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Study recommends designing bike paths for bikes, not for sharing

running and bicycling on the lakefront trail

Some parts of the Chicago Lakefront Trail have a 2-foot wide side path designed for pedestrians but the study reviewed very cases where bicyclists crashed with pedestrians. It’s unknown if this side path results in fewer crashes than the parts of the Lakefront Trail without it. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

The Active Transportation Alliance posted a link on Facebook to a new study [PDF] in the Open BMJ from December 2014, a free peer-reviewed “version” of the British Medical Journal, and said it “conclusively shows separated space reduces crashes and the severity of injuries when crashes occur”.

The posting was in the context that bicyclists and pedestrians using the Lakefront Trail should have separate paths. I agree, but there’s a problem in how they stated the study’s support for separation.

I wouldn’t say that the study “conclusively” shows that bicyclists would fare better on paths without pedestrians. The study reviewed fewer than 700 crashes in two Canadian cities. Only 11% of those crashes occurred on multi-use trails and only 5.9% of the crashes were with a pedestrian or animal (the two were grouped) – this sample size is too low from which to draw that kind of conclusion.

The study didn’t report the association (correlation) between crash severity and pedestrians. The authors didn’t even recommend that bicyclists and pedestrians have separate paths, but instead wrote “These results suggest an urgent need to provide bike facilities…that are designed [emphasis added] specifically for bicycling rather than for sharing with pedestrians”.

While I don’t discount the possibility that separating bicyclists and pedestrians in off-street corridors will reduce the number of crashes and injuries when those two user groups collide, it’s imprudent to call this study “conclusive” when linking it to the measure of crashes between bicyclists and pedestrians.

The study’s primary conclusion was that bicyclists crash more often when there are high slopes, fast moving cars, or no bike lanes and the authors recommended that bike infrastructure be built for bicycling. That’s a solid recommendation and I recommended that you sign Active Trans’s petition advocating for separate facilities in the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project.

Put the first cycle track somewhere else

Updated 06-03-11: Grew the list below from 11 locations to 15 to match the full list on wiki.stevevance.net.

I propose 15 locations for Chicago (see link for ideal segments):

  • Archer Avenue (whole length)
  • Blue Island Avenue (between UIC and Pilsen, but then connecting Pilsen to Little Village via 26th Street)
  • Chicago Avenue
  • Clybourn Avenue (entire stretch, from Belmont to Division)
  • Damen Avenue (really easy south of Congress; difficult between Chicago and Congress, and north of Chicago)
  • Fullerton Avenue
  • Grand Avenue (at least California or Kedzie to Navy Pier)
  • Halsted Street (in some discrete locations)
  • King Drive (connecting downtown/South Loop to Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Washington Park)
  • Kinzie Street (connecting one major bike laned street, Milwaukee, to another, Wells)
  • Ogden Avenue (the entire street, from the city boundary on the southwest side to its dead end at the Chicago River near Chicago Avenue)
  • Vincennes Avenue (I haven’t figured out the extents for this one)
  • Wabash Street (connecting downtown and IIT)
  • Washington Boulevard/Street
  • Wells Street – this may be one of the easiest locations to pull off, politically at least, especially if Alderman Reilly pays for all or part of it with his annual appropriation of $1.32 million (“menu funds”).
  • Western Avenue

Notice how I didn’t propose Stony Island between 69th and 77th.

I selected streets where there’s already much cycling happening – whether it’s directly on that street and for long distances or neighborhoods the street passes through. I also selected streets where there’s some cycling happening but make the all-important bikeway network connections on streets with high automobile or high speed traffic (like Western Avenue) or lead to places that attract trips by bike (like train stations). And I selected streets that lead towards downtown, to transit stations, to schools, and to jobs. The segment of Stony Island from 69th to 77th leads to a small shopping district on 71st Street and a Metra Electric train station with 197 weekday boardings (from 2006 survey).

A cycle track location will be most effective where it can:

  • attract the most new riders (goal #1 in the Bike 2015 Plan)
  • make the biggest increases in safety by reducing injuries (goal #2 in the Bike 2015 Plan)
  • (and for the city’s first cycle track, be used by the most existing riders)

It is in these locations where these facilities will be quickly adopted by people bicycling to and from that neighborhood for their shopping, school, and social and work trips. It will also help lead the City and its residents to attaining the quite ambitious goals of the Bike 2015 Plan (have 5% of all trips under 5 miles by bike and cut frequency of injuries by half).

NACTO’s new Urban Bikeway Design Guide recommends cycle tracks for “streets on which bike lanes would cause many bicyclists to feel stress because of factors such as multiple lanes, high traffic volumes, high speed traffic, high demand for double parking, and high parking turnover.”

Stony Island between 69th and 77th has many lanes, high speed and high volume traffic, but low parking turnover (there’s a low density of businesses and many have their own parking lots). This area has low cycling levels and a grand bike facility here would do little to help Chicago reach the plan’s goals. We won’t see any benefit in terms of mode shift here.

Without further information on the intentions (see paragraph “On intentions” below) of those who selected this location and their goals for Chicago’s first cycle track, my surmise is that it was selected because of the roadway width (four lanes in each direction with a wide parallel parking lane, see map), where taking away a lane from car driving may be more politically and technically feasible – I believe this is the wrong way to begin a protected bike lane program.

On intentions: A former CDOT employee left a comment on my blog in December 2010 addressing the site selection: “Stony Island was recommended as a part of a Streetscape Master Plan [I can find no information about this plan]. It wasn’t like people were sitting around saying ‘Where can we put a buffered bike lane?’ It was really just a plan of opportunity since Stony Island is crazy-wide. Nevertheless, it will connect with a new bike path along the side of Marquette Dr in Jackson Park, which connects to the Lakefront Trail.”

While Stony Island could be a good demo location to prove that this type of facility won’t be harmful to drivers, as a demonstration of the power of protected bicycling infrastructure, it won’t do a good job.

A two-way protected bike lane (just like Prospect Park West in Brooklyn) in downtown Vancouver. Photo by Paul Krueger.

A one-way protected bike lane on 9th Avenue, New York City’s first cycle track. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Bike lane news around the country

In other bike lane news around the country:

  • Kansas City, Missouri, now has two bridges with separated and protected bike lanes. A concrete barrier separates a combined walking and biking path from traffic.
  • Chicago’s door lane network grows a little more with new door lanes on Grand Avenue and Illinois Street. Downtown is in the most need of bike lanes so these should be useful (although I advocate for ones going through the Loop).
  • Separated bike lanes again under attack in New York City, this time on Columbus Avenue. It was only installed in August.
  • Washington, D.C., installed bike boxes and contraflow bike lanes (in August 2010) on a diagonal street at a six-way intersection (we have tons of six-way intersections in Chicago). John Allen, notable for his stance on bikeways and how they conflict with traffic engineering principles, approves of the design. In theory, contraflow bike lanes next to parallel parking lanes are good (and better than door lanes) because (1) the door to open is the passenger’s door, which opens less often than the driver’s door; (2) the person opening the door and the person riding the bike are staring at each other; and (3) if a person riding a bike collides with the door from the oncoming direction, the collision should be less damaging  to the person riding the bike. (You can thank former Mayor Adrian Fenty and former transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, and their staff, for these improvements to the bikeway network.)

The new door lanes in Chicago on Grand Avenue (as well as Illinois Street) involved a road diet, the narrowing or removal of main traffic lanes. You can see how a lane was removed – the stripes demarcating the two lanes have been ground out. This may reduce traffic speed and reduce confusion and collisions, a welcomed change. Watch a video of the bike lane striping being applied.

In Washington, D.C., a unique and adapted bike lane design for a diagonal street where it crosses two other streets at a six-way intersection. Another way to demonstrate what a bicycle lane could do.

Chicago’s first protected bike lane!

UPDATE 04-28-11: I’ve written new articles about this subject. The first is “Put the first cycle track somewhere else.” Then there’s my list of proposed protected bike lane locations.

Chicago just got its first two-way protected bike lane! And all because of a construction detour for the next 17 months!

I’m sort of joking, but sort of not.

This detour from the Lakefront Trail onto a street for 100 feet should give Chicagoans a taste for what a protected bike lane looks like, until April 2012. You can see it’s quite simple to build: shift traffic over, install K-rail concrete barriers, paint a dividing line. But what’s simple to build is not always simple to implement.

But how can we get a real one constructed?

It’s not for lack of demand. But it could be that our demand for a safer bike lane is not well known.

The Chicago Bicycle Program has “proposed” a buffered bike lane on Wells Street (by merely displaying a rendering of it on the backside of a “public meeting” handout). They have no released any further information about this. It would most likely be paid for with Alderman Reilly’s Menu Program funding. (Each alderman gets $1.3 million annually to spend at their discretion and he spent some of it on new bike lanes on Grand Avenue and Illinois Street.)

Contact the Alderman to let him know you want to be able to bike more safely on Wells Street into downtown. And make sure he and the entire Department of Transportation (CDOT; contact Commissioner Bobby Ware) know that people who ride bikes want to be involved in its design; when it comes to informing the public, CDOT has a lot of room for improvement. They could do this by being more timely in providing project updates, like the status of awarding contracts or starting construction on streetscape projects (the website lists the names and locations, but no other information). A major project missing is the Lawrence Avenue streetscape and road diet between Ashland and Western.

Other streets in Chicago are ripe for protected bike lane similar treatment. Can you suggest some places? I’ll keep a list here where we can debate the pros and cons of each location. Through an educated and data-supported campaign, we can advocate for the best locations at which protected bike lanes should be installed.

The new two-way protected bike lane in Chicago on a Lake Shore Drive offramp. More photos.

The Sands Street bikeway becomes protected as you ride closer to the Manhattan Bridge ramp. More photos of biking in New York City.

Protected bike lanes are all the rage in New York City. They have several miles of buffer and barrier separated bike lanes. Portland, Oregon, also has a diversity of protected bikeways. Minneapolis has several miles of off-street trails going to and through neighborhoods (which is why they’re key to the overall network).

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