Bike lanes for jobs

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says protected bike facilities are important to retain hi-tech jobs in his city.

“By next year I believe the city of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country,” Emanuel said Sunday at Malcolm X College.

“It will help us recruit the type of people that have been leaving for the coast. They will now come to the city of Chicago. The type of companies that have been leaving for the coast will stay in the city of Chicago.”

Emanuel cited a recent meeting with executives from the hot Internet startup company GrubHub who told him that when they recruit engineers they show the new protected bike lanes which Chicago has been installing since last summer.

Finding space for bike infrastructure

1st Ave buffered lane - parking is allowed on weekends

Finding space for new bike infrastructure is always tough.  Usually existing streets aren’t getting any wider, and parking and drive lanes often take precedence in the minds of residents and policy makers.  Solutions that allow cars and bike to share space are becoming more common, like the wonderful Bryant Avenue bike boulevard.  So when you find a street with extra space, it’s kind of a miracle.

When I ride to work, I frequently use the 1st Ave S/Blaisdell one-way pair for going north-south.  Both of these streets recently received bike lane improvements, including a bit of protected bike lane on 1st Avenue, south of 33rd Street.  When I asked the project coordinator why 1st Avenue got the protected lane instead of Blaisdell, which has higher traffic volumes, his answer was “space”.  Here are some of my observations (as a cyclist and autoist) from using these streets:

  • It seems like overkill to keep Blaisdell a two-lane one-way street when both 35W and the Park/Portland one-way pair are so close.  Especially south of Lake Street.  Traffic engineers, weigh in here.  Is there any appropriate traffic volume that warrants this type of street design in an urban setting?
  • Speeding is frequently an issue on these streets, especially Blaisdell.  I do it myself, and the liberal use of “this is your speed” radar signs reinforces this.
  • Much of the bike lane on Blaisdell is filled with potholes, manhole covers, street detritus and sometimes parked cars.  In other words, it’s not very nice.
  • Riding next to traffic that is traveling 35-40 mph is uncomfortable.  I certainly wouldn’t take my daughter in a trailer or on her own bike on these streets.
  • In almost all places where it has been measured, auto traffic volumes on 1st and Blaisdell south of I-94 have dropped since 2006, in some places as much as 30%.
I think there is extra space on this pair of streets which could be used to make cyclists a lot more comfortable without impacting auto traffic significantly.  I’ll go out on a limb and say these might even have potential to increase property values by getting rid of the mini-freeway that is Blaisdell.  Here are some options I think might work, in preferential order.
  1. Turn 1st Ave into a two-way protected bikeway from 40th to 16th Street or maybe even Grant.  This could be with a raised curb, or just some paint and plastic bollards.  There would still be space for one auto lane in most places I think.  Turn LaSalle/Blaisdell into a two-way with one travel lane in each direction starting at Grant, with parking on both sides.
  2. Move the bike lane on Blaisdell behind a row of parked cars and adequate buffer space.  I say adequate to distinguish this from the 1st Avenue North design.  See these examples from Chicago.  Reduce car travel lanes to one south of 31st Street.
  3. Turn both 1st and Blaisdell back to two-ways where possible with one travel lane in each direction and parallel parking.  Give them the bicycle boulevard treatment a la Bryant.  Set speed limit at 25.
What do you think?  Doable?  What am I missing traffic people?

Minneapolis Bike Master Plan: “Tier 1” Projects

The new Minneapolis Bike Master Plan has a long list of projects necessary to build out the system.  82, if I count correctly.  However, only 6 of these are considered “Tier 1” in the plan, which I think means that they are high priority and meet criteria necessary to qualify for funding sources. These six are shown in the map above.  The Upper River Trails count as one project.

According to Don Pflaum, the project manager for the plan, much of the funding for these improvements will come from outside sources, such as SAFETEA-LU grants.  So each project must be evaluated based on a number of criteria, and must meet these criteria before being eligible for consideration by the City.  The criteria include the ability of the project to increase mode share, improve safety, and be cost effective, among others. The end of Chapter 7 contains a matrix of all the projects including their ability to meet each criterion.

This ranking doesn’t exactly prioritize projects, except to say what is and isn’t currently eligible for funding.  After speaking with Don, I know the city wants more input on cyclists priorities for the system. 

So what are your priorities?  Should the six projects above be first?  What projects do you think would bring the most benefit? You can add your top priorities right on the map. Click on the view larger link, then click on “save to my maps” and then you can draw right on the map. Ideally, you’ll want to check the project list in the plan to make sure your project is in there, but if you have something the plan doesn’t have, go ahead and add that too, just make a note so we all know it is something new. Also maybe add your name and a short description of the project so we know what it is.

Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan out for public comment

Calhoun Biking by flickr user meetminneapolis

Minneapolis has released the Bicycle Master Plan for public comment.  Get your comments in via phone, email or through the website until October 1st.  There will also be some open houses to collect comments I am told.

While I haven’t had time to read the entire document, the City has laid out some aggressive goals, such as increasing bicycle mode share (to work) to 15% by 2030, and increasing total bike trips by 10% each year.  They also aim to add 45 miles of on-street and 5 miles of off-street facilities by 2015.

The maps in the document are the most confusing to me, and I had a good conversation with Don Pflaum, the City’s contact for the plan, about making things more legible.  If you’ve got comments, submit them on the website, call or email Don or attend an open house.  This plan is the basis for prioritizing bikeway improvements in the city.

How Portland does buffered bike lanes

On the Right Track from Mayor Sam Adams on Vimeo.

Here’s a great video from TC Streets For People on how Portland does buffered bike lanes.  I’ve previously complained about how Minneapolis’ first buffered bike lanes were poorly designed.  This video shows that successful buffered lanes (they call them cycletracks) have a good door buffer zone (hence, the word buffer).  Currently, the Minneapolis lanes on First have no buffer zone.

Now that Minneapolis is supposedly America’s most bike-friendly city, we need to work to keep our crown.  Let’s take a page from Portland and adjust the First Ave lanes so they have a chance of being safe and successful.

New First Avenue bike lanes poorly designed


The new bike lanes on First Ave in downtown Minneapolis are a complete disappointment and drivers don’t seem to even notice they are there.  The bike lane is much too narrow and the “buffer” between parking and the bike lane may as well be non-existent.  As TC Streets For People points out, this design has been used successfully in other cities, but the buffer and bike lanes are much wider.  As the picture to the right shows, in Portland, there is a much clearer separation between parking and bike lane, maybe 3 or 4 feet, so even if drivers miss the mark, they are not in the bike lane.  This extra space also allows automobile passengers to open their doors without endangering a cyclist.

Portland's Cycle Track

Part of this “failure” is undoubtedly due to drivers confusion about the new design, and their desire not to park in what they think is a driving lane.  The city didn’t help matters in this regard by making the right lane no parking on weekdays and allowing parking during evenings and weekends.  Hopefully in the future, they will be much stricter about enforcement of parking in the bike lane, but its discouraging to have a facility open only to have it immediately fail.  Roads would never be designed in such a way.

So what could be better?  In an effort not to be totally negative, here are some ways the city could make the First Avenue bike lanes better:

  1. Get rid of the on-street parking.  If the parking doesn’t need to be there during the week, why does it need to be there during the weekend?  The ramps nearby are less full on the weekend anyway.  This would also make the design less confusing.  Without the parking, you could narrow the thru-lanes and maybe add a bike median.
  2. Bollards.  A simple solution that would require no reconfiguring or re-stripping would simply be to add some bollards along the double white line that is supposed to separate the parking from the bike lane.  Drivers would understand not to cross the line if there was a physical barrier.  These wouldn’t even have to be substantial, maybe just some plastic ones with reflectors.
  3. More paint.  Paint the entire bike lane yellow or green, or some solid color.  Drivers know that they aren’t supposed to drive or park on painted things.  This is a cheap way to make people pay more attention to the lane if the current design can’t be changed.