to see what comes out of that as far as traffic mitigation goes, though history hasn’t shown the consultants who do most of the traffic analyses for this area to be particularly inclined to do anything beyond throw around traffic signals and turn lanes. But we’ll see for sure soon. Until then, ciao!

Update: The City of Chino is also preparing to prepare an Environmental Impact Report for a project being dubbed the “Brewer Site”. More information on that project is to be found at the link above. This is an exciting new time for projects like this since the traffic impacts must now  be evaluated using VMT instead of LOS and plopping houses in the IE for people to drive to LA/OC/(SD) will require far stronger mitigation measures for local trips and really an opportunity to get some innovative new solutions. So check it out and get some comments in, even if only a few lines.

Progress Report: Orange Blossom Trail in Redlands

It appears that 2014 is ending on a higher note for bikeways here in the Inland Empire, particularly in San Bernardino County. Redlands is joining Rialto in getting work done on a trail that has been in the pipeline for a long time: the Orange Blossom Trail. When complete, the Orange Blossom Trail (OBT) will form a loop through the City of Redlands from the Santa Ana River Trail, providing a direct bikeway connection from Redlands to other towns downriver.

Currently, scattered portions of the OBT currently exist where completion has been required as a condition of development. However, the segment now under construction is being done thanks to two grants received by the City for this specific purpose. This segment will also form the longest continuous portion of the OBT to date, stretching a total of 1.3 miles from Grove St. To Wabash Ave. With a total grant award amount of $877,695, the OBT’s price tag clocks in at $675,150 per mile, which is over $300k per mile cheaper than the price normally attributed to a Class I bikeway. [Note that the official legal designation for a Class I bikeway is a bike path, not trail.] And the OBT includes a bridle path.

Speaking of which, let’s take a look at how the OBT is being constructed. From Grove St. to Judson Ave., actual train tracks are still present. For that portion, they have elected to build a 10′ wide Class I bikeway on the north side of the tracks and a 6′ wide bridle path on the south side. They are separated by the tracks themselves which at Grove St., has created the perfect gap for skateboarders. The track continues to a couple feet past Judson Ave., after which the bike and bridle paths converge. After converging, they continue along the roadbed of the railroad.

It appears that they’re completing it in segments instead of the whole length at once. Thus far, parking spots, gutters, and ramps have been completed at the Grove St. end and both the bridle path and bikeway are completed almost to Judson on that block. Gutters and ramps have not yet been poured at Judson, but the bikeway and bridle path pick up again and are completed to a couple more streets down in a similar fashion. The asphalt is wonderfully smooth and is (at least at present) decent wide enough to allow people to ride 3-4 abreast.

While a trail is good, a network of bikeways is great. Redlands is quietly getting the network aspect covered as well. Over the last few years, streets have been getting (buffered) bike lanes as the City carries on with its repaving initiative. Several of those streets cross the trail and provide excellent access opportunities to it. Additionally, the trail goes directly to the University of Redlands [property] and empties onto a relatively quiet street that would be a decent bike boulevard. Other schools are also located along the route, so it has the potential to provide an outstanding SRTS opportunity.

One place where the trail will almost assuredly fall short is where it meets other roads. Standard engineering practice doesn’t like “mid-block” crossings, but it’s past time to get over that hesitation. There are several potential solutions to raise their specter and thus, safety, too. Instead of the default having the trail stop, they should design it so that it only has to yield at larger roads such as Dearborn or Judson and has full priority at smaller ones. Raised tables with HAWKs and islands would be ideal ways to help provide a stop-free experience. Unfortunately, those will have to be for a future grant.

The best part about the OBT is that it is being done by the City, not as part of a development. Often, trails put in by developers are ultimately useless and only loop around the development. Even though the OBT isn’t connected with any single development at all, it still has suffered a similar fate as there are several completed sections further west that don’t connect to each other.

Still, once it’s completed, it will be more useful than a loop around the community. It passes near a diverse collection of neighborhoods that ranges from mobile home parks to  moderate-sized McMansions. Additionally, it passes near jobs (including Esri), shopping opportunities, and schools. As a result, the OBT could really unify the residents and provide a good non-motorized route for getting across a good portion of the City. It’s far past time for this to be done, so it’s great to see that the work is finally happening. It will be a welcome addition to the Inland Empire when completed.

Here’s how it looks right now:

Progress Report: Hunts Lane overpass now open

Well, SanBAG had a Halloween treat for San Bernardino/Colton residents: they opened the Hunts Lane overpass to traffic. An official dedication is scheduled for Thursday morning, but it will occur in a parking lot directly east of the bridge. Still, attend if you can. It’s nice for citizens to show up to these sorts of things every once in awhile.

Existing conditions on Waterman Ave. south of the tracks.
Existing conditions for peds on Waterman Ave. south of the tracks.

Anyway, a little bit of info about the project. Located in the southern end of San Bernardino/eastern edge of Colton, this $29mn project means that the dozens of Union Pacific trains and a smattering of Amtraks (but unfortunately no daily passenger service to the Palm Springs area) that pass through this route no longer result in Hunts Ln. being blocked for any lengths of time. It will also be a massive improvement for pedestrians compared to Waterman Avenue, especially for those living in the neighborhoods directly south of the tracks who need to access the bus. The Hunts Lane sbX station is located approximately half a mile directly north.

Here’s what SanBAG had to say about it:

The last two sentences of that tweet are quite appropriate as the final design leaves much to be desired and includes a fair amount of built-in danger.

Of course, given the name, the accommodations for bikes are of great interest to this blog. Unfortunately, the current outlook is dismal. Since neither Colton nor San Bernardino has a bike master plan, Hunts Ln. is not a designated bikeway in either city either. Therefore, it also never made its way up to the SanBAG NMTP and thus missed this project. Although cycletracks weren’t yet approved when this project was hatched and started, they could’ve still built the bridge a little wider to accommodate some decent bike lanes. Especially considering the cliff faces curbs that border the roadway on the bridge.

That boat has now sailed, so re-adapting what we’re stuck with will have to be the way to go. There is still room for accommodating bikes a little better by way of the striping. It appears that the current design is for 12′ inside lanes and 17′ outside lanes. That presents a quandary to those pedaling along because CVC 21202 could be used against riders who are “impeding” traffic while controlling the outside lanes. However, both inside and outside lanes can be slimmed down a bit to accommodate a striped Class II bike lane. Using 10′ inside lanes and 13′ outside lanes leaves enough room to stripe a 6′ bike lane. Additionally, the slimmer lanes will encourage lower speeds. Currently, Hunts Lane is signed for 45 MPH, but initial observations show that some people think that is only a suggestion.

Speaking of striping, there are a couple of noggin scratchers there too. The most glaring error in that regard is the installation of ‘shark teeth’ upside down. A ‘pork chop island’ and right slip turn were included from Hunts Lane south to Oliver Holmes Rd. west with the requisite ‘YIELD’ sign and line. Or what was supposed to be a yield line. Per Section 3B.16 of the CA MUTCD, yield lines (aka ‘shark teeth’) are to be installed in this manner:

You had one job! But seriously. These 'shark teeth' are backwards.
You had one job! But seriously. These ‘shark teeth’ are backwards. This is how it should be done.

07 Yield lines (see Figure 3B-16 3B-16(CA)) shall consist of a row of solid white isosceles triangles pointing toward approaching vehicles extending across approach lanes to indicate the point at which the yield is intended or required to be made. – CA MUTCD 2012 Section 3B.16

Why so far?
Why so far?

They clearly missed the mark on that one. Another striping quirk was the limit line at Oliver Holmes Rd. It was set a ways back (22′ to be exact) from the intersection itself for all lanes. Oliver Holmes does see a fair amount of truck traffic, so the intent is likely to not have any turning conflict between trucks and vehicles at a limit line at the intersection. But perhaps staggered setbacks would be better? Currently, ALL lanes have their stop lines the same distance from the intersection itself. That distance may be fine for the left turn lane, but the inside lane could probably be brought up another 6′ and the outside lane a good 14′ and still not intrude into the area necessary to complete at turn.

The visibility is constrained from behind the line.
The visibility is constrained from behind the crosswalk.

But the real dangerous part of the whole project is on the south side of the tracks. While the intersections on the north side have signals, those on the south side don’t. As a result, people are left to their own devices and due to the proximity of Riverwood St. and Commercial Rd. to each other, it appears that one continues into the other. However, they’re just far enough apart that it’s not a straight shot. Added to that is the fact that visibility from behind the crosswalk on Riverwood is lackluster. A couple of hairy situations were observed in just the 15 minutes of taking pictures. As more people realize that Hunts is open and start using it, nothing good will come of this hodgepodge of intersections.

This island...
That island (not to be confused with Dhat Island)…
...should be here.
…should be here.

Most peculiar was the island located slightly south of Riverwood to delineate the left turn pocket from Hunts Ln. onto Riverwood. It has no obvious practical purpose. Given the propensity for dangerous crossings at Commercial Rd. and Riverwood St., the concrete would’ve seen better use creating an island restricting left turns off both of those roads. Nothing good will come of the current setup.

All that aside, the end of major construction will certainly be appreciated, even if there is still stuff to be done. At the same time, SanBAG needs to step back and take a long, hard look at their design of grade separation projects. These are the types of facilities that are quite expensive to build and cost-prohibitive to retrofit, especially for bike/ped needs. With several under construction and more in the planning phases, it is imperative that they be done right from the very beginning. There is hope for this project, but what is really needed will likely never happen.

What if? – Baseline and California

How can things be improved? That’s part of the philosophy behind this blog and the Inland Empire offers plenty of opportunity in that department. There is no shortage of places that can be transformed to provide a better experience for all. This is about thinking outside the box and finding solutions to make the area a more inviting place to not just sleep, but also work and play in.

Baseline Road
Basic approximation of the current conditions of Baseline St. looking west. Image by author via Streetmix.

One such opportunity exists in the City of San Bernardino where Baseline Rd., California St., and University Ave. meet. Bordered on the south side by the ball fields/parking lot of Arroyo Valley High School and the north side by more empty lots, there’s really not much going on. This presents the perfect opportunity to upgrade the intersection and improve access to the school for students walking/biking.

But the real benefit will be the improvement of the intersection for traffic flow. Currently, University Ave. is the entrance to AVHS and is located approximately 360′ west of California St. and both intersections are signalized. A significant portion of the students of the school come from the Muscoy area to the north and many arrive by car. As a result, several hundred cars attempt to essentially go straight across between 07:00 and 07:30 every morning. This leads to significant blockage of the road, especially the westbound direction because the left turn phase to turn onto University Ave. from westbound Baseline St. simply can’t be long enough. Additionally, there are also still people attempting to turn left onto California St. from eastbound Baseline, which is a problem since the center turn lane is already full of westbound cars/buses attempting to turn onto University Ave. This charade is repeated in the afternoon, though to a lesser degree.

There might be a tiny bit of relief coming in the next year or two. Many people turning north onto California St. are undoubtedly simply using the neighborhood as a shortcut to access CA-210 at University Ave. Many of these people would likely be able to use Pepper Ave. to get on CA-210 if it were connected. To that end, Rialto and SanBAG are continuing work on extending Pepper Ave. to CA-210 and finish the access ramps. However, there will still be the problem of a significant volume of cars attempting to cross Baseline to access AVHS and there are also a lot of pedestrians.

Roundabout up top.
The upper part of the “roundabout” can feature better bus stops with bike parking and cycletracks. Image by author via Streetmix.

To alleviate the issue of the cross flow of traffic, a grade separation is the best option. That would allow the traffic on Baseline to flow uninterrupted by the crossing of school traffic and vice versa. The idea is conceptually similar to this intersection, where a roundabout situation on top provides access to the crossing road while the main traffic continues straight. This intersection provides the same opportunity and would provide a good option for a bus stop and bike parking as well as a cycletrack. But most importantly, it removes the conflict between the crossing streams of traffic.

Baseline Rd. through lanes
Two through lanes should be enough to handle the relatively low traffic of Baseline Rd. Image by author via Streetmix.

Currently, the center turn lane and two inside lanes are all 14′ wide, which Streetmix doesn’t like at all (see picture above). The proposal would narrow them a foot each and use the extra space for a bollard treatment of some sort instead to remind people to not cross the lines. A single lane would continue straight through the intersection area in each direction below the roundabout. Traffic counts for this exact intersection are proving elusive. However, the intersection with Pepper Ave. in Rialto a little over a mile to the west was seeing a V/C ratio of less than 0.5 in 2010 while the intersection with Mt. Vernon Ave. around a mile east is seeing volumes of ~600 vehicles/hour/direction for peak hour flows which also corresponds to a V/C ratio of less than 0.5 . Consequently, a single lane should be adequate to carry the current traffic on Baseline Rd. and for many years to come, but the space is potentially available to include a second through lane if it’s felt that it would be absolutely necessary.

What makes this project relatively simple might also prove to be the biggest headache. The intersection is on the top of a flood control berm. The grade separation would be accomplished by tunneling through it more than digging down. However, that raises the issue of keeping Lytle  Creek at bay. It certainly isn’t impossible and solutions exist, but the real question is if they’re worth the cost. Although this design means that access to the school wouldn’t be cut off in the event of a flood, but water high enough to threaten the underpass/force its closure means that water in the wash is at a phenomenal level and that it’s impassible.

Still, it would be great to see this project come about. The intersection is not getting any better and signal timing can only go so far. The same goes for widening, though continuing California St. and closing the University Ave. spur could achieve similar goals. Alternatively, the empty lot(s) on the north side of Baseline can be made into a drop off point for Arroyo Valley and the kids can just walk the rest of the way into campus. Something needs to be done soon.

Weekly Regional Roundup: Support Better Biking from the Beginning

In recent weeks, there’s been a flurry of activity in the planning arena toward making things better in the Inland Empire. In addition to the start of construction of the Pacific-Electric Trail Extension into Rialto, various agencies have other projects in some stage of planning that could certainly use some guidance to make sure the best possible stuff ends up being built. Here’s a chance to find out about what’s going on and where to direct any ire or admiration.

Menifee

The City of Menifee has released a Notice of Preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Cimarron Ridge Project. To put it mildly, it needs help desperately. The City’s Circulation Element of its General Plan endeavors to develop a bikeway/NEV network that would allow (and even encourage) residents to not drive within town, yet the proposed project doesn’t include adequate accommodations toward achieving that goal. This is a great chance to get a sprawling development somewhat tamed from the very beginning. Anyone living in Menifee or having an interest in the area or project should make sure that they provide comments now so that they can be addressed by the EIR. Speaking of EIR, there is a glimmer of hope because new rules are going in concerning how traffic impacts are considered under CEQA. This project offers a great opportunity to put them to the test to improve an area that has thus far developed into a textbook example of auto-centric sprawl. Notice of Preparation for the EIR is here, Cimarron Ridge Initial Study is here. Both are PDFs. Follow the links to retrieve the relevant documents and remember to get comments submitted by September 18.

SanBAG

SanBAG‘s Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Study for the Redlands (Passenger) Rail Project was released in mid-August and is now available for inspection and comment (information on how to comment), which are due by September 29. The Project has been in the works for well over a decade and is part of the larger transit improvements that San Bernardino has seen in recent years such as sbX. The RPRP will reconnect a bit of the south eastern portion of the historic Kite-Shaped Track network of Santa Fe. The eventual plan many decades in the future would continue the loop up through Highland and then west along 3rd St. past KSBD and back into San Bernardino proper, but that is years away and this EIR/EIS only covers the portion from the Transit Center in downtown San Bernardino to the University of Redlands. The Orange Blossom Trail will also be very near to it in some places, offering a multimodal experience similar to other rail-with-trail projects such as SMART in the Bay Area. The EIR/EIS is available here. There will also be a public meeting at 5:00 PM on Tuesday, September 9 at The Hotel San Bernardino in San Bernardino. Take the time to at least skim through the documents and gain a little insight.

Redlands
Redlands_BMP_Map
This map allows for easy input on ways to improve the biking environment in Redlands.

The City of Redlands is also seeking input for updating their Bicycle Master Plan. Passed earlier this year, it left some things lacking and people spoke up about that. The City apparently has listened and has taken a step toward improving things. While the finished result has yet to be seen, the interface is definitely a winner. It’s comprised of a map accessible from the City website that allows residents to input their recommendations for bike lanes, off-street paths, bike parking, and protected bikeways directly onto it. But best of all, other users can comment and vote on the recommendations that are already there. If you live or bike in Redlands, definitely head over to their website and check it out! Comments are due by September 25.

RTA
RTA_public_meeting_changes
RTA has added several meeting times to allow customers more and better opportunities to preview and make comments concerning the proposed changes.

Riverside Transit Agency is preparing for the future in a big way as well.  As the transit agency the serves Western Riverside County, they have a tall order to fill since a lot of the region is comprised of classic sprawling developments plopped along the freeways. There are many things to look at in their (Proposed) 10-Year Transit Network Plan and are now seeking public input on it. There are of course some winners and losers. Some routes are being realigned to meander less, which inevitably means that some stops are being taken out. RTA maintains that almost all customers will still be within 1/2 mile at most of a transit stop, but it’ll nevertheless be a tough pill to swallow for those who are used to having a bus stop right next to their porch. One way to greatly lessen the pain would be to make sure they support better bikeways, especially to major hubs. Also, high-quality bike parking at least at stops serving intersecting routes and major destinations can go far toward providing for those who are undoubtedly multimodal.

However, all routes are having service improvements and will all be at least 60 minute frequency. Currently, some are over an hour between buses. That 15 minute improvement makes missing the bus slightly less inconvenient.  At the other end, some routes will have frequencies approaching BRT status. Additionally, there are more indications that they might definitely be heading in a BRT-lite direction for Route 1 with both a limited stop option as well as signal priority. Of course, a decent portion of Route 1 is substantially identical to the proposed Riverside Streetcar, so it is imperative that RTA follow along with that conversation so that improvements could benefit both systems. Final comments on the entire plan are due to RTA by September 19. Access to a copy of the proposed changes is here [PDF] and a copy of the meeting notice is included here (PDF, identical to picture above).

That’s all for now, folks. If there are any other projects going on in the area, feel free to share more info so that others can add comments. There is of course quite a lot going on in the region and some stuff will undoubtedly slip under the radar without vigilance.