Time for Emotions: Thoughts of Separated Bike Lanes
the Thoughts of Separated Bike Lanes on a City Street
Brings out the Emotions of Motorists and Cyclists
The Current Dialogue; Proposal for separated bike lanes (SBL) on 7th St. SW, Calgary AB
Thoughts from a local resident
What is it all about? Is it not about changing our city for the future to be vibrant, lively, sustainable, green, and healthy? Cycling, transit, walking, lively streets and neighbourhoods, and densification are the way to get there.
The tagline – One more cyclist, one less car to contribute to motorized traffic congestion.
Two-way separated bike lanes should increase road cycling traffic to 2,000 to 4,000 per day. In other cities, some of these facilities peak in the 7,000 to 10,000 cyclists per day range. During the peak traffic congestion period, there should be 300 to 600 less cars on the road. On high traffic congested streets, a noticeable reduction in car trip time should happen. In comparison, this daily cycling traffic volume is equivalent to car traffic volumes during peak rush hour period of one to two general traffic lanes. Since peak hour sometimes tends to be 30% higher than the next busiest hour, does that mean a general traffic lane will become surplus? Is that a direction to work towards? Is it just wishful dreaming?
Reaction to Proposals for Separated Bike Lanes (SBL)
It is interesting to observe the dialogue from city politicians, staff, the public (both motorists and cyclists), and from the media when there is any movement to propose installation of separated bike lanes.
Motorists tend to express their desire towards the status quo as the best policy. After all, they pay directly for the investment in roadways and their maintenance, not the pedestrians nor the cyclists. The fact that these motorists may live in other suburban communities and drive to work on the candidate streets for separated bike lanes, does not distract them from coming forth with strong objections. Desire for having a vibrant, liveable, sustainable and green city where air pollution from cars is reduced, seems to leave their thinking process and emotions takes over. More on this later.
Businesses usually are vocal, negative voices when the environment around them changes. Businesses, including retailers, do not want change, except if they conceive the change. Businesses that do not change with time and with their environment go down the dinosaur path to extinction, via bankruptcy. So, a change is happening on 7th St SW. Why are the local businesses serving customers not grabbing this change and use creative marketing thinking to grab new customers and benefit from the change? Why are the businesses not hassling the City for bike parking spots and bike parking corrals in front of their stores? This certainly seems to be the situation in Austin TX. For the retailers serving alcoholic drinks and food. If a business success is dependant on 35 car parking spots on the street instead of 35 off-road parking spots, the signs are clear that this business is well on its way to insolvency.
Now, cyclists are not a homogenous group and come out quite vocal, as well as motorists, for their favourite solutions. In the dialogue, the best solutions for growing cycling traffic seem to leave their thinking process, as well. Considerations do not seem to come into the debate for what it will take in infrastructure designs to persuade motorists that they should leave their cars at home and cycle instead. Considerations do not seem to enter into their dialogue for what will it take in cycling infrastructure designs to persuade parents with children of ages of preschool, primary school, or young teenagers to let these children cycle with or without their parents.
Too frequently, the media seems to be too interested in firing up some debate to sell papers, airtime, or ad space. So, if they sense that a controversy can be started, they are too willing to go for it.
Cyclists and Dialogue on Separated Bike Lanes
Some cyclists take the position that what current cyclists want is good enough, be it ‘bikes and cars sharing the road’ signs on street posts, shared road markings, or bike lanes. So, why ask for more? Well, municipalities in North America and other places, including Europe, have proven that minimal cycling infrastructure means low cycling rate, usually below 1.5% cycling mode share and also frequently well below 0.8%. Meanwhile, cities in Europe with more advanced cycling infrastructure and with a lot of doses of physical separation seem to have cycling mode share in the 15% and above range, and frequently passing 25%.
Separation, What is It?
Now, there seems to be a lot of dialogue around what separation means. Sometimes, one thinks that cities will call any bike lane a form of separation just to get good press in its cycling initiative. Well, there is certainly some reasonable argument for that. Is there not? After all, there are laws stating that motorists are not allowed on bike lanes with solid lines. There is a 4 mm line separation between the extended arm of a cyclist and the mirror of a swerving car. Now, let’s consider the willingness of motorists to leave their cars behind and cycle on these bike lanes or parents willing to let their younger children cycle there, as well. From statistics, cities with a bike lane infrastructure and a more complete network, may raise their cycling mode share into the 3% range and occasionally, with adventuresome residents, to the 5% level. Definitely, this is a good movement forward but not enough.
Now, when the discussion is to move the cycling traffic beyond that, separated bike lanes (SBL) on road right-of-ways become a point of dialogue. Some think that virtual separation, rather than physical separation, is the way to go. So, instead of a 4 mm single line separation, suggestions come forward for a wider single line adding a few more millimetres to the separation or for a double line producing a 10 mm separation. Sometimes, the dialogue focuses on wider painted separation, maybe 25 cm or 50 cm or 75cm or a metre. It is interesting to note how Paris has installed many bollards along sidewalks to keep cars off that space. So, why would motorists and delivery drivers not start using this buffer space and the bike lanes to park their cars or trucks? Now how attractive will this facility be to attract more motorists to cycling than normal bike lanes? Is there any statistical data available on this?
Then the dialogue moves to “cycle tracks”. First, one needs to figure out what this term means in any dialogue. Is it the Copenhagen definition of half-raised tracks positioned between the elevations of general traffic curb lanes and sidewalks? Is it the Netherlands definition, which seems to mean any cycle facility including what some of us call bike paths and bike trails (CROW manual definition)? Then there are those who want to include buffered bike lanes into the term to up the number of kilometres of more advanced cycling facilities that municipalities have. For this dialogue, the Copenhagen definition will apply. Definitely, gains in cycling traffic volume can be experienced. Again, if there are no forms of physical separation, then motorists tend to use any space that they can get their cars into for parking. So, some advancement comes from the design in persuading motorists to make a switch but not as far that one would like to see.
Then the dialogue moves towards physical separation between motorists and cyclists. This type of separation comes in many forms from plastic bollards, to concrete barriers that cars cannot mount, to landscaped barriers that enhance the streetscape and dynamics of a street. The dialogue brings forth arguments that one-way, separated bike lanes on each side of a road or a couplet of one-way roads are better. Then the arguments come forth that two-way, separated bike lanes on one side of streets are more appealing to motorists to switch and a better Marketing Tool for cycling. The arguments for two-way, separated bike lanes involve by; selling the concept of these lanes to passing motorists; focusing on cycling trip time efficiency; reducing probability of motorists-cyclists interaction; rejigging streets more toward the human dimension; creating interesting streetscapes; cost of implementation the bike lanes; reductions of on-road car parking spaces; continued viability of retailers abutting such facilities; and so on.
There is more to come. Comments will come on:
- The City’s proposal – Two-way, physically separated bike lanes (SBL) on the east side of 7th St SW, Calgary, and its impact on vibrancy, liveability, sustainability, and green communities.
- Considerations for design of separated bike lanes.
- Considerations for a downtown cycling network.
- The roads are for motorists; after all, motorists pay for building and maintaining the roads.
These articles will bring forth some of the arguments for the preference for two-way, separated bike lanes, using a current dialogue happening in Calgary, AB for 7th St, SW.
©H-JEH Becker, Velo.Urbanism, Third Wave Cycling Group Inc., 2013