Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rethinking How We Build Our Roads.

A couple of weekends ago I found myself riding down Old St. Augustine Rd. on the bike lane that was recently (Over the last couple of years) installed from Phillips Hwy. (US1) to the Interstate 295 junction.

As I was riding down it, I was looking at how the land was used for the 5 1/2 mile stretch. It's your typical standard issue 5 lane road with bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides. The bike lanes are well marked and signed. But for some reason it feels inadequate.

What I was focusing my attention on was the sidewalks. I kept asking myself if I had ever seen anyone actually walking on the sidewalk. I had seen plenty of cyclist using the sidewalk. In fact I had seen more cyclists on the sidewalk than I had in the bike lanes. But I couldn't recall ever having seen anyone just walking along.

At some point I realized why I had seen no one walking anywhere along the sidewalks. Where the hell are they going to walk to? This portion of Old St. Augustine Rd. is all residential culdesac communities on both sides with shopping book-ending this stretch of road.

I talked with some friends a couple of days later that live in a neighborhood along this stretch of road. They all said they wouldn't ride in the bike lane because they didn't feel they had enough of a buffer from the 45 MPH traffic. They also said that they had tried taking a few walks on the sidewalk when it first went in. But again it was the buffer thing combined with the fact there is no where to walk too and that the sidewalk was too narrow to walk side-by-side with anyone else. Someone, they said, was always trailing and the lead person felt they had to do "that turn and walk shuffle thing that ones does in that situation to carry on a conversation."

After I had what I thought was a good explanation for the lack of sidewalk use. I wondered how much did that sidewalk cost in material and labor? And how could we put that portion of land to better use.

It is at the point where I stopped and took the top picture that I realized how we could put this road space to better use and create a safer environment for all users.

It seems like the simplest and most obvious thing in the world to me once I saw it. Simply move the curb to left hand edge of the bike lane and leave everything to the right at the same grade as the road.

We (the tax payers) save a small fortune from not having all the costs and added construction time associated with building the sidewalk. We also gain a true transportation corridor that both cyclist and pedestrian feel safer on that uses the same amount of land as the current bike lane and sidewalk combination. Both of which as of this writing gets little use for its intended purpose.

I know this isn't a practical solution for all roads. But it is for this one and the many miles of roads just like it in and around Jacksonville. How do we get engineers to get out on site before they start design and construction of a road project. And to really think about how not only each segment of road is going to be used but also how it will effect and enhance the quality of all modes of transportational use for the surrounding communities?

Let me hear from you. Which of these infrastructures would you feel the most safe on? Which of these do you think a mom will use go to shops for the first time? Which one would you as a parent feel safer letting you children ride on? Do you think this a practical solution to building a road with bike and pedestrian use in mind?


Anonymous said...

that seems like a great idea at first, but I don't think it would ever work in real life with all the assholes that drive here in jax. Somebody would just think its another lane and use it to pass people and bam people get hurt.

Anonymous said...

I personally like the idea of the wider space and also how you propose to establish it. I've been staying with my brother for a few weeks and he lives in a new cul de sac neighborhood in Fernandina. We go for walks around the block and it is exactly as you say...too narrow. (Well, I could be too wide, also haha!) But my brother and I tend to talk while we are walking and it is very awkward. We always end up in the street, looking out for oncoming traffic.

I especially like the curb in your example acting as a real buffer between me and traffic. I honestly don't mind sharing a sidewalk with walkers or others, but neither the cars in the traffic lanes nor the joggers seem to want us on their turf.

Great idea! Now, do we know a developer who will listen? :)


The Jolly Crank said...

I think it's certainly much safer to have a pedestrian lane separated from bikes by a painted line and those two separated from cars by a physical curb than the traditional set-up we usually see.
I don't know your city, but I think you have a solution that could work in lots of places.
The only issue I have with giving up the green border between sidewalk and curb is that that patch does play an important role for rain water absorption (as opposed to becoming straight, pollution laden run off). Again, I don't know your city, perhaps that is not as much of an issue.

Anonymous said...

Separating traffic by vehicle type increases conflicts at intersections and driveways, making cycling more dangerous. Accident data shows crossing/turning actions result in more accidents than overtaking actions. Roads without segregated facilities are designed for all vehicle types. Bike lanes do not make cycling safer. There is a case to be made that they might even make it more dangerous.

Abhishek said...

Anonymous #1,

The idea was to have this bike path separated by a curb so the vehicles do not use it as an extra lane.

Anonymous #2 (Terri),

I have the same problem walking my dog outside my apartment complex. There isn't even a sidewalk.

Anonymous #3 (James?),

Segregated bike paths make cycling safer. Most cyclists do not enjoy the feeling when a car goes by at 50 mph with only 6 inches to spare.

The problem at intersections can be solved by enforcing the one rule that already exists today: Motorists yield to bikes. You can either give bikes the right of way or put a stop sign on the bike path so the cars get priority. See david hembrow's website for more details on how this is done. The link below shows how bikes are given priority and bike lanes have their own traffic lights that are default to green. The cars have to yield. I dont see how that will be possible in car-centric Jax, so maybe the bikes can yield.

Anonymous said...


9a is my backyard said...

This is an issue with FDOT. They make the rules and the engineers follow them. In general, traffic engineers give little thought to modes of transit that aren't 'normal' (car, truck, etc.). Buses get some consideration, but in general, bikes get little to no thought when it comes to roadway design. This is particularly true in Florida. Honestly, I think if it were up to the average engineer, they probably wouldn't even put in a bike lane because they don't see it as a beneficial cost to add to their projects. However, certain areas mandate that they do, so they handle that by going directly to the code and doing whatever the code instructs them to do.

I think you're idea is valid. It solves most of the concerns you brought up and doesn't impact traffic (except at intersections). That said, I personally prefer bike lanes to shared bike/pedestrian sidewalks because I don't have to worry about shouting at a couple walking side by side that I'm coming behind them. I do think extra space between traffic and bikes would make both bikers and drivers more comfortable, especially at speeds > 45mph.

Bike Jax said...

Hi Anon #1, Keeping cars off the path would only require a couple bollards at each point where a car could turn in.

T, good to hear from you again. Call or write, would be nice to catch up.

Hi Jolly, I get what your saying about the runoff. Of course I don't really have answer. I guess that is just another issue we would expect an engineer to to put some thought to.

Anon #3, you wrote, "Separating traffic by vehicle type increases conflicts at intersections and driveways, making cycling more dangerous. Accident data shows crossing/turning actions result in more accidents than overtaking actions."

I would be very interesting knowing your source for this data.

In Florida vehicular traffic entering a roadway from a side street or driveway is required to come to complete stop before entering the roadway. This rule doesn't change if someone is driving, biking in the lane of traffic, bike lane or bike path. The same rules also applies for those pedestrians on a sidewalk or bike/ped path. Yes, pedestrians are traffic also.

When it comes to intersections, that solution is a no brainer. We used a strange device called bike signals. If you're unsure what they are, here is a link; http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=bike+signal&btnG=Search+Images&gbv=2

Now imagine the horror if we were to use those signals while stopping auto traffic in all directions for 30 seconds while cyclists and pedestrians had the time to safely clear an intersection. Would that just be the end of world or what?

Anon #4, or should I say hi John? I have enjoyed reading the (your?) opinions on the site. Yes, I said opinion. I say this because the site reads like a 50's era Soviet propaganda manual. There are lots of facts and data stated without any links or reference to the source for the science.

I understand the thought of bikes being operated and treated as any type of transportation. But unfortunately your average mom or kid is never going to feel comfortable dicing with autos traveling at 45 mile an hour.

Hi 9A, you don't have really worry too much about sharing the a bike/ped space like the one I suggest in this post. Remember we are still in Jacksonville and it's either, too hot, too cold, too far, or too buggy to go for a walk. Sure it would get more peds using it for a brief period each evening. But a simple bike bell and a thank you go a long way.

david said...

Proof that bikeways do not make the road safer for cyclists:





With this evidence, Forester killed California's first attempt to create bikeway standards way back in the 1970s.

Reasons that bikeways are not created for the safety of cyclists:

1. Government can show no evidence that bikeways reduce accidents to cyclists.
2. The California Statewide Bicycle Committee (author of the 2nd attempt at national bikeway standards) concealed and ignored the Cross study (http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/Safety/Cross01.htm) that disproves arguments used to justify bikeways, namely that motorist-overtaking-cyclist collisions account for a large portion of bicycle accidents.
3. Government takes no action that is proven to reduce the dangers that cyclists already face. Instead, government (and misguided bicycle activists) focus on reducing dangers added to the road by the systems they devise.
4. Government acts against the opposition of competent cyclists presenting evidence that supports the vehicular cycling principle, that cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as the drivers of vehicles.

The bikeway is a message to cyclists that bikes do not belong on the road, that cyclists require special facilities to operate safely. However, the bikeway creates more dangers on the road, particularly at intersections, driveways, and discontinuities. Bikeways push cyclists to the margins of the road, both literally and figuratively. Making cycling less convenient for cyclists (adding stop signs for bikes at all driveways and intersections?) or for motorists (added red light time at intersections?) is not the kind of advocacy cyclists should support.

It is simply not possible to avoid "dicing" with the other vehicles on the road. But so long as everyone obeys the rules, it is not inherently dangerous. Everyday, competent bicyclists operate on the road in harmony with many other vehicle types on many different roads without bikeways.

Our roads are fine. There is nothing wrong with out roads. They are safe and efficient and accessible to all vehicle types.

I think the biggest problem cyclists face is cultural. Let's face it: riding a bike for any purpose after age 16 is a counter-cultural activity. Most people think there is something wrong with your car/wallet/brain if you are on bike. Bikeways help to reinforce the dominant auto-centric paradigm. They offer the cyclist nothing more than a dangerous false sense of security. Bikeways do not protect cyclists from motor traffic. To promote bikeways is to promote the idea that bikes are inferior to cars. Bicycle advocates ought to be focusing on tearing down bicyclist inferiority complex, not reinforcing it.

acline said...

The whole argument about the safety of bikeways (as it usually occurs in the U.S.) forgets something important: Not all bikeways (or lanes or whatever) are created equal. Therefore it is inaccurate to make over-generalized statements about their safety -- pro or con. Poorly-designed bikeways ARE a safety hazard. We have some stretches of bicycle lanes in Springfield that are death traps. Properly-designed bikeways, however, ARE NOT a safety hazard. For a look at what proper cycling infrastructure looks like, visit David Hembrow's site at http://hembrow.blogspot.com/

More than physical design goes into building a proper bikeway. The laws of right-of-way must be clear, and they must favor bicycles over cars. Oh, and it doesn't hurt to have a culture that has matured beyond cowboy individualism.

9a is my backyard said...

@ BikeJax

I know pedestrians wouldn't be much of a problem here :) There still isn't too much to walk to. My only issue with shared ped/bike paths is in a way it's just switching who is being passed by a fast vehicle. Instead of bikes being blown past by cars at 50 mph, bikes blow past people at 20-30 mph. While it's easier to communicate and the interaction would likely be less common, it doesn't completely eliminate the problem.

I think your point about some new kind of bike lane design is well taken. I think as we see a younger generation of transit engineers coming into the work force and pushing some of the old guys out we'll see an increase in consideration for bikes and mass transit because of the positive impacts they have. At least that's what I'm going to do :)

David Jordan said...

Bike lanes are good for getting newer cyclists on the road. However, like acline said, some lanes are better than others. The lanes on Beach Blvd move right with turn lanes, which forces cyclists into the road if they want to go straight.

John Forester is famous for pointing out that the bike lane enforces the notion that cycling is a dangerous activity, and that motorists have priority on the roadway. During car/bike interactions on roads without bike lanes, the driver's feelings of superiority have some justification.

His critics point out that if he has his way then some people will never begin cycling, and the status quo will continue.

The only sane response to bike lanes is ambivalence. Some drivers will never get it, just like some people will always cling to their racism and homophobia.

I'll use the bike lane if it's there and not filled with broken glass and rubble, but I don't mind claiming my rightful spot in the road. It's a necessity if the bike is to be legitimate transportation.

Cycling is less dangerous than driving, and the more you do it the better you get.

Learn how to avoid the most dangerous situations. Here's some info:



amsterdamize said...

Trying to be polite here: John Forester has a very warped view of a) science, b) evidence, and no idea what he's talking about regarding bicycle-friendly nations. I know seriously doubt whether this geezer actually has ever visited the old continent.

I'm happy to have a debate with him, based on facts.

Anonymous said...

SF bike rider here-- I visited florida awhile back (West Palm area) and noticed alot of bike lanes on these wide roads with fast moving traffic. The lanes are nice and all, but they are not helpful on big roads with fast moving traffic. I had the same thought as the author of this blog, i.e. that the sidewalk should be wider and shared for bikes/peds. The vibe I got in FLA is that the bike lanes were just lip service to "being green", and they are a nice gesture, but it would have been alot smarter to have a bike/ped shared-use lane. As to the comments that bike lanes are not safe, I disagree. It depends on the situation. Sometimes they are useless (e.g.- on big Florida roads with fast moving traffic) and sometimes they are great.

Anonymous said...

Saw a similar set up on Versus this weekend in the Ardenne valley. It looked like 3 or 4 tire stops were spaced about a foot apart along the inside of the painted line of the bike/walk lane. Allowances made for drive ways and intersections, of course. It wouldn't stop a car from entering the lane, but sure would discourage it.

abhishek said...

@ Anonymous

The tire stops are a good idea to discourage motorists from entering the lane. They also restrict the bicyclist from exiting the lane before approaching an intersection. Bike path design, using tire stops or a curb must facilitate bicyclist safety at intersections.

The dutch require an 8 foot median between a roadway and a segregated bike path when vehicle speeds on the roadway are 30mph or more. If a tiny country of The Netherlands can provide that much space, there is no reason why we must make do with tire stops.