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.

Minneapolis is #2 in bike commuting in 2008

Bike Pittsburgh has done some data mining on the American Community Survey data to develop commuting data separated by mode from the 60 most populus cities.  To display the information, they created a nifty dynamic spreadsheet in Google Docs that allows you to sort by mode. Also check out their table on commuting trends by gender. New research says we need to figure out what women want if we want to increase bicycle commuting.

Number one bicycle commuting city?  Portland, of course.  But number two?  Minneapolis.  In 2008, 4.3 percent of workers who lived in Minneapolis commuted by bicycle.  We beat out (by a good margin) warm and sunny places like San Francisco, Sacramento and Oakland. We also rank in the top ten in walking to work and are 12th in public transit. Good work Minneapolis, and look out Portland, we’re gunnin’ for you.