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Making Bike Lanes Visible & Useful

March 25, 2009 Bicycling, Travel 20 Comments

When visiting Portland, OR you notice a lot of bicyclists.  Then you notice why.

The city of Portland has bike parking everywhere and many connecting bike lanes to help the cyclist navigate through the city.  Above, the green on the pavement is to mark the spot where motorists can get over for a right turn.  It alerts the motorist they are crossing a bike lane.  The cyclist is alerted to be on the lookout for right turning cars.

Look further into the picture, the bike lane continues on the other side of the intersection.  Yesterday I was driving home across the new Jefferson Ave viaduct. On the South end was a sign indicating the start of a bike lane.  Sure enough, at the end of the bridge a sign indicated the end of the bike lane.  So cyclists are on their own to get to the bridge and to keep going after they cross.  Brilliant.

Portland has cyclists not due to great weather but due to great thought into bicycling as transportation.  In St. Louis bike lanes are simply a way to rope off exceess pavement.


World’s Narrowest Bike Lane Located in St. Louis

January 23, 2009 Bicycling 26 Comments

St. Louis may have the “honor” of having the world’s narrowest dedicated bike lane.  How narrow you ask?  I didn’t take out a tape measure but the pictures reveal the sad reality of what constitutes a bike lane in St. Louis.

But before I show you the specific lane in question we need to step back and look at the big picture.  From BikeStLouis.org:

The Great Rivers Greenway District celebrated the opening of 57 miles of additional on-street Bike St. Louis routes through St. Louis County and St. Louis City on May 8, 2008 with ribbon cutting ceremonies in the Cities of Maplewood, Clayton and St. Louis. With the expansion, the Bike St. Louis system now totals 77 miles of dedicated bike lanes and shared traffic lanes.

The Bike St. Louis website has a nice map showing these 57 miles:

Portion of overall map from Bike St. Louis
Portion of overall map from Bike St. Louis

The map also has a nice graphic legend to help you understand which miles are shared lanes and which have dedicated bike lanes:

Graphic showing dedicated bike lanes.
Graphic showing dedicated bike lanes.

Recently a few blocks of this “system” caught my attention.  Specifically five blocks of dedicated bike lane along Chouteau Ave. from Tucker to Truman Parkway (17th):

Center of above image shows the bike route on Chouteau changing from shared to dedicated as it goes West of Tiucker.
Center of above image shows the bike route on Chouteau changing from shared to dedicated as it goes West of Tucker.

It looks great of paper.  But what about on the pavement?  As the headline proclaims, I think we have the world’s narrowest dedicated bike lane:

Looking West along Chouteau from Tucker (12th)
Route switches from shared lane to dedicated lane as you cross Tucker. The Bike St. Louis sign is visible on the pole.
The dedicated lane is not to the left of the curb but the gap between the two stripes!
The dedicated lane is not to the left of the curb but the gap between the two stripes!
A little further West at 13th we see the impossible narrow bike lane and on-street parking to the right of the lane.
A little further West at 13th we see the impossible narrow bike lane and on-street parking to the right of the lane.
Above we see how the parking lane squeezees down to make room for an auto left turn lane.
Above we see how the parking lane squeezes down to make room for an auto left turn lane at 14th.
At Truman Parkway (17th) you see the too narrow lane continues straight while the sign points you left.
At Truman Parkway (17th) you see the too narrow lane continues straight while the sign points you left.

Bike lanes in St. Louis are simply a feel-good & cheap way to get rid of excess roadway.  It is not a functional or useful system as you might see in a city like Amsterdam.  This is our tax dollars hard at work!

So how wide should a dedicated bike lane be?

Minimum width of bike lanes, with curb and gutter: “(For a) bike lane along the outer portion of an urban curbed street where parking is prohibited, the recommended width of a bike lane is 1.5 m (5 feet) from the face of a curb or guardrail to the bike lane stripe. This 1.5-m (5-foot) width should be sufficient in cases where a 0.3-0.6 m (1-2 foot) wide concrete gutter pan exists….” Page 23 (Source)

Why they even bothered calling this dedicated bike lanes is beyond me.  It is embarrassing!  Of course shared lanes are little more than normal lanes with additional markers (on pavement or posted signs).  So we have 57 miles now.  How useful are they?


We Have Our Own Stupid Bike Lanes

Proponents of bike lanes use arguments of increased safety to advocate an increase in such lanes. That would be nice and all if it were true. What is true enough is the perception of increased safety.

To the novice rider getting out into traffic can be intimidating. Bike lanes give these riders a mostly false sense of security. It is not the fault of the lanes but how they are designed in the US. Here they are largely left over roadway whereas in other areas where they are more effective they are part of a connected network, sometimes with their own signals and such. Here bike lanes simply start and stop out of the blue, leaving the rider on their own when the lane ends. This is where the safety argument falls apart.

Recently Slate did a couple of video segments looking for the stupidest bike lanes, click here to watch both. Go ahead and watch — they are brief and interesting. OK, back?

In July 2005 I did a report on a local bike lane that was more dangerous than stupid — it intentionally placed riders going straight ahead to the right of right turning vehicles.

The bike lane is that area nearest the curb. As you can see the cars in this lane above are required to turn right — right into cyclists heading South. The above is where 8th merges into 7th which at this point is basically Broadway.

Broadway is one of those hit or miss streets — the bike lane stops and resumes all of a sudden. A reader sent me a few pictures from further South, just South of A-B in fact:

Above as we approach the I-55 overpass we have two Southbound travel lanes, but no bike lane.

Under the bridge the roadway widens and a right turn lane begins to form for people going to Cherokee St or Southbound I-55. A brief bike lane appears to separate Southbound bikes from right turning motorists.

This is the exact spot where a cyclist should be at this point. But any rider skilled enough to get to this point doesn’t need a 10ft long bike lane to help them. The novice rider that hugs the right curb still needs help getting positioned in the right spot. If anything this tells motorists to not use all the road when turning right.

Bike lanes can be a good thing but only when they are consistent.  Having then only in spots where the road is too wide and not where it narrows again is just inviting a bike accident.


Bill Would Permit Segway Use in Forest Park

Last Friday Ald. Lyda Krewson (D-28th) introduced Board Bill 449 which would allow, with restrictions enforced through a permit process, the use of a Segway in Forest Park. Currently the Segway is legally allowed to use the street, along with cars, trucks, bicycles and scooters. They are also allowed, per state law, to use sidewalks and bike paths:

Defined–requirements for operation.

307.205. 1. For the purposes of sections 307.205 to 307.211, “electric personal assistive mobility device” (EPAMD) shall mean a self-balancing, two nontandem wheeled device, designed to transport only one person, with an electric propulsion system with an average power of seven hundred fifty watts (one horsepower), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a propulsion system while ridden by an operator who weighs one hundred seventy pounds, is less than twenty miles per hour.

2. An electric personal assistive mobility device may be operated upon a street, highway, sidewalk, and bicycle path. Every person operating such a device shall be granted all of the rights and be subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian pursuant to chapter 304, RSMo.

3. Persons under sixteen years of age shall not operate an electric personal assistive mobility device, except for an operator with a mobility-related disability.

4. An electric personal assistive mobility device shall be operated only on roadways with a speed limit of forty-five miles per hour or less. This shall not prohibit the use of such device when crossing roadways with speed limits in excess of forty-five miles per hour.

5. A city or town shall have the authority to impose additional regulations on the operation of an electric personal assistive mobility device within its city or town limits.

The last section above does allow cities to place restrictions. In the City of St. Louis it has been interpreted by the City Counselor’s office that the Segway is a vehicle and is not allowed to use sidewalks and/or bike paths. The current applicable definition comes from ordinance 65138 which was signed by the Mayor in January 2001 — before the introduction of the Segway:

For purposes of this ordinance a “motorized scooter” shall mean any two-wheeled device that has handlebars, is designed to be stood upon by the operator, and is powered by a motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion at a speed of not more than 25 miles per hour.

The above ordinance was originally targeted to those motorized skateboards that were popular at the time — hence the ‘stand upon part’ of the definition. The city cites the following as reasons for a Segway being a vehicle and thus banned from use on sidewalks:

Every person operating a motorized scooter shall have all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of any other vehicle as established by ordinance, including, but not limited to, ordinances concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, except those provisions which, by their very nature, can have no application.

Well, OK, but what about this section from the same ordinance:

A person operating a motorized scooter is not subject to the provisions of this code relating to registration, and license plate requirements, and, for those purposes, a motorized scooter is not a motor vehicle.

If we stroll over to the “revised code” for the city and look at the Chapter 17.16 Miscellaneous Traffic Rules we can see all sorts of, well, miscellaneous rules. These include rules on many topics such as crossing fire hoses, boarding in motion, transporting animals, and allowing police officers to ride bicycles on any sidewalk in the city. The city considers the Segway a vehicle and references the following as reasons why it is banned on all sidewalks:

17.16.040 Driving upon sidewalk or bicycle/ pedestrian right-of-way.

A. No person shall drive any vehicle upon a sidewalk except upon a permanent or duly authorized temporary driveway.

B. No person shall drive any vehicle upon any bicycle/pedestrian right-of-way. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to persons driving emergency vehicles or maintenance vehicles, persons who drive upon any bicycle/pedestrian right-of-way as a means of ingress or egress to a place of business or a residence or persons crossing any bicycle/pedestrian right-of-way at a point designated by Grace Hill Americorp as river access crossing site. (Ord. 64952 § 2, 2000: prior: Ord. 57831 § 1 (part), 1979: 1960 C. § 827.040.)

So is the Segway a “vehicle” or not? The state of Missouri considers a bicycle a vehicle as well with the operator is subject to the same rights and rules as a motor vehicle operator but we don’t ban bicycles from operating on bike paths.

So Ald. Krewson’s bill is not looking to examine the bigger issue from a city-wide perspective. BB#449 is geared only at Forest Park and mainly at institutions within Forest Park. Basically the Science Center owns (16) Segways they like to use for groups to show how they work — you know, the science behind them. Legally they should be permitted to use them on roadways in Forest Park but it seems they want to use them on sidewalks and paths. This bill, if passed in its current form, would permit the Director of Parks to formulate rules, an application process and issue permits to those seeking to use a Segway in Forest Park.  To receive a permit you’d need to own the Segway.  Institutions in Forest Park, such as the Science Center, could allow others to use their Segways after the person signed a waiver form.  Anyone riding a Segway in the park would need to wear a prominent plackard — making them look even dorkier.

So all this brings up several questions.  First, does the current laws on the books limit the use of Segways or not?   If yes, do we keep it as is or do we consider where and how we’d like to permit Segways on sidewalks/paths.  For example, besides Forest Park perhaps on the North Riverfront Trail?  If the current laws do not ban the use of Segways on sidewalks/paths, do we want to limit their use.  At nearly $6,000 a pop it is pretty rare to see one out and about except for tour groups.

One time, a few years ago, I crossed the street heading to the Chicago Art Institute and a group on Segways had blocked the entire corner on the sidewalk — making it difficult for me as a pedestrian to get through.  Like my scooter, I have no issues with someone locking up a Segway to a bike rack on the public sidewalk, but I have to wonder about mixing Segway users with walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, and cyclists on paths in Forest Park.  This seemingly non-issue gets complicated pretty quickly.  For more information on the Segway see Wiki and Segway.com.


I Biked, Walked and Scootered Yesterday

Heading from my new loft to the convention center 8 blocks west yesterday for the Missouri section of the American Planning Association conference I managed to make a trip on foot, one on bike and another on scooter.  The joys of multi-modal living choices!

The scootering, of course, was the easiest as it requires no effort and the weather was quite pleasant.

Walking was actually the second easiest.  It took less than 20 minutes at a comfortable pace.  I’m out of shape and substantially overweight so walking — and lots of it — is on my agenda.

Bicycling, on the other hand, was a chore.  The only one of my bicycles I have downtown now is my rather cool looking single speed bike, a bike that weighs in at 50lbs!  Add my weight and you can imagine the challenge of pedaling all that around.  Granted, it had been over two years since I had really bicycled anywhere so it felt good to be on the bike.  Plus those bike helmets are feather light compared to a motorcycle helmet.

Although the YMCA is across the street I’m really not a gym kinda person.  I prefer my exercise outdoors — more naturally.  Hence the walking and bicycling.   Well, time to hit the sidewalk and walk back down to the conference for the final day.