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Curbee Your Enthusiasm

PlaceMatters has a virtual water-cooler for employees to post interesting ideas and articles we want to share internally–things we could imagine discussing at the water cooler if we had a water cooler. One of the most frequently discussed themes is biking and bikability in cities. We have had long threaded discussion topics including bike safety, helmets, and bike infrastructure design. Recently, I was sent a link to a CityLab article about a curbside device called the Curbee, designed to make it easier for bicyclists to rest while stopped at an intersection. I was totally unimpressed.

Photo: Steve Vance (from Street blog)

Photo: Steve Vance (from CityLab article linked above)

Not including installation, the cost range was between $600 and $1200. I can think of a number of other things I would like that money spent on–like design elements on streets created to slow down cars and give bikers equal, if not priority, standing in the car-bike hierarchy. If Denver is going to keep painting sharrows on many of the roads, I would spend money on education/outreach to teach people about the etiquette of sharrows long before I would dedicate money for Curbees.

Not because I am a big sharrow advocate (I’m not) but if we are going to have sharrows, we need an information campaign so more people know how they should behave (both in a car and on a bike) when on a road with sharrows.

SharrowI did several searches on sharrows, etiquette, safety, and rules and found more postings indicating confusion on how to behave as a driver of a motorized vehicle and as a bicyclists than clear instructions on proper use. Wikipedia was one of the better links I looked at with a description of the city planner’s intensions behind the use of sharrows.

Sharrows are used to: assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in a shared lane with on-street parallel parking in order to reduce the chance of a bicyclist’s impacting the open door of a parked vehicle; assist bicyclists with lateral positioning in lanes that are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to travel side by side within the same traffic lane; alert motorists of the lateral location bicyclists are likely to occupy within the traveled way; encourage safe passing of bicyclists by motorists; and reduce the incidence of wrong-way bicycling.

Other sites emphasized that under Vehicle and Traffic Law, a bicyclist is permitted to use the travel lane on a street to commute just the same as a motor vehicle and that sharrow bike markings indicate to a motorist and a bicyclist that the roadways has a shared travel lane.

I learned some credit goes to Denver for first instituting the use of icons to delineate shared roads. In our 1993 Bicycle Master Plan, James Mackay, the Master Plan’s Project Manager, describes its adoption as more of a compromise than a preferred best practice.

The City of Denver’s unwillingness to commit to bike lane markings meant that shared lane markings were the only pavement marking treatment for bicyclists that the City would implement. The hollow arrow surrounding the bicyclist was intended to reinforce the correct direction of travel for bicyclists (who were frequently observed riding the wrong-way, against traffic, in Denver).

Credit for the now more commonly used chevron over a bicyclist design (the sharrow) goes to San Francisco. This quote from Mackay reinforces my criticism of sharrows as a planner’s solution that while perhaps well intentioned does not fully address what’s needed. In fact, the trend of painting sharrows on many of the roads in Denver with little information on how to behave as drivers and bicyclists on roads with sharrows dilutes their utility. The same Wikipedia article cites studies researching different changes for bicyclists and which ones seem to make the most difference in decreasing the number of accidents and the severity of injuries. Evidence behind sharrows are inconclusive, if not negative. I found this cited study particularly helpful:

Despite the differing variables important in the two analyses, there are consistent patterns: features that separate cyclists from motor vehicles and pedestrians (cycle tracks, local streets, traffic diverters) and lower speeds (motor vehicle speeds less than 30 km/h, level grades) were associated with significantly lower injury risk to cyclists. These features are incorporated into transportation design in northern European countries with high cycling modal shares and low injury risk, and have been shown to encourage cycling in North America. Important additional evidence from this study includes the importance of obstacles in [improving] safety (traffic circles, streetcar or train tracks, construction). Transportation planners and engineers in many North American cities are interested in promoting cycling and will benefit from the accumulating evidence about the value of building environments sensitive to cyclists.

Portland bike enthusiasts have created blog sites on different bike lane designs. Delineated lanes with flexible barriers are described in great detail on this site, something that has been deployed in Denver on 15th Street, yet with mixed results in many user opinions.

If I had a say in where to invest money, I would love to see one intersection designed with a protected intersections for bicyclists (also described as Dutch Junction Design).

This seems like a brilliant way to delineate bike, ped, and vehicle traffic. Fortunately there is growing interest in designing bike lanes that dramatically improve safety for the bicyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles.

In November, the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) launched the city’s biggest crowdfunding campaign to date for civic infrastructure with a pitch to raise $35,000 of the $155,000 needed to build a protected bike lane on Arapahoe Street. The first $120,000 was raised with donations from the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and the Gates Family Foundation. PlaceMatters donated the final 1% needed to reach the campaign’s goal. The DDP has organized a task force to improve bikeability downtown, with the crowdfunded lane on Arapahoe the first of four priorities. The other priorities include devising a better bicycle parking plan; establishing a “Mile High Loop” that connects downtown with nearby attractions; and making the annual “Bike to Work Day” a monthly or even weekly event.