Tagtraffic counts

Bike lane mileage is the wrong metric for your city to publicize

Sometimes I tweet things that get pretty popular and then I need to go into more details. Case in point:

Which I followed by tweeting:

Knowing how many miles of bike lanes you have has little importance in determining if I’m going to bike in your city when I visit, or if I’m considering moving there, or if I want to add you to a “bicycle friendly cities” list.

What’s more important is how much the number of people bicycling on those bike lanes has changed. This number will reflect the quality of your bike lanes. Are they still in good shape or have they faded a lot? Do they connect to each other to create a network, or are there gaps that increase the stress of a route? How have you treated the bike lane at intersections, the place where a conflict and crash is most likely to occur?

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin touched on these points in his recent critique, one of the few worthwhile articles the Tribune has published in the last year about bicycling, by interviewing an organization that tries to make it politically palatable to build unconventional – in the United States – bike lanes.

“Chicago has made incredible progress over the last few years,” said Martha Roskowski, vice president at People for Bikes, a Boulder, Colo.-based advocacy group. But, she added, “Chicago also has a ways to go.”

That’s saying it nicely.

Addressing the gaps in the city’s network of protected bike routes, Roskowski said: “People evaluate a potential bike ride on the basis of the weakest link, the scariest part of the trip, which might be a really busy road you have to ride along or across. People have tolerance for a little bit of that. But if it’s sustained or if it feels dangerous, they just won’t do it.”

Enter Close Calls, deteriorating bike lanes, bumpy pavement, and constant obstacles and you get Chicago’s ridiculously low bicycle commute to work numbers.

Since Emanuel took office in 2011, Chicago has installed 52 miles of protected bike lanes [it's only installed 16 miles of protected bike lanes], which use a variety of means — plastic pylons, striped pavement markings and non-curbside parking spaces — to separate bikes from vehicles. That brings the city’s total bicycle lanes to 207 miles.

That’s cool that we have 207 miles. How many miles of streets without bike lanes do we have? It’s 4,000 and some change minus 207.

Why doesn’t Mayor Rahm Emanuel talk about how many people have taken up bicycling since he took office, or how many more trips Chicagoans made (and where) because of those 52 miles of new buffered and protected bike lanes?

He can’t say how many people are riding their personal bikes because the city doesn’t track this.

Conversely we can track Divvy bike-share use down to the minute and the company announced that Saturday, May 24, they had their most trips ever. Only to be eclipsed by almost 4,000 more trips on Sunday, May 25 (helped in no small part by the Bike The Drive event where people can bicycle on a Lake Shore Drive that’s closed to vehicles).

In another blow to good data for Chicago, Divvy will only be releasing trip data twice a year, while Citibike in New York City will be publishing it monthly, an improvement of Capital Bikeshare’s quarterly data releases.

If you’re not tracking who’s using your infrastructure, will you be able to know if the people you set out to attract have come out?

What Complete Streets means to DOTs: the case of widening Harrison Street

What Harrison Street looks like in 2013, replete with additional lanes and no “bicycle ways”. 

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation completed a project in 2012 to rebuild the Congress Parkway bridge over the Chicago River and build a new interchange with Lower Wacker Drive. It also rebuilt the intersections of Harrison/Wacker and Harrison/Wells.

Harrison prior to the project had two striped travel lanes (four effective travel lanes) but now has six travel lanes (including two new turn lanes). Bicycle accommodations were not made and people who want to walk across the street at Wacker and Wells must now encounter a variety of pedestrian unfriendly elements:  they must use actuated signals (waiting for a long time), cross long distances or two roadways to reach the other side, avoid drivers in the right-turn channelized lane, and wait in expressway interchange-style islands. Additionally, Wells Street was widened and all corner radii were enlarged to speed automobile traffic and presumably to better accommodate large trucks.

That is how IDOT interprets its “complete streets” law (which took effect on July 1, 2007) and how CDOT interprets its “complete streets” policy (decreed by Mayor Daley in 2006). The full text of the Illinois law, known as Public Act 095-0665, is below:

AN ACT concerning roads.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois,
represented in the General Assembly:

Section 5. The Illinois Highway Code is amended by adding
Section 4-220 as follows:

(605 ILCS 5/4-220 new)
Sec. 4-220. Bicycle and pedestrian ways.
(a) Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be given full
consideration in the planning and development of
transportation facilities, including the incorporation of such
ways into State plans and programs.
(b) In or within one mile of an urban area, bicycle and
pedestrian ways shall be established in conjunction with the
construction, reconstruction, or other change of any State
transportation facility except:
(1) in pavement resurfacing projects that do not widen
the existing traveled way or do not provide stabilized
shoulders; or
(2) where approved by the Secretary of Transportation
based upon documented safety issues, excessive cost or
absence of need.
(c) Bicycle and pedestrian ways may be included in pavement
resurfacing projects when local support is evident or bicycling
and walking accommodations can be added within the overall
scope of the original roadwork.
(d) The Department shall establish design and construction
standards for bicycle and pedestrian ways. Beginning July 1,
2007, this Section shall apply to planning and training
purposes only. Beginning July 1, 2008, this Section shall apply
to construction projects.

Section 99. Effective date. This Act takes effect July 1,
2007.

Here is the case: a “bicycle way” should have been incorporated into the Harrison/Congress/Wells modification.

Here is the evidence:

  1. The project location is a transportation facility in the State
  2. The project location is in or within one mile of an urban area.
  3. The project widened an existing traveled way, from 52 feet (two marked travel lanes, four effective travel lanes) to approximately 64 feet (six marked travel lanes).
  4. Local support for bicycle and pedestrian ways is evident; see the “Streets for Cycling Plan 2020″ planning process and the addition of a concrete deck (to reduce bicycling slippage) on the sides of the Harrison Street bridge over the Chicago River approaching the project location.
  5. The project was constructed after July 1, 2008.

The missing piece of evidence, though, is whether or not the Secretary of Transportation, based upon documented safety issues, excessive cost or absence of need, made an exception for this project.

The Chicago “complete streets” policy is less specific than the Illinois “complete streets” law, printed below:

The safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight, and motor vehicle drivers shall be accommodated and balanced in all types of transportation and development projects and through all phases of a project so that even the most vulnerable – children, elderly, and persons with disabilities – can travel safely within the public right of way.

One of the examples CDOT gives on how this policy can be implemented is “Reclaim street space for other uses through the use of ‘road diets’ e.g., convert 4-lane roadway to 3-lane roadway with marked bike lanes” – they accomplished the opposite on Harrison Street.

In a 2010 traffic count, 16,800 cars were counted here, an amount handled by roads with fewer lanes and less than the amount in CDOT’s guidelines for implementing road diets and narrowing a road from 4 lanes to 2, yet in 2012, the agencies increased capacity.

Before: An aerial view from November 7, 2007. Image from Google Earth’s historical imagery feature. These two images represent the same zoom and area so you can compare the land changes from before to after the infrastructure modification. 

After: An aerial view from April 4, 2013. Image from Google Earth. Notice the additional lanes, roadway width, land taken south of Harrison Street, and the widened intersection at Wells with increased curb radius. 

I need a visualization tip for showing pedestrian and auto traffic in downtown Chicago

Madison Street over the Chicago River. Pedestrian traffic is very high, and very constrained, near the Metra stations.

Here’s the goal:

Show that pedestrians don’t get sufficient space or time to have a high quality pedestrian experience given that they comprise the largest mode share on streets in the Loop. The trips are highly delayed at traffic signals, pedestrian space is encroached upon because of automobile turning movements, and the sidewalks aren’t wide enough for two-way or even one-way traffic at certain times of the day. It’s possible to build our way out of pedestrian traffic…

Here’s an example data set:

On October 3, 2006, for all of the 24 hours, at 410 W Madison Street, there were 17,100 automobiles counted.

On some day in summer 2007, for 10 hours, at 350 W Madison Street, there were 43,987 pedestrians counted.

The two locations are practically the same as the bridge here prevents more pedestrians or automobiles from “slipping in”.

It’s possible to download the data sets from CDOT’s Traffic Tracker so you can see the whole city on your own map, but you’ll have to do some digging in the source code to find them.

© 2014 Steven Can Plan

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