My View: Bicyclists, don’t worry, you’re in the Gaines plan

This article from Lester Abberger, Rick Hall and Dewayne Carver has turned out to be a bit of a head scratcher for me.  It’s written in response to an article that I spent way more time than I should have looking for on, all to no avail, so I don’t have the entire conversation, but the issue seems to be that the redevelopment plans for Tallahassee’s Gaines Street don’t include bike lanes.  Instead, they expect bicyclists to share the travel lanes with automobiles.  As far as I can tell, there’s only one travel lane in either direction, but an area between the opposing lanes has been provided so that cars can pass bicyclists.  The authors claim that putting in bike lanes would be unsafe because the bicyclists would be in an area where they could get hit by the opening doors of parallel-parked cars, and because the added width of the travel lane would encourage drivers to speed.  The guidelines they drew up for the development are certainly flashy, but light on the subject of bikes.  I have a few comments.  First of all, if you had back-in slant parking, it would take care of the doors problem.  Second, I give them a week or two before there’s a car crash in the median area when two cars going opposite directions try to pass bicyclists at the same time.  But here’s my question: is it a good idea to have cyclists and drivers sharing a lane on an urban street?  On low-congestion, residential streets, it’s no big deal, but on a busy, urban street, there’s a lot more conflict.  Many bicyclists report being victims of road rage, and this is increased when they are forced to share the road with drivers.  So, in my first mad grab for comments, I ask you, what do you think?  Is it safe for bikes and cars to share a lane on urban streets?  I think it would also be good, especially if you live in the Tallahassee area, to also comment on the page of the story above.  Hopefully they’ll take the feedback into consideration.


5 responses to “My View: Bicyclists, don’t worry, you’re in the Gaines plan

  1. newurbanhabitat

    I’d be interested to know what kind of research, went into the statement from the article: “Experience on Tallahassee streets, as well as guidance from street design manuals (AASHTO) and years of practical experience, show that it is safer for cyclists to share the lane if speeds are 30 mph or less. Simply put, bike lanes are for bigger roads with much faster traffic speeds than those that will be permitted on Gaines.” It sounds like they’re basing their decision on anecdotal evidence, rather than actual studies?

    My preference would be bike lanes. I’ve commuted by bike in one city with very few on-street bike lanes (Denver, CO), and another city with many (Eugene, OR). I feel safer riding in a bike lane for many reasons, but most importantly, designated lanes legitimize bike travel, making it clear to drivers that bikes belong on the road. In Denver, drivers routinely shouted things at me like, “Get a car.” And in May 2000, a cyclist (32 yr. old James Bray) was shot and killed on a busy street in a road-rage incident. Not all drivers are thrilled about cyclists in Eugene, but the on-street paths and traffic-signal changers for cyclists seem to make the relationship more equal and civil.

  2. I took a moment a read the article you suggested. Ten feet seems a little narrow for a traffic lane where a lot of bike traffic is anticipated. I would think 12-feet would be a minimum and maybe a bit more. I have biked all my life and must say that I prefer to use traffic lanes if they are wide enough. My city has separate bike paths, paved asphalt, but they are not of the same quality as the nearby roadways. I like to boot along on my bike and the smooth, well maintained roadways are my preference. (But I followed links from your site and was quite taken with the bike lanes I found that are part of the main roadway but cushioned from traffic with a buffer zone. Very appealing.)
    Good blog. Cheers.

  3. Great article and one that is frustrating as well. I’ve lived in cities covered with bike lanes and cities where they were almost non-existent and the difference is night and day. As much as I can I like to ride my bike around for closer errands whether to the coffee shop, renting a video, groceries, and so on. Right now I live in a city where there are no bike lanes and I cringe every time I head out. In morning or evening rush hour times I most often just have to ride on sidewalks because it is dangerous. Many times I just want to give up, say screw it, and drive.

    I think one of the appeals of new/renewed urban neighborhoods is bike friendly roads. These kinds of communities also tend to attract people who’re drawn to these lifestyle/transportation habits so if they’re not willing to put in bike lanes it would be a big loss (and dangerous).

  4. I got this in an e-mail from Mike Hathorne, Senior Asset Manager at Zions Securities Corporation:

    I would say the appropriateness of bicycles and cars sharing space is going to be dependent on car travel speeds. I think your point about angled parking is a good one to reduce the “interaction” of bikes and car doors. I believe Provo Center Street (between 5th West & University) is a good example of how bikes and cars can work in the same space. If travel speeds are slow enough then there is very little conflict. When travel speeds have to be increased then bicycles need to be separated from the cars, much the way they are further north on University using the Provo River Trail. But you then have potential conflicts between bikes and pedestrians if bike speeds get too high. You reach conflict level on both sides at some point. The key is learning how to manage and mitigate the points at which conflict occurs.

    You may want to take a look at the thoroughfare standards in the SmartCode for ideas on how this issue can be addressed.

  5. I have to admit that I only glanced through the plan, but I do have a couple comments . If I understand your post correctly, they are actually putting in a center passing lane but don’t have enough space to accommodate bicycles? One solution would be to put a two way separated bike lane on one side of the street between the row of parked cars and the sidewalk. If you make the median of this lane large enough, it lessens the problem of getting ‘doored’. This sort of arrangement is common in Europe and makes a cyclist feel perfectly safe. However, this would eliminate the passing lane and might add congestion when people are trying to park; I suspect this is the real reason for the middle passing lane, not the concern for cyclists. Have they considered one way streets? I know drivers hate them, but they are well suited in urban settings like this and would give plenty of space for both cars and bicycles.

    More generally, I do think bike lanes are necessary if planners intend bikes to be used in a street. I have ridden on many streets that have ample room for both cyclists and motorists but without marked bike lanes and motorists usually give me far less space than when there are bike lanes. This is another concern; if cars don’t give bikes enough passing space, many people will not want to use their bicycle in that street. Hardcore cyclists will always be in those streets, but without good bike lanes the (rightfully so) more timid riders will avoid using their bikes extensively.

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