Saturday, May 19, 2007

"More bike lanes? No thanks"

Image of one-way street with double bike lanes in SacramentoFrom the Los Angeles Times, 05.19.07:

More bike lanes? No thanks: L.A. should treat cyclists as motorists' equals, not as pesky afterthoughts.
(Los Angeles) has an 11-year-old Bicycle Plan, and city and county officials cite the proliferation of on-street bike lanes as an example of the great strides being made. Yet the numbers leave a lot to be desired. In milk carton terms, if L.A.'s total street mileage equaled half a gallon, bike lanes would constitute a sip of about 4 ounces.

Whether one sees that glass as half full or half empty, I personally wish the city would just stop filling it. Quit while it's behind and not stripe another inch of bike lane.

L.A. Department of Transportation officials quote chapter and verse how the city's newest bike lanes safely conform to state regulations...I'm sure that's true. But it's not enough.

What will be enough? I'll never be satisfied until Silverados and Schwinns can peacefully coexist on all surface streets. But an update of the city Bicycle Plan...is a good place to start. Our city and county transportation agencies should be trying out fresher bike-transit concepts, such as shared-use arrows, known as sharrows, and bicycle-priority streets, also called bike boulevards.

Already successful in San Francisco, sharrows have a bike icon topped by two chevrons painted directly on the road. Instead of creating separation, they promote awareness that the right lane is to be shared by motorists and cyclists--and they're easier and less costly to implement than bike lanes.

A citywide grid of sharrows that complement and connect bike boulevards and off-street bikeways would go a long way toward fostering a civic culture that embraces cycling rather than treating bikes as a transportation afterthought. (Read more.)
I couldn't help but groan when I first saw this headline--in the influential Los Angeles Times--assuming it would be another tired rant by some pessimistic "old paradigm" bike activist. It turns out to be a thoughtful, provocative appeal for equity for bicyclists in perhaps the most auto-centric city in the U.S.

However, I continue to strongly support bike lanes. And here's why. Sharrows are appealing to many communities, because of their low cost and easy implementation. No need to remove parking spots or narrow traffic lanes. And that's the problem. There are no ancillary benefits to sharrows: no traffic calming, improved vehicle regulation, or neighborhood enhancement.

The Sacramento one-way street above (click image to enlarge) illustrates the traffic-calming benefit of bike lanes. This street once had three narrow vehicle lanes prior to the road diet reconfiguration to create bike lanes on both sides. In addition to improving safety for cyclists, this dual-lane treatment has calmed traffic, pleasing neighborhood residents.

The only real beneficiaries of sharrows are bicyclists (though one could argue that the reduction of "wrong-way" bicyclists minimally benefits motorists.) Bicyclists become "special" interest advocates when advocating sharrows; we become broader "public" interest advocates when pushing bike lanes or other traffic calming.

To significantly enhance the streetscape, bicyclists need to build coalitions with environmentalists, pedestrians, neighborhood improvement activists, safety advocates, and others. The potential traffic-calming benefits of bike lanes provide the basis for such coalitions. We aren't demanding some "special" interest; we're demanding calmer streets to benefit all community residents.

I agree with the author of this article: the needs and safety of bicyclists should be considered equably with all road users. However, I don't think bike lanes "ghettoize" cyclists. Rather, like sharrows, they help to legitimize bicycling. Different road challenges require different bike-friendly solutions. I support a broad, complete streets approach, including consideration of off-street bike paths, sharrows, or bike lanes.

More bike lanes? Yes, please!

Image: Paul Dorn.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site