CategoryBicycling

Big Marsh Bike Park is the coolest new city park

Big Marsh Bike Park opening day from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

Rahm Emanuel has opened a lot of cool new parks – Maggie Daley, Northerly Island, 606, and Grant Park Skate Park – since he became mayor. (Making arguments that the parking lot south of Soldier Field can’t be anything but a parking lot pretty lame.)

This morning Emanuel cut the ribbon on the Big Marsh Bike Park, first announced in July 2014. It’s still known as Park 564, until the Chicago Park District board adopts a new name.

It’s located at 11599 S. Stony Island Ave. in the South Deering community area in an area already known as Big Marsh. I mapped the park into OpenStreetMap based on a map from the architect, Hitchcock Design Group*.

I've traced an architect's map of the park into OpenStreetMap.

I’ve traced an architect’s map of the park into OpenStreetMap.

The single-track trails, terrain park, and pump track, are free and open to the public every day from dawn until dusk. It resembles the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder Colorado, which I visited in 2014.

Big Marsh was listed in the city’s Habitat Directory in 2005, noting, “Big Marsh is the largest individual wetland in the Calumet Open Space Reserve with approximately 90 acres of open water. Hiking and biking trails and canoe launch are ideas for this area in the future. As of this writing, the site is undeveloped.”

A map of the Big Marsh wetland in 2005 in the City of Chicago's Habitat Directory.

A map of the Big Marsh wetland in 2005 in the City of Chicago’s Habitat Directory. The bike park is mainly in the cleared space east of the #2 on the map.

The area is also part of the the State of Illinois’s Millennium Reserve program, a group of projects to restore natural areas, create new economic development opportunities in the area, and build more recreational sites.

There is no bike infrastructure to access the site, and many roads leading to the site are in bad condition, or have high-speed car traffic. There is a large car parking lot at the site.

* If you would like to help me map the bike park into OpenStreetMap, you can load the architect’s map of the site into JOSM using this WMS tile layer.

Panorama of the bike park, and the landfill to its south

A rider on the terrain park small trail

FOIA is great…if you know who and what to ask for

Dooring is dangerous (sometimes deadly) for bicyclists. Where's the data? Image via The Blaze

Dooring is dangerous (sometimes deadly) for bicyclists. Where’s the data? Image via The Blaze

tl;dr: This is the list of all citation types that the Chicago Dept. of Administrative Hearings “administers”.

The Freedom of Information Act is my favorite law because it gives the public – and me – great access to work, information, and data that the public – including me – causes to have created for the purpose of running governments.

FOIA requires public agencies to publish (really, email you) stuff that they make and don’t publish on their own (which is dumb), and reply to you within five days.

All you have to do is ask for it!

BUT: Who do you ask?

AND: What do you ask them for?

This is the hardest thing about submitting a FOIA request.

Lately, my friend and I – more my friend than me – have been trying to obtain data on the number of traffic citations issued to motorists for opening their door into traffic – a.k.a. “dooring”.

It is dangerous everywhere, and in Chicago this is illegal. In Chicago it carries a steep fine. $500 if you don’t hurt a bicyclist, and $1,000 if you do.

My friend FOIA’d the Chicago Police Department. You know, the agency that actually writes the citations. They don’t have bulk records to provide.

Then he FOIA’d the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, and the Chicago Department of Finance.

Each of these five agencies tells you on their website how to submit a FOIA request. You can also use FOIA Machine to help you find a destination for your request.

None of them have the records either. The “FOIA officer” for the Administrative Hearings department suggested that he contact the Cook County Circuit Court. So that’s what we’re doing.

Oh, and since the Administrative Hearings department doesn’t have this information (even though they have the records of citations for a lot of other traffic violations), I figured I would ask for them for a list of citations that they do have records of.

And here’s the list, all 3,857 citation types. You’ll notice a lot of them don’t have a description, and some of very short and unclear descriptions. Hopefully you can help me fix that!

I can grant you editing access on the Google Doc and we can improve this list with some categorizations, like “building violations” and “vehicle code”.

 

Riding on a ring of Rotterdam

Map of bike ride around some Rotterdam harbors

This map shows my bike ride starting from “My flat” and going west, then south, then east, and north.

Read more frequent sabbatical updates on my Tumblr.

Two Thursdays ago I took a two hour bike ride around the western part of Rotterdam and some of its harbors. I used “GPS Recorder” for the iPhone to track my trip, and it registered that I biked a little under 38 kilometers (24 miles). The trip is notable because it uses both the Beneluxtunnel and the Maastunnel (the river is called “Maas”, pronounced like the Spanish word “mas”), and the route one takes differs depending on where they begin and end.

My bike parked on the canal in front of my flat

Sometimes I park my bike on the canal in front of my flat, and other times there’s bike parking on the sidewalk. Look at the boat; in the back you see a car. Most shippers take a car with them so they can drive around the city at their destination. Some ships have the car already in a kind of tray that can be lifted by a crane dedicated for this purpose where they dock.

I started at my flat in the Nieuwe Westen neighborhood, across the canal from Spangen, about 10 minutes west of the Rotterdam Centraal train station. From there I headed slightly north to cross the canal on a bridge that carries a main road past the Sparta football stadium. Then it heads into the suburb of Schiedam and through a very pretty nature preserve.

Most bridges are moveable. This one is a bascule bridge and those red and white poles are the gates that close the road and the bike path.

Most bridges are moveable. This one is a bascule bridge and those red and white poles are the gates that close the road and the bike path.

Beyond the nature preserve the route winds past some “havens” (harbors) and reaches the north side of the Benelux tunnel. An escalator takes you and your bike down about three levels to a tunnel that’s separated from the northbound highway by a full-height wall. There’s an elevator, also, which “bromfietsen” (scooter) riders must use.

Riding south towards the northern Beneluxtunnel entrance

The north bike/pedestrian entrance to the Beneluxtunnel.

On the south side of the harbor you pass through a village, Pernis, in the city of Schiedam. To give you a sense of how connected small towns in the Netherlands are by transit, it has its own metro rapid transit station. This is the only part of the route where there’s not a dedicated bike path.

Abandoned house in Schiedam

An abandoned house in Pernis, taken from the bike path atop a “dijk” (dike). Behind the line of trees is the Metro line C and the A4 motorway, which is heading to and from the same tunnel I came out of.

After the village, the bike path goes south and up on an overpass to cross over a railroad and then takes you down to the east. The path parallels freight railroad tracks and a highway. Huge machines upon which the AT-AT walker in Star Wars was modeled are dormant in one of the many intermodal yards on the harbor.

The bike path has to cross the highway to the south side of it, and there’s a signalized intersection to make this maneuver. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a timed intersection in the Netherlands. Every one I’ve passed through and paid attention to has a sensor of some kind. In many cases this reduces the amount of time any one person has to wait (okay, that sounds impossible, but it’s also dependent on the time of day, the traffic volumes of each mode, and which road or bike path is supposed to have priority). As I pedal toward the intersection it turns green before I get there, so I don’t have to stop.

I have to make another crossing over railroad tracks and get to the other side of a different highway. There’s another overpass this time. I stopped on my way down because some workers were carrying containers on what looked like Transformers-sized forklifts.

Bike around the Rotterdam harbor from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

After the overpass is a path under the highway, and from here and to the east most of the harbor is far away. There are office buildings on the north side of this path, and a railroad yard on the south side. Between the office buildings are tracks so trains in the yard can reach the harbor. All of the tracks cross the bike path at an angle. Signs say “let op” (caution) and because a fence and hedges separating the bike path from the yard, it seems like a train could pop out onto the bike path at any moment.

Ten minutes later and I’ve reached a neighborhood. On the harbor side is what looks like housing for workers, and the other side is residential. I can see the Maastunnel’s ventilation shaft. One more corner turned and I can see the little house where “fietsers” (cyclists) and “voetgangers” (pedestrians; “voet” is pronounced like foot) take the escalator down.

There are separate levels for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s unclear where the road tunnel is, whereas the low rumbling noise I heard in the Beneluxtunnel gave away its position. The tunnel slopes downward toward the middle, so you can gain a little momentum but it seemed harder in the Maastunnel than in the Benelux tunnel because of what felt like a headwind (maybe the ventilation system is strong).

Maastunnel

Descending into the Maastunnel so I can ride north to home.

The Maastunnel was built from 1937 to 1942, and its 74-year-old age shows: the escalators have fascinating wooden steps. The walls along the escalators are adorned with photographs showing people using the tunnel, and other scenes of building the tunnel. The Beneluxtunnel was built in two phases, with the first group of two tunnels opening in 1967, and the second group of six tunnels, including the bike and pedestrian tunnel, in 2002.

Now that I’ve been riding around Rotterdam for four weeks I can always get home without consulting a map and it’s an easy ride home from the north side of the Maastunnel to home, and I can take several different routes that are all about the same distance and time.

The rate of change on city streets: USA versus the Netherlands

ThinkBike 2013

One of the people in this photo is Dutch. We’re on the Dearborn bike route installed downtown in 2012. The next downtown protected bike route was installed in 2015 serving a different area. However, the Dearborn bike route has become so popular that it’s size and design (t’s a narrow, two-way lane) are insufficient for the demand (who knew that bicycling in a city center would be so high in demand, especially on a protected course?) and there are no plans to build a complementary facility to improve the conditions.

My friend Mark wrote the following paragraph on his blog, BICYCLE DUTCH, relating the need to change a city and its streets to the way families change the contents of essential parts of their homes. In other words, cities and streets are like our living rooms and they must also change as we change.

Think about your living room, chances are you change it completely every 15 to 20 years. Because you need a wider sofa for the expanding family, or because you rightfully think that table has had its best years. Maybe the extra big seat for granddad is sadly not needed anymore. Of course, things can’t always be perfect: you have a budget to consider and it is not so easy to change the walls. Replacing things does give you the opportunity to correct earlier mistakes and to get the things which are more useful now. While you are at it, you can also match the colours and materials better again. Our cities are not so different from our living rooms. Just as families grow and later decrease in size again when the children leave the house, the modal share of the different types of traffic users changes over the years. These shifting modal shares warrant changes to the street design. So you may need some extra space where it was not necessary before, but if you see less and less of a certain type of traffic, its space can be reallocated to other road users.

What I really want to talk about is the rate of change in the Netherlands. I’ve visited Mark’s home in s’Hertogenbosh (Den Bosch), and we’ve walked around Utrecht.

One thing he told me, which is widely evident, is that the Netherlands is always renewing its streets. Or it has been for decades (maybe since World War II). They update street design standards regularly and streets that no longer meet these designs (or a few generations back) are updated to meet them.

Now, the two changes – updating the standards and updating the streets – don’t happen so gloriously hand in hand. Just like in the United States it takes a couple of years to come up with the right design.

The difference between our two countries is the regularity in updating the designs, and the regularity in updating streets.

I’ll lead with one example in Chicago and ask that you tell me about projects in your city that repair what’s long been a pain in the ass.

An intersection in the Wicker Park neighborhood got modern traffic signals, added crosswalk signals (there had never been any), and a stupid, sometimes dangerous little island removed. One of the four legs didn’t have a marked crosswalk. The state of Illinois chipped in most of the cost of the update – this was known at least four years before the construction actually happened.

When I wrote a blog post about the project for Grid Chicago in 2012, I found a photo from 1959 that showed the intersection in the same configuration. I also wrote in that post that the construction was delayed from 2012 to 2013. Well, it got built in 2014.

Milwaukee & Wood ca. 1959

Intersections like this – with difficult-to-see traffic signals that motorist routinely blow past, missing crosswalks, and curb ramps that aren’t accessible – persist across Chicago in the state they’ve been in for 55 or more years.

The “reconstructed bicycle route” that Mark discusses and illustrates in his blog post is known to have been updated at least once a decade. He wrote, “pictures from 1980, 1998 and 2015 show how one such T-junction was changed several times. The protected intersection went through some stages, but having learned by trial and error, the design we see now is one that fits the present ‘family’ best.”

Three books by well-known city transportation planners have all been published within months of each other. I read and reviewed Sam Schwartz’s “Street Smart”, and I’m reading Janette Sadik-Khan’s “Street Fight“. Gabe Klein’s “Startup City” is the third. All of them advocate for new designs to match the changing attitudes and needs cities have. Actually, the needs of the cities haven’t really changed, but our attitudes and policies – and the politics – around how to update cities has evolved.

I don’t know what can spur all of these seemingly minor (they’re no Belmont Flyover) infrastructural updates. I don’t think a lack of money is to blame. I think a lack of coordination, staffing, and planning ensures that outdated and unsafe designs remain on city streets.

P.S. The Netherlands “renewal” attitude isn’t limited to streets. The Dutch national railway infrastructure company “ProRail” (which is “private” but owned by the government) has been completely replacing all of the primary train stations. The Dutch have been rebuilding dikes and building flood control projects for decades, many under the common name “Delta Works”.

Here’s a photo in Nijmegen where the government was building a new, bypass canal that would ease a shipping route, create a controlled flood area, a new recreation area, but that would also displace homes.

#Space4Cycling: Chicago needs intuitive bike lanes and other street markings

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

In this case at Milwaukee and Green, space was made and well-marked for cycling but no space was outlined for driving. The driver of the black car must pull up this far to see beyond the parked silver car. In the Netherlands they’ve come up with a solution that would work here: shift the green bike lane toward the crosswalk so that the motorist crosses the crosswalk and bike lane at the same time and has space to wait to turn left between the bike lane and the travel lane.

What does an intuitive bike lane or other street marking mean?

It means that the street user can reasonably (yeah) guess, and guess right, what they’re supposed to do.

For bicyclists in Chicago, the lack of bike lane markings that continue to the edge of an intersection (often demarcated at the stop bar) creates an unintuitive bike lane design.

At intersections, an intuitive bike lane design would mean that the bicyclist and the motorist know where and how to position their vehicles in respect to the other, even if there isn’t a car there yet, or there’s not a bike there yet. Many intersections in Chicago that have protected bike lanes do this; especially the ones with separate signal phases. And these intersections work really well for bicyclists: they stand safely away from motorists, and motorists don’t attempt to occupy these spaces.

Inverted sharrow

The “sharrow before and after the intersection because the city dropped the bike lane” is the most common “didn’t make space for cycling” problem. There was plenty of space to make for cycling here, and nearly every other “sharrow…” situation: it’s along the curb and it’s subsidized, curbside parking for drivers.

But currently at dozens, if not hundreds, of Chicago intersections where the bike lane drops before the intersection, you’ll see bicyclists behave and maneuver in several ways, none of which are accommodated by the street’s design.

Some people will bike between two lanes of cars to the front of the line, and when they get there, lacking a bike box or advanced stop line, they’ll stand with their bike in the area between the crosswalk and the stop bar. If the first car is over the stop bar, then people will usually stand with their bike on the crosswalk.

Riding north on Damen towards Fullerton-Elston

The sharrow painted on the pavement, and an accompanying sign saying, “shared lane – yield to bikes” are unintuitive because no one can occupy the same space at the same time, and the symbols don’t communicate who gets first right to a specific part of the road space. In the end, though, in a situation like this, I’ve never seen someone wait back this far on their bike, and many will consider riding on the sidewalk to get to the front. When they get there, though, they won’t find any #space4cycling.

Others will bike between a lane of cars and the curb to get to the front of the line.

New buffered bike lane on Halsted just ends

This is another version of the “sharrow before and after the intersection because the city dropped the bike lane”. Why’d they drop it in this instance? To make space for Halsted Street drivers turning right, and to push more drivers northward through its intersection with Clybourn Avenue.

Others will wait to the side of drivers, and other still will wait behind a line of cars, putting themselves at a major time disadvantage as the people who biked up to the front. Not to mention they’ll choke on more fumes.

Then, when the light turns green, motorists behave differently. Some will follow behind the first bicyclist, while others will try to pass but closely because they’re essentially sharing a lane side-by-side – this exerts a lot of mental stress on the bicyclist.

Where the city has built space that’s absolutely not to be shared (meaning it’s for the exclusive use by people bicycling), then the designs are substandard because they still allow or seem open to driving. Otherwise, though, space for cycling that’s “part time” is only usable space for those holding the most power and not for the people riding bikes who need it.

frankling at washington bike lane (composite image)

In this new design that built a “protected intersection” for bicyclists going north on Franklin and east on Washington Street, the bike space is still a drivable area. (Top photo by Kevin Zolkiewicz; bottom photo by Skip Montanaro)

These deficiencies in Chicago’s bike lane network are often the result of failing to make, or make well, space for cycling from space used for parking or turn lanes.

Bicycling on the Dearborn Street bike lane

Three years after the City of Chicago built the novel and well-used two-way cycle track on one-way Dearborn, this situation north of the track still exists. And somehow they expect drivers on a 4-lane road to travel at 20 MPH.

This is 2015 and we continue to “not make space for cycling” despite every policy that calls for making bicycling in Chicago safe and convenient so that more people will do it. It’s just that in the unwritten policies it says that you can implement that policy if it doesn’t impede driving*.

* The City of Chicago has built many road diets (a reduction in the number of travel lanes) in the last four years, and some before that. A few of these have worked well for bicyclists, like on 55th and Vincennes where they built protected and buffered bike lanes, respectively (and Dearborn through the Loop).

I put road diets in a note after “impede driving” because they’re only done where they also won’t make local traffic more congested on that street or an intersecting streets.

On the face of it, that’s exactly what many people believe they’ll do because a road diet removes or converts lanes and that’s seen as the same as reducing car capacity which will shift that car traffic to other streets. That pretty much doesn’t happen and the city only implements road diets on streets that have MORE capacity than is used.

Transportation infrastructure is for more than transportation’s sake

Transportation infrastructure should be designed for more than carrying people through places. It also needs to be about carrying people to places, because transportation is for moving people as much for commerce as it is for being social.

The Dutch consider “social safety” when designing and redesigning streets (they’re constantly upgrading streets, roads, and entire neighborhoods to standards that seem to be frequently updated).

Mark Waagenbuur posted a new video this week showing a new tunnel under Amsterdam Centraal, the main train station in Amsterdam, and he highlighted several of its social safety features.

The screen grab I embedded above – and posted on Twitter where it got a lot of shares and likes – shows an aspect that’s common across all cycling facilities in built-up areas: it’s wide enough to ride side by side with your friend, mother, or lover, with still enough room on your left for people to pass you in the same lane.

Another aspect of this tunnel is that it has sound-absorbing panels. Often tunnels have a disturbing echo that inhibit comfortable communication – my new home office has an echo and it makes it hard to have conversations on the phone here because I hear an annoying feedback. The communication is important to be able to hear people cycling with you, but also to hear what other people are doing.

The tunnel has a final feature that supports social safety: clear, wide, and open sight lines. Not just from end to end, but also to the sides. It’s hard to hide around the corner because the breadth of vision is so wide that you would see someone lurking in the corner.

For Chicagoans who use one of the many old tunnels under Lake Shore Drive connecting the “mainland” to the nation’s most popular trail along Lake Michigan, the feeling of claustrophobia and invisibility of what’s around the bend is too common. New tunnels, which I prefer to bridges because you go downhill first, should be a priority when the State of Illinois rebuilds Lake Shore Drive north of Grand Avenue in the next decade. This is what those tunnels look like; sometimes they have mirrors.

We can sell ads on the Lakefront Trail underpasses, but they're still shitty to walk through

5 reasons to come to Bikecitement Night!

WTB@YBS

West Town Bikes sent these young adults to Youth Bike Summit in New York City (2013). Photo: Michael Young

I am copying this message straight from the West Town Bikes e-newsletter I just received, with some personal notes in brackets. WTB holds multiple fundraisers each year. Tour de Fat is their largest, but we need something to do in the winter, right?

Bikecitement in three weeks is a time for people to get to know more about West Town Bikes, its people and its programs, than possible at Tour de Fat – all while enjoying Revolution Brewing refreshments.

1. Support one of Chicago’s premier bike-based, youth development organizations.
[I support it in multiple ways: blogging about it now, going to their events, taking friends there to help them fix their bikes, and buying my bike parts there. I also make monetary donations.]

2. Meet our talented & enthusiastic youth leaders.
[The youth who join West Town Bikes – either as students, or as apprentices and later staff members – are the coolest, brightest young adults I know.]

3. Bid on auction items like theater and performance tickets, dinner at fine restaurants, Chicago sports memorabilia, and much, much more.

[I don’t like going out to these things, so I’ll leave room on the silent auction bidding sheet for your name.]

4. Enjoy craft beers & tasty treats from Revolution Brewery.

[Revolution Brewing makes the best beer, Eugene Porter, and donates a portion of its profits to bike culture endeavors – the more you eat and drink at Revolution the more money they can devote to that cause. The founder, Josh Deth, is also an urban planner and basically did his own zoning analysis about parking requirements for the brewpub.]

5. Enjoy the “Bike Scene” with the West Town Staff!

[The staff, what can I say, are committed, passionate, and fun to hang out with.]

West Town Bikes

Emily Leidenfrost, a program coordinator at West Town Bikes, helps kids make crafts at Tour de Fat this summer. Photo: Daniel Rangel

Addendum: This summer I co-taught a bike planning class with Emily Leidenfrost. She led the class while I joined a few times each week to teach urban planning and bike infrastructure design concepts. I instructed a group of five high school students (most of whom became college freshman last month) to collect and analyze data, and prepare a professional report that described the problem of bicycling among key sites along Western Avenue in multiple neighborhoods.

When
Monday, November 9, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM

at Revolution Brewing’s brewpub in Logan Square
2323 N Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

Buy tickets now!

I finally heard “My best friends are bike lanes” at a meeting

Augusta @ Washtenaw

Yes, more bikes, but keep them in the parks! Unrelated photo by Josh Koonce.

Last night at a ward transportation meeting I finally got to hear it: “My best friends are bike lanes”. AKA the plight of the motorist.

In many words, bike lanes and other kinds of infrastructure that make bicycling in a city safer and more comfortable must be impinging on driving and the needs of the motorist must be considered.

Okay, it wasn’t exactly uttered “my best friends are bike lanes”, but no one ever says that verbatim.

It went more like this: “We’re all for more biking. Biking in the park, more of that, that’s great. But you have to consider the motorist because there’s very little bicycling in our neighborhood and most of us don’t ride bikes.”

No one ever says that they oppose the act of riding a bicycle. Doug Gordon keeps a diary of the different ways these phrases are coded. They say something that sounds like the opposite: “I’m not against cycling” and “We’re not opposed to bicycle lanes”.

Yes, they want more biking…but not if it affects driving.
Well, that’s just not possible.

And we’re not even starting from a place of equality, either, regardless of how many people in the neighborhood are riding bikes versus driving cars.

No, instead, there is zero infrastructure for bicycling, and all infrastructure is optimized (er, “accommodating”) for driving. However the city staff at this meeting said there are some times, evident from their traffic counts, when bicycles made up 10 percent of traffic on certain streets in the neighborhood.

So there are people bicycling, yet are not accommodated. Driving is fully accommodated and anything less than that is essentially impinging on this motorist’s right to drive and park for free on publicly-funded streets.

Welcome back, Bloomingdale Trail

Back to transportation service, that is.

Before it was the Bloomingdale Trail – associated parks comprising The 606 – it was the Bloomingdale Line, an elevated railroad route along Bloomingdale Avenue to serve industrial customers in Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park.

It was abandoned in the early 2000s. I don’t know when the last customer received a delivery via the line. It reopened to use for transportation on June 6, 2015, or 6/06. Now that same embankment transports pedestrians and bicyclists, in addition to providing new recreational and public space.

I’ve ridden and walked on it four times now since the opening and there are people all over the place on it. I tweeted as much last night.

On Monday, two days after opening, I filmed this 14-minute video of the entire west-to-east length and condensed it to 4 minutes.

Bicycling west to east on the Bloomingdale Trail from Steven Vance on Vimeo.

The solution to its crowding problem (I guess one of those “good problems to have”) is more. More car-free spaces. More low-stress transportation spaces. Space for walking, and space for cycling. Which we currently don’t have on the ground.

Why the next downtown Chicago cycle track shouldn’t be two-way

Divvying in a suit and a skirt

Riding south, in the gutter pan, on Dearborn’s two-way cycle track.

 

There are many problems inherent to having a two-way cycle track (or protected bike lane) on a one-way street in a busy urban center. I’ll list them here to convince you that the next time the Chicago Department of Transportation proposes a two-way cycle track on a one-way street you should heavily question it (except in one circumstance I’ll outline in the discussion).

In two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets…

0. It’s less safe than one-way cycle tracks on one or both sides of a street. (See OECD passage below.)

1. It’s hard to pass same-direction cyclists. A cyclist who wishes to pass someone going in the same direction must watch for oncoming traffic, increasing the danger of passing if they miscalculated when they should go and reducing the opportunities to do so. It also presents a hazard for all cyclists, who have to watch out for oncoming cyclists who are passing a same-direction cyclist!

2. It’s unlikely there will be space to offer turn lanes. Busy cycle tracks need turn lanes, to separate cyclists who are going to slow and turn or stop before turning (in the case of pedestrians crossing), and those who are going straight. A turn lane could be accommodated if the cycle track can widen at intersections, but in practice it seems to be easier to split the cycle track into turn and through lanes.

3. It costs more. Opposite direction cyclists can’t use existing traffic signals and must have costly traffic signals with bike symbols (which also cost a lot to program). The need to have a yellow center line also means a two-way cycle track requires more paint.

Erik pointed out in the comments how this isn’t right. I mostly agree, but then I changed my mind on how important this is: The appropriate and best design for a bicycle facility shouldn’t have its quality compromised because of cost.

4. It interferes with decades of intuition gained from crossing one-way streets. Most pedestrians around the world are used to monitoring a single direction of traffic on a one-way street.

5. They’re anti-social. Two-way cycle tracks are narrower than one-way cycle tracks because the city street engineers likely have the same space to work whether they allow one- or two-way cycling. This means you can’t cycle and chat next to a friend.

6. They require that someone has to ride in the gutter. When two-way cycle tracks are built curbside on existing roadways, one direction of cyclists will always have to ride in the gutter, a slanted area of the road filled with water and debris. We could eliminate this by building raised cycle tracks with a new drainage system (either drain into the roadway, or into new grates).

7. There’s less room to avoid obstacles. If there’s a rock, pothole, or upraised manhole cover in your path, you go around it. But if there’s someone coming in the other direction you’ll just have to hit it and take the beating.

8. They don’t provide cyclists access to both sides of a street that has destinations on both sides. This is a conditional item, and moot if the options are a two-way cycle track on one-side or a one-way cycle track on one side. A cycle track on each side of a one-way street will provide bicycle access to destinations on both sides.

Keep reading for a deeper discussion on the situations where a two-way cycle track could be good.

Note: A two-way cycle track is scheduled to be installed on the left (east) side of southbound Clinton Street as part of CDOT and CTA’s Loop Link bus lanes project.

There may be a place for two-way cycle tracks

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a review of international best practices for growing cycling and keeping cyclists safe (hat tip to Copenhagenize). The authors concluded (page 177):

  • “Bi-directional cycle tracks along roads invariably lead to non-conventional maneuvers at junctions and where such tracks terminate. These situations entail a significant risk of crashes. Two-directional cycle tracks along roads generally should be avoided, unless the advantages are very clear or the space constraints for two unidirectional cycle tracks insurmountable.” [Grand Avenue is under discussion right now and I would say that the street has a lot of excess space. It has a “pair” on Illinois Street, with similar excesses.]
  • Opposite direction cycling on streets where cyclists don’t need linear protection from motor vehicles (because of lower volumes or traffic speeds; like Chicago’s side streets) is a very different ballgame.

None of this is to say that having two single direction cycle tracks, on each side of a one-way street is bad. They’re better than having a two-way cycle track because cyclists would then have a bigger, direct network of good places to ride and reach destinations.

A two-way cycle track to access bike parking at a train station. It wouldn’t make sense here, in a car-free environment, to have a one-way cycle tracks on either side of something in the middle (there wouldn’t be a something in the middle). Photo: Jennifer Judge and Ben Russell

The Dutch have installed many (probably hundreds of) miles of two-way cycle tracks, but they are more akin to our two-way off-street multi-use trails as they’re only mildly aligned with streets, or they’re used in very particular situations – for example, to carry a busy segment of the cycle network on one side of a large road to a bridge on the other – and not in dense, tight, uniformly dimensioned urban street grids that dominate American cities and are rarer in Dutch cities.

Quite often the Dutch will build a two-way cycle track on each side of the street to accommodate their cycle route networks, avoid a busy junction or train station area, work in harmony with intersections that prioritize tram and bus traffic but that can still keep certain directions of cyclists moving without any delay, or to provide access to both sides of a busy retail area. Learn more about the geometry and engineering of two-way cycle track design on Peter Furth’s website.

Speaking of networks, two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets must be integrated into a bicycle route/path network differently. This isn’t to say it cannot be done, but it takes a different and more complicated approach because of the nature of the other streets that would have to be modified to “receive” bicyclists turning off of the two-way cycle track. It has so far not been implemented well in Chicago.

Furth’s website describes the advantages of a two-way cycle track as listed in the Dutch street design manual called CROW. They are convincing! Yet Dearborn Street in Chicago, the first urban two-way cycle track on a one-way street in a big American city, doesn’t fit those criteria. And neither does building two-way cycle tracks on other one-way streets in the central business district.

You wouldn’t have to reject the proposal for another two-way cycle track on a one-way street, though, if there was a single, thoughtful design plan – the evolution of a network proposal like Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan – for all of the streets and intersections involved attached with dedicated funds for the appropriate infrastructure redesigns. However, three years after the Dearborn cycle track was installed, it still doesn’t bicycle facilities connecting it to the Kinzie cycle track. There, a network plan and a design plan failed to materialize.

A local example of a complicated and deficient intersection design is that cyclists going northbound on Dearborn Street (a northbound, one-way street with a two-way cycle track) and want to turn east onto two-way Kinzie Street (which has no bicycle facilities) have no way to do so without putting themselves and others at risk or burden.

Here’s how I would make that turn: if the Dearborn light is green, come to a complete stop in the intersection and wait for the Dearborn light to turn red and the Kinzie light to turn green – ignore that I’m blocking northbound cycle traffic. If the Dearborn light is red, signal to cyclists behind you that you’re turning right, and then watch for Kinzie traffic, turn right, and merge into it. Neither situation is preferable.

It’s imperative to redesign intersections when adding cycle tracks, and two-way cycle tracks on one-way streets require a more intensive and complex design but add little to no benefit over having a single, one-way cycle track, or one-way cycle tracks on either side of the street.

This slide from an APBP webinar briefly lists why a two-way cycle track may be better than a one-way cycle track.

This slide from an APBP webinar briefly lists why a two-way cycle track may be better than a one-way cycle track.

P.S. I laughed when I saw these three reasons [PDF] supporting a two-way cycle track over a one-way cycle track, because all of them are the same labels I’ve used to denote the disadvantages of using a two-way cycle track.

  1. Space limitations. Advantage: You don’t have enough room to put in two, appropriate-sized one-way cycle tracks, so you build a two-way cycle track. Disadvantage: Each cyclist now has personal space limitations.
  2. Wrong-way bicyclists. Advantage: You provide a space for people who choose to cycle the wrong way. Disadvantage: A two-way cycle track is less an accommodation for this rider, and more an admission that your cycle network doesn’t accommodate the rider.
  3. Difficult street crossings. Advantage: I don’t think there are any! Disadvantage: Start reading from the top of this post.

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