Cycle Tracks: What About the Intersections?

Posted in Advocate's Toolbox, Infrastructure, Thoughts on September 17th, 2013 by Nick – 4 Comments

The following post is about cycle track design, featuring information and details pulled from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, Dutch CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, Ireland’s National Cycling Manual and David Hembrow’s blog A View From the Cycle Path. The ideas expressed here are my own do not reflect an endorsement by AROW, AROW members, nor my employer. 

Bad cycle tracks are bad, but great cycle tracks can be amazing. One place cycle tracks fail the most? Intersections. Concern about intersection safety is one of the most common reasons for cycle track opposition from people who ride bikes today. The following post aims to show that a cycle track can be designed so that people are just as visible as in a bike lane.

noparkingNo Parking Cycle Tracks

This isn’t a specific treatment for intersections as much as it is a type of cycle track. On streets without parking, a cycle track is as visible as would be a curbside bike lane. Riders are protected by the raised curb, but nothing gets in the way of clear visibility.  Stretches of the Cully Blvd cycle track are configured without parking.

Bend InThe Bend In
The principle is simple: move people riding toward the center of the roadway to the location they would be if they were in a bike lane. Do this early enough before an intersection to ensure visibility by drivers.

This design is disliked by bicyclists if it is configured at every intersection in an area with short blocks because it causes excessive weaving back and forth. The cycle track on Cully Blvd uses this design, and I have heard many comments expressing dislike for the treatment.

Bend OutThe Bend Out

A less intuitive solution, this “bend out” design is the opposite design from a “bend in.” This design shifts the cycle track away from the main roadway in order to separate conflicts into an area outside of the main intersection. Car drivers first turn right around the corner, then they stop for bicyclists in an space large enough to be outside of the flow of traffic.

Dutch design manual recommend this on high-speed roads in less developed areas, where more space may be available. This is less likely to be an appropriate solution in the middle of a city.

ClearZoneThe Clear Zone

It is also possible to overcome visibility issues by prohibiting parking in advance of the intersection or driveway, and ensuring the area is clear of other obstacles. This may be done with paint, or with curb extensions.

Also key to this concept is to design the turn for slow speeds. The slower the turning speed, the more time bicyclists are visible and the more time everyone has to react.

MixingZoneThe Mixing Zone

Seen on the NE Multnomah St Cycle Track, a mixing zone requires right turning cars to enter the cycle track space to make their turn. Car drivers must wait to merge, and the shared lane is designed to be too narrow for side-by-side riding.

This design is criticized for being a stressful condition in an otherwise low-stress route, but sometimes is the only way to retain a right turn only lane in constrained spaces.

Raised crossingThe Raised Crossing

Raised bikeway crossings give a clear message that bicyclists have priority at driveways and intersections. Legally, cars turning right must yield to a bicyclist going straight through (the same rules as if there were a bike lane) and this design reinforces the law with physical infrastructure.

Maintain the cycle track and sidewalk raised as they pass through the intersection. Cars will need to mount over the cycle track and sidewalk, similar to entering a driveway. When designed correctly, drivers will be going very slow when turning.

bikesignalExclusive Signals

Traffic signals can also be used to manage conflicts. Right turning cars can have a red light, while bicyclists going straight receive a green light. A configuration like this is installed at NE Broadway & Williams, where a bike lane conflicts with right turn lanes.

What do you think?
Are these designs worth consideration? Do they help overcome some concerns about cycle tracks? Post your comments, questions and suggestions below. If cycle tracks are our future, lets make sure we get them right.

It’s Time to Ditch Thermoplastic

Posted in Infrastructure, Thoughts on February 7th, 2012 by Steve – 6 Comments

The use of color in bike lanes in Portland has been a welcome addition to our bike network, but you don’t have to ride very far before you see the problem with using a layer of colored plastic (otherwise known as thermoplast or thermo-plastic) that is applied with intense heat to stick to the road surface.  Depending on wear and tear from vehicles and weather, it may not last a year before needing to apply a new layer.  The costs for thermoplastic are not insignificant.

In other lands, like the Netherlands, they actually use colored blacktop/concrete to get the job done.  The result is a smoother ride that lasts for many years.  Portland would save money on material and labor costs by not having to come back and apply color after paving, or years later to re-stripe.

Years back at a Traffic & Transportation class presentation, PBOT Director Tom Miller (then Mayor Adams’ chief-of-staff) mentioned there were hurdles to implementing this type of approach in the United States. I am curious if anyone knows if this is a MUTCD compliance issue, or if there just aren’t contractors and materials available locally to make it happen. I’d welcome any thoughts on using colored pavement and ditching colored thermoplastic in Portland.

Further reading: Using Color in Bike Infrastructure

Will we build it? Revisiting the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 Hearing

Posted in Thoughts on December 27th, 2011 by Steve – 4 Comments

Local filmmaker Joe Biel has put out a new video with some highlights from 2010’s Portland Bicycle Plan Hearing & Rally.  It’s a great opportunity to revisit the prevailing positive energy in City Hall that day.  Underlying all the optimism was a sense of frustration that the city’s plan lacked the most critical component to a successful bikeway network: funding.

The fact that no money was attached to the plan didn’t prevent some folks from lambasting Mayor Adams and City Council for committing the city to a $600 million bikeway network.  On the advocacy side, the BTA’s Build it! campaign faded away, their last post on July 2010.  The BTA recently produced a one year review of the Bicycle Plan, calling for the city to increase its short term ambitions.

AROW and other allies held a series of thank you letter writing events to help put some wind beneath the wings of our city’s active transportation strategy.  Meanwhile, we heard behind the scenes that Mayor Adams was never, ever thanked for supporting bicycle improvements and that the Mayor gets a thousand calls a month opposing them.

Almost two years later, the word “bicycle” is now reviled as cuss word and a symbol of all things Portland in our state capitol, vital federal active transportation dollars are due to be slashed while locally PBOT is preparing for $16 million in cuts annually.  We are also in the middle of a handful of tight political races.  Thankfully the resurgent Bike Walk Vote PAC is set to ensure candidates are vetted on their commitments to active transportation.

Will 2012 bear fruit from the Bicycle Plan?   Can we fund it?  We may be asking the same questions for years to come.

Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 1

Posted in News, Thoughts on October 12th, 2011 by Alexis – Comments Off on Hacia Ciudades Libres de Autos (Towards Carfree Cities) X in Guadalajara, Part 1

Note: This post is the second in a series of posts about my experience at Towards Carfree Cities X in Guadalajara. The first is here. This one covers two of the conference’s early keynotes. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss giving my own talk, some of the shorter talks I attended, the later keynotes and overall conference themes.

The first two keynotes of the conference, given by Eric Britton, an American living in France, and Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives, both addressed issues that are current in Portland.

Eric Britton’s talk was focused on the topic of “Putting Carfree Day to Work”. World Carfree Day has been an important part of the World Carfree Network’s efforts, but being just one day a year, it’s a short-term engagement for a relatively small number of people. He suggested a strategy for “World Carfree Day +++”, each + representing an add-on to the work of a local group or government in putting on a World Carfree Day event:

1) Solicit ideas from all kinds of community groups about what the government should do to improve transportation.

2) Pick the best of those to set benchmarks.

3) The following year on WCFD, measure the benchmarks and talk about how they were achieved, or if they weren’t and why not.

One possible benchmark example he gave was “increase bike mode share from 1.5% to 2.5%”. This is a representative benchmark: a small increase, something that might be possible in one year, but not something trivial or even easy.

These additions would allow more people to get involved in the process of making their city less auto-dependent through the process of nominating and selecting benchmarks, and create regular accountability for initiatives.

One point that Eric made is that having more and different people involved in decisionmaking, as he suggests for WCFD+++, is critical to making different kinds of decisions in the future than we have in the past. Decisionmakers tend to see the world from their own perspective, and make decisions that benefit that perspective.

The current political situation, across much of the world, has one main type of decisionmaker: male, educated, and prosperous. Since these people usually have cars, most decisionmaking takes into account primarily those who have cars. Changing the type of decisionmaker that we have, and asking current and future decisionmakers to listen to people with different perspectives — asking community groups and individuals and neighborhoods what they want and need — is critical to changing who benefits most from political decisions.

Eric’s talk tied in nicely with Noah’s keynote the following evening, also addressing community engagement in the decisionmaking process. Noah, who was discussing “NYC vs Reality”, started out by making the point that most people don’t think in terms of traffic models and graphic renderings, which is how new projects are usually presented. Instead, they think about what they see and experience when they walk out their door. So it’s important to have events that show them what’s possible for their streets, because then they can see the street in a different way in reality. This is how New York addressed the Times Square redesign: it’s just now becoming permanent, after being a massive temporary installation for almost two years.

It’s useful for the community of advocates and activists to share their ideas and to make the demonstration projects, but it’s also very important for people to have a chance to understand and begin to own the idea, and for the result of the process to be community-owned because the community sees the vision. This struck me as extremely relevant for the Williams corridor project, because if the local community in the area has a chance to envision some new possibilities through events and other explorations, I think it would be an opportunity to find both common ground and possibility an even better vision than has come from the proposals under consideration through PBOT.

The Relationship Between Transportation & Housing Costs

Posted in News, Thoughts on August 18th, 2011 by Nick – Comments Off on The Relationship Between Transportation & Housing Costs

The connection between housing and transportation costs is an emerging topic in transportation planning and advocacy. The basic idea is expressed in the old Realtor axiom “Drive until you qualify” – As you get farther from the city center, housing prices drop, but you’re trading cheaper housing for increased travel time and commute costs.

I wanted to share a cool mapping website that lets people visually mix and match transit time with housing costs. The example here is London, but I’d love to see a similar map created for Portland, with an option to visualize bike travel time (which probably isn’t that far off from transit travel time).

Travel time and housing price map of London

The bicycle may have disruptive powers in this equation, for while long distance commutes still take time, the health benefits of cycling, the value of a reliable travel time (who get’s stuck in traffic?) and the bare minimum of out of pocket costs make bicycle travel unique over other long-distance travel options.