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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Where do your community’s priorities lie? That’s a question that we should all be asking ourselves as we prepare to make infrastructure investments that will have an effect for decades into the future.
Nowhere is this more evident and important than in our transportation decisions. In many communities, the transportation network rests on a backbone of arterial roads. However, decades of
car-centric planning and design have resulted in facilities that are increasingly referred to as “stroads“. They’re not good streets, but they’re not good roads either and in the end, everyone gets the short end of the stick. The result is a facility that suffers from “peak hour” congestion and that doesn’t serve those who aren’t driving.
But there’s a better way. With a little shift in thinking, it becomes easier to design a transportation network that is good for the mobility of all, whether they be on a bike, in a car, walking, or using transit. When viewed as a corridor and principles of complete streets are applied, these facilities can be optimized to provide maximum movement of goods and people, not just cars.
With that understanding, it becomes evident that the current system is grossly inefficient and needs to change. But what does the alternative look like? Using the same room as before, a redesign of the corridor assigns each mode its own dedicated space optimized for its specific travel needs. Cars and trucks don’t slow down transit, transit doesn’t block lanes to load its patrons, and bicyclists are free to pass along on their own separate path optimized for biking. For roads that access industrial facilities, it can even be tweaked a bit more to offer a dedicated truckway in the corridor that is reinforced to handle the axle loads of trucks.
Far from just musings, this design is in use already in The
Netherlands, where mobility in numerous cities is provided for all in a manner optimized for their needs. The same model can be used in the existing cities and especially new developments here in the Inland Empire. Instead of building the biggest roads today in anticipation of “future demand”, they can be built with all modes in mind in a method that greatly increases the efficiency of all the systems for all.
This is vitally important as despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent, the transportation infrastructure in the Inland Empire region has shown no improvement in recent years, barely maining a D+ rating in both the 2005 and 2010 assessments from the local branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers, but requiring a whopping 67% increase in annual investment during that time. If we are going to ever truly see signs of improvement on not just the roads, but many other local issues, there needs to be some real change in priorities. Switching the focus to the movement of goods and people over just cars will set the Inland Empire up for a more robust and resilient future.
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.
Recently, rumors were heard concerning the Pacific-Electric Trail and it being extended into Rialto. For years, the trail has ended rather unceremoniously at Maple Avenue on the border of Fontana and Rialto. As it turns out, the rumblings were true! Construction started sometime last month [PDF] and is slated to be finished in December. It’s a tall order, but swinging by last week found that most of the ~1.3 mile corridor was fenced off by the contractor and dug up with drainage improvements going in.
But as usual, a project like this doesn’t happen with any sense of urgency. This project has been a long time in the works. In 2010, the City of Rialto identified the trail extension as a partially funded capital improvement [PDF] in their four year outlook. Not surprisingly, although trails can be great transportation alternatives and that was mildly alluded to, it really isn’t seen as a true transportation corridor to be considered as a transportation improvement and was therefore absent from that section [PDF] of the CIP. (Which is ironic since it follows a historic corridor that the town was built around.)
It then made it into the SanBAG Nonmotorized Transportation Plan that was released in 2011. In that document, the corridor was identified as a 3 mile project stretching basically the entire width of the City along the old Pacific-Electric right-of-way. It is now used by Union Pacific to serve a lumber yard near City Hall. As a result, the extension under construction now only encompasses about half of the originally proposed length (1.3x/3 miles) and ends rather unceremoniously mid-block behind some industrial buildings. Expect to see a lot of people continue their journey on to Lilac Avenue beside the tracks when the trail opens.
Since that track maybe sees 2-3 trains a week, some sort of agreement should be reached that could allow the access to be maintained while at the same time extending the trail. The vast majority of the time, the track sits empty and it’s pretty evident that it’s a lightly used corridor since quite a few of the crossings don’t even have gates.
Now for the fun part: let’s look at the money. The expected cost for the original plan was $1mn/mile for a back-of-the-napkin estimate of $3mn for the entire project in the SanBAG NMTP. As can be seen in the release above, the price has soared to over $3mn per mile. The total price is now ~$4.5mn for less than 1.5 miles of trail. Funding presumably came from several grant sources, though not the recent ATP. Rialto did win some money from it for SRTS which could hopefully be used toward improving access to the schools from the trail for students. As can be seen in the map, the trail goes right past several communities and two schools.
From the looks of it, the trail will continue the irritating configuration that it has further west in other cities. It’s a great recreational pathway, but many hoping for a useful commuting corridor run into a problem at almost every. single. street: the Trail user is presented with a ‘STOP’ sign or traffic light at almost all instances where the Trail crosses another street. This leads to a lackluster experience filled with slowing at best and takes away from the effectiveness of the Trail as being useful for people looking to go somewhere. It would be great if those crossings can be upgraded to allow trail users a stop-free experience. Some Fontana intersections already have in-ground flashers, which could be easily upgraded to HAWK signals. Other places could get a combination of raised crossings/islands/pinchpoints, or complete street closures. But no matter what, something needs to be done to make the trail easier to use.
Anyway, that’s all for the future. It’s great to see that something is [finally] being done after years of waiting. Hopefully, the promise of a Christmas ride holds true so that all the kids can have a safe place to enjoy their presents. Anyway, pictures are worth far more than continued talking, so here’re 18,000 words from the project area.
I’ve just got back from the Netherlands. I rode a bike there for two weeks and experienced for myself why so many people there use bikes every day, and why transatlantic comedy duo “The Two Johnnies” are wrong to oppose mass bike riding in the UK and US. Here’s some opening thoughts: photos of real, everyday scenes which show the rhetoric of Forester and Franklin to be ridiculous.
Click any image for a larger version.
Yeah, go on girls – follow Forester’s advice and get on that road, you’ll be fine as long as you ride your bike like you’re driving a car.
Oh, those poor children suffering the terrible consequences of the Dutch cycling infrastructure!
He’s right, this scene is a figment of your imagination. If you go to Utrecht during rush hour you will see nobody cycling on the bike paths. They’re all just for show, like North…
Recently, I chanced upon this post by John Allen. In it, he laments the current movement to develop bike facilities that are suitable for anyone aged ‘8 to 80’ (or an even more inclusive ‘8 to 88’) as being the cause of bottlenecks and generally unpleasant bike experiences. These concerns are also shared by others such as the California Association of Bicycling Organizations. One of the consequences of all this fervor has been that AB 1193 being watered-down amended to effectively make all cycletracks/side paths optional for bicyclists.
At face value, that may seem like a reasonable standard. As it stands, CVC §21208(a) requires bicycle riders to ride a Class II bike lane (note that one of the amendments to AB 1193 also finally abolishes the Class I/II/III nomenclature) except under the provisions set forth therein, but not in an adjacent Class I bike path. While the specific designs vary, most cycletracks that get people out are basically on-street Class I facilities. Design features used to separate the bikeway from the regular traffic (parked cars, planters, bioswales, etc.) would inherently make it difficult or impossible for someone riding in the cycletrack to leave it at will to in response to any of the exceptions provided by §21208. Additionally, they would be “locked in” both physically and legally without the amendment.
Critical to that line of thought is the worry that cycletracks will be stuffed with schoolchildren and grandmas, ‘preventing’ fast riders from getting through. However, that is a remarkably flimsy excuse. While children certainly might be allowed freer reign on good infrastructure and the number of grandmas pedaling is up too, the claim that they’ll prevent meaningful movement on the paths seems rather outrageous. Certainly, there may very well be an elevated number schoolchildren and elderly using bikeways that have been designed to appeal to them as compared to the status quo. But it seems unlikely that they’ll completely ‘overwhelm’ cycletracks outside of a few specific times and places.
Schools and nursing homes don’t magically appear overnight. Shopping centers don’t mushroom out of nowhere. The general hours of operation and when one should expect to find the average user of those and similar facilities is common knowledge. It should be simple: if someone is concerned that kids might “hold them back”, then they need to stay away from where they’re likely to be found in any significant number when they’re likely to be there. As it is, the same exact thing already happens to cars too, sometimes with dire consequences for those who do not comply. No one can reasonably expect to legally hit top speeds (or even the regular speed limit) in a school zone during school hours. There are also sometimes warnings and reduced speed limits in the area around nursing homes, schools for the blind, and other areas where people are more vulnerable than average might inadvertently end up in close proximity to the street.
At the same time, there’s another fact that needs to be acknowledged: in the grand scheme of things, bikes are slow. Despite the argument that bikes “belong” in traffic and the resulting lament that bikes are “losing ground” because some places restricted their place in traffic, the basic fact still remains that even someone pushing themselves to the limits of puking is most likelystill at least 10 MPH (but easily 20-30) slower than the speed limit of the road where a cycletrack would likely be most appreciated and necessary. As it is, all vehicles, but especially those going slower than normal traffic, are required to keep right. Does society need to accommodate what amounts to intentional impediment of traffic even when a facility specifically for traveling at the comparatively low speeds of a bicycle is already provided?
This issue will become even more pertinent as more self-driving cars join the roadways. They will likely be able to travel at higher speeds that are in excess of current speed limits far safer than humans, probably leading to an eventual raising of speed limits once a critical mass of them has been achieved. While they should certainly greatly reduce the accident rate (after all, physics does have its limits), forcing them to slow down to keep pace with bikes on all but neighborhood streets and dedicated bike routes seems unnecessary and cuts into some of their advantages. Also, they will likely free up a lot of traffic congestion due to communicating with other vehicles on the roads (and the roads themselves). That means that many roads that are built for peak traffic flows of today (or worse, in 30 years from now) are extremely overbuilt for the future. The extra right-of-way can be used for quality bike infrastructure instead.
Of course, that brings up the issue of what exactly constitutes a quality bike facility. If what ultimately ends up on the ground is truly inadequate to handle the needs of the kids, grandmas, and ‘fast’ riders within reason, there is a problem. Restrictions limiting bicycles to such facilities cannot precede the facilities themselves. As such, municipalities need to provide infrastructure that is of pristine quality, especially on new construction. Advocates need to hold them to that and ensure that only the best stuff ends up on the ground. There’s no reason to build roads to their ultimate width then not stripe the outside lanes because the capacity isn’t there yet. Meanwhile, these same thoroughfares often only include a 5′ BIK LAN at the edge of a nearly 30′ expanse. Situations like that could just as easily include a cycletrack instead of the unstriped outside lanes from the very beginning, which will likely reduce the need for them to begin with*. Widening projects that don’t include cycletracks also should be pressed to include them.
In summary, care should definitely be taken to ensure that bicycles are not marginalized nor maligned on substandard infrastructure. At the same time, the bicycle is but one tool in the transportation and recreation toolbox. If time and due diligence have been put into designing and building a bicycle facility of exceptional quality, it shouldn’t be unreasonable to expect all bicycle riders to use it. It may not necessarily provide for every single potential rider at any given time, but it should allow the vast majority of riders to be served almost all times. There are undoubtedly times when those minority riders will be served as well and there should also be alternates available to lessen the detriment to them. However, just like cars, it seems reasonable for society to have certain expectations of riders’ conduct including not impeding traffic and for them to not ride recklessly. Bicycles can provide lots of benefits, but they won’t provide the ultimate solution for everyone. Bicycle riders need to understand that and cooperate with reasonable requests put on by society.
*This concept has made its way into a project proposed right here in the Inland Empire. Harmony in Highland include what would amount to cycletracks in practice, but are called Class I paths adjacent to the road but within the right-of-way due to the complications of Caltrans.
Over the last few weeks, a story has taken the cycling world by storm. As recounted in the press, a biker was left holding a $100 ticket after rear-ending a pickup truck. There was a general air of disbelief as to how the vulnerable road user could be considered at fault in an encounter with a motorist. As it stands, victim blaming runs rampant when cyclists are hit, so this story certainly had to be approached with caution. And although this incident didn’t happen anywhere near the IE, it seemed like a situation that may repeat itself out this way, so it seemed like a good topic to dive into.
First, a look at what Evan Wilder, the cyclist in question, had to say about the incident, as recounted in the description of the video:
On Friday, May 9 as I rode home on the R St bicycle route I checked my rear view mirror and saw a truck one block behind at a four-way stop. I attempted to move into the center of the one-way lane in order to have the safest lane position if the truck were driving quickly. Before I could finish adjusting my lane position the motorist Rashad Watt came up beside me in his Toyota Tundra. I stretched out my hand to gauge the distance and was able to touch his truck meaning he was less than 3 feet from me and I said, “Move over!”
That summary covers the first 4 seconds of the video, which begins right as Wilder is passing 2nd St. NE. According to Wilder, he said he’d observed the motorist via his mirror at a four-way stop “one block behind”, so he decided to “move into the center of the one-way lane…if the truck were driving quickly”. (Emphasis added.) Right here in just this short segment, the tone of the whole encounter is set by Wilder. Intriguingly, there are several discrepancies between Wilder’s story and what’s in his video.
First issue: the location of the stop sign where he said he saw Watt’s truck.The actual stop isn’t visible on Wilder’s video, so perhaps it was just a minor oversight on Wilder’s part (though that’s odd since he seems familiar with the route). Still, it’s worth noting that the 4-way stop is two blocks behind at First St. NE, not one, which is Eckington Place. Maybe Wilder did first notice Watt’s truck when Watt was at the 4-way then kept an eye on him as he proceeded to the 3-way at Eckington. But in the absence of any such explanation, one is left to wonder if Wilder was actually referring to First St. NE on purpose or if he really meant Eckington Place and just didn’t realize that it was only a 3-way. Either way, it isn’t hard to check a map and confirm something like this
This leads into the next issue: Wilder attempts to race Watt for lane position. Considering how Watt’s truck appears abreast of Wilder almost immediately after the video began and that Wilder states that he was using his mirror, Wilder knew Watt was close behind. Watt presumably had also seen Wilder and elected to go around him instead of wait, as evidenced by Watt’s truck merging over the painted gateway toward Wilder as they entered ‘R’ St. At the same time, Wilder can be seen feverishly upshifting as he attempted to assert his place in the lane.
As it became evident that Watt was going to actually pass, Wilder says that “I stretched out my hand to gauge the distance and was able to touch his truck meaning he was less than 3 feet from me and I said, ‘Move over!'” However, the video again doesn’t quite agree with Wilder. Right after the 0:02 mark, Wilder’s arm can be seen reaching out. But on the video, the alleged stretch has all the elements of something more forceful. Additionally, a faint thud can be heard around 0:03 as his hand hits the truck. Audible contact isn’t expected if it was a mere touch, especially not contact that is audible to a bar-mounted camera. Since Watt and Wilder were nearly parallel at this point, the sound also cannot be attributed to either Watt or Wilder making a significant movement over toward the other. Therefore, Wilder had to have intentionally slapped the truck for there to be an actual sound. This is punctuated not by a polite “move over” as he states in his narrative, but by a far more agitated-sounding “move the fuck over!”
Those first few seconds take place over the space of 50 yards going from about the center of the intersection 2nd St. NE and ‘R’ St. then continuing down ‘R’. By time Wilder finished touching Watt’s truck, they are well into the street itself. Wilder’s narrative continues:
The speed table on this street is significant and I trusted that Mr. Watt would slow and at that point I would pass him and get safely out of the door zone. Instead, he maintained his speed and then quickly drove over the speed table. I yell again for him to move over and this time he does, but towards me instead of away. I braked to avoid the sideswipe and since he was stopping at the stop sign and my lane had been cut off I ran into his truck.
As they continued down the street, Watt and Wilder were virtually neck-and-neck. At that point, the door zone was quickly approaching. But instead of actually trying to stay out of it, Wilder chose maintain his speed, despite it being evident that he was being passed. Wilder attributed this to his assumption that Watt would slow down for the upcoming speed table, which presumably he figured would then allow him to take the lane in front of Watt. However, many cars could undoubtedly drive over that speed table at 25 MPH with ease. It should be no problem for a full-size pickup, even if it is a Tundra. Perhaps Wilder is unfamiliar with handling characteristics of various vehicles, but it is still foolhardy to assume that someone passing is going to slow down to allow a slower vehicle to take the lane ahead of them.
In actuality, Watt did begin to slow for the table as can be seen right around the 0:04 mark, but almost immediately accelerated as they go over the table. By the end of the table, Watt was clearly passing Wilder. At that point, Wilder was also decidedly in the heart of the door zone as he was passing the parked cars mere inches away from their wing mirrors. As they continued down the road, Watt pulled on Wilder some more. At that point, Wilder again yelled at Watt to “move the fuck over, buddy!” Watt can be seen beginning to move to turn right at the the stop sign. However, as they near the corner, Watt apparently realized that Wilder was (still!) right beside him and turns back to avoid sideswiping him. As Wilder realized that Watt was coming over, he downshifted and slammed on his brakes, which can be heard squealing in the video. While he didn’t get sideswiped, he still ended up hitting Watt’s bumper.
Why Wilder should keep his ticket
Watt certainly was in violation of DDOT Rule 18-2202.10, DC’s 3 foot law, but Wilder is not completely off the hook either. As detailed above, he refused to give way to Watt, even after he’d been obviously passed. Yet, coming from the exact same section of the law as the 3 foot statute, DDOT Rule 18-2202.4 requires that a vehicle being passed “give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle…and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed…”. In short, Wilder got passed and should’ve given way to Watt and he had numerous opportunities to do so.
First opportunity: entering ‘R’ St. Both sides are daylighted and there is a bus pad that looks to be about 60′ long that directly abuts the no parking zone on the right side of the street. No vehicle is stopped there in Wilder’s video, so he had around 100′ available to allow Watt to safely pass after he observed Watt driving fast in his mirror. Instead, Wilder attempted to speed up and take the lane.
Next opportunity: the entire drag race down ‘R’ St. Instead of even just letting up his cadence a bit,Wilder continued racing along next to Watt and directly in the door zone. That was quite ironic to observe since Wilder stated that avoiding the door zone was his original reasoning behind trying to take the lane in the first place. Every second of the encounter as they continued down the street was an equal opportunity for Wilder to drop back a little and give Watt a couple feet, but he continued to attempt and assert his position even after he’d clearly lost it.
Third opportunity: end of the ‘R’ St. There is another daylighted corner where Wilder could have ducked at the end of the street. Watt cannot be seen signaling in the video, but his actions suggest that he planned to turn right and the road straight ahead doesn’t go anywhere either. Yet, it seems that Watt did realize that Wilder was still keeping pace with him and stopped his turn to avoid being in Wilder’s path. But even after Watt had seen Wilder and altered his path to avoid a collision, Wilder still rode directly into the back of Watt’s truck.
There’s also the issue of Wilder’s own account. When he finally started braking, he was barely 60 feet from the stop bar and he was braking hard. Yet, he says he braked to “avoid the sideswipe”, not because he was approaching a stop sign. Was Wilder just so distracted by the encounter with Watt that he didn’t notice the stop sign up ahead? Would Wilder have planned to stop if not for the situation with Watt? Since DC doesn’t have an ‘Idaho stop‘ law,
Wilder deserves to keep his ticket. He’s at least as guilty of any road rage as Watt is and he was ultimately following too closely after he got passed, to say nothing of his riding straight into Watt’s bumper. His other videos also show numerous instances of similar encounters, including some where he runs stop signs chasing drivers. That’s not responsible riding at all. Vehicular cycling does have its benefits and one should definitely ride assertively, but there’s no point in being “dead right”. A little courtesy goes a long way, especially as bikes still remain the minority on American roads. It’s no secret that riders can be harassed for riding correctly, but hopefully that has decreased in DC with their anti-harassment law.
Watt should hop on a bike sometime and feel the wind in his face. It’s a far different world when pushing the pedals actually requires energy, but just preaching or reading about that change isn’t the same as actually experiencing it. For as much of a hurry as he seemed to be in, his trip definitely got delayed far longer than waiting for Wilder would’ve taken.
Washington, D.C. could improve the ‘R’ St. route. In another video, Wilder calls it “fantastic” while rolling along a street choked with cars. While possibly better than riding on a freeway, those are not fantastic biking conditions at all. A priority bike route should have as few stops as possible, so those signs he refers to have got to go. Though the paint is likely an interim change (picture at left shows old configuration), they should also consider upgrading those gateways from paint to something more substantial soon to keep this kind of conflict from repeating itself. And traffic diverters should be employed to make ‘R’ St. completely unattractive as a through route for cars.
Stay safe on the roads and stay alive. Ride assertively but smartly. “Right of way by tonnage” means that sometimes, being right and being safe are not compatible with each other. It sucks, but we just have to deal with it. If possible, report harassment episodes. Even though charges may not be brought, the information can still be aggregated and help transportation planners improve the streetscape. A hot spot of complaints is a place to focus on that may not be evident strictly from collision data or Strava.
One common qualm associated with bike/ped projects is that they’re “expensive”, especially when by themselves. As a result, many people balk at the idea that they be funded by tax dollars, especially when biking is still overwhelmingly viewed as a leisure activity akin to golf. “Why should we have to pay for Tour-de-France trainers?” is the general sentiment. Bike lanes on arterials sit empty all week then spring forth with pelotons on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
However, notwithstanding those out on the weekends, the vast majority of people are not willing to bike in the midst of traffic traveling at several multiples of their speed. (It may also be worth noting that Saturday and Sunday mornings have decidedly lower traffic counts than normal weekdays, so it’s likely that while they don’t mind a few cars, many of those people are also not willing to ride in traffic either.) Stats on this have been collected for years. Low stress environments created via traffic calming and/or separation bring out the casual rider that is “interested but concerned”. Striping a road that has a 35-55 MPH speed limit does not create a low stress environment.
As biking increases in popularity not only for recreation, but for commuting too, better provision for riders must be undertaken. Considering the costs associated with any infrastructure, it is imperative that the best bike facilities be planned and built from the very beginning right along with the regular road network. This avoids the costs of having to change things up later. Instead, space for cycling too often continues to be marginalized as a stripe on the side of the roadway. While these are nice on quiet neighborhood streets, they have no place on basically anything bigger or busier than that. People continue to vote with their wheels and ride on the sidewalk in locations like that.
New and redevelopment should take steps to ensure that the separation standards are adopted that encourage people to ride their bikes for more than just recreation. With the clock ticking for mandates laid forth by AB32 and SB375, drastic changes need to be made too the urban environment to meet them. Changing the status quo in building is a good place to start. Billions of dollars are flowing to the Inland Empire for infrastructure projects and development. Let’s make sure that they enhance the area and help it meet those goals and stop missing opportunities.
A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion put on by the Urban Land Institute on transportation in the Inland Empire. It centered heavily on the changing landscape regionally that is being brought on by demographic shifts and consumer preferences. Suffice it to say that not many more single-family homes should be built for awhile.
Of course, the main focus was the changing shift in how people move themselves around. Not surprisingly, biking and walking as possible solutions to transport problems were given only passing mention. During the Q&A with the panelists, I sought to further clarify info about biking and walking and got decent feedback. Part of SCAG’s initiatives do focus on increasing the bike/walk mode share from the presently paltry levels to be slightly less paltry.
But my hackles were raised a little by the suggestion of one of the panelists that the bike industry needs to be “doing its part” to develop “smart bikes”. The argument was that since cars are getting smarter and will soon be able to communicate with each other, then bikes on the road should also expect to communicate with the cars, with an insinuation that they had no part in future transportation if they can’t “play fair”. I find that to be a glaring error and I hope planners don’t lap this up like they have John Forester’s outrageous claims.
We’ve all been anxiously awaiting the self-driving car for decades. At the current rate of development, cars will soon be able to communicate with each other and share information in real time about positions, speed, intended path, etc. to reduce collisions. Currently, newer cars are also already employing systems that can recognize a bike/ped in the path of the car and assist the driver in avoiding hitting them. The implications of this continue to be debated, but requiring bikes to also communicate with cars isn’t the solution to accommodate the unique needs of bicycle riders and certainly shouldn’t be touted as an alternative to actually building safe infrastructure (which is overwhelmingly done via separation).
Using the above video as an example, I’m not sure how the situation would’ve been much different had the bike been able to communicate with the car. The rider recognized the road hazard and swerved to avoid it. While a smart bike certainly could’ve beamed the deviation information to the car, the car should’ve already detected it anyway and applied the brakes. The video shows what is likely a low-speed environment similar to a fietsstraat (bicycle boulevard), so absolute separation isn’t expected here anyway. However, on an open road, relying on intervehicular communication and detection techonology alone cannot be allowed to replace the need for fully separate facilities.
The reasons are two-fold. First a bike cannot quite operate like a car, even if equipped with gizmos and gadgetry. Despite the advent of electronic braking and the proliferation of electric-assist or full electric bikes along with more flashy improvements, bikes must still often deviate from their paths for road hazards that a car needn’t worry about in an unpredictable fashion. On high-quality, separated cycle paths, this is hardly an issue (in part because such hazards are far fewer to begin with). A deviation there wouldn’t put them in the path of a car, just perhaps in front of another rider. Deviating on a 55 MPH arterial puts them in the path of someone driving 70.
Secondly, a bike is not going fast in the grand scheme of things. Most riders in countries with large segments of the population traveling by bike ride in the vicinity of 12 MPH. While many American bike commuters profess to travel at 20 MPH, that’s still relatively slow compared to a car. One of the advantages of autonomous and fully automatic, self-driving cars would be that they can operate more efficiently at higher speeds than allowed in the current environment due to elimination of human error. At the moment, Texas has a stretch of highway with an 85 MPH limit and many other states have 80 MPH as the top limit. (It’s officially 70 MPH here in CA, but we all know that CHP will fly past you on I-5 when you’re cruising at 90.) Autonomous cars could conceivably drive in close proximity at double that speed, but sticking a bunch of bikes in the car’s pathway, whether or not they’re communicating with the car, will still drastically reduce the speed of the cars, perhaps all the way down to bike speed.
So while “smart” bikes would certainly be interesting additions, let’s not continue to ignore the means of actually making roads safer for riders and other non-motorized users. They can’t be expected to mix with streams of fast traffic and slowing the traffic to their speed is foolish. Removing interactions as much as possible is still by far the best option available for actually encouraging bicycle use among the masses. After all, most would ride if they felt safe, while hundreds more stick to sidewalks or salmon bike lanes because it feels safer even though it’s the exact opposite. Technology is great, but a far greater ROI is available at much lower cost with some relatively simple planning.