What Bike Friendly Looks Like

What “Bike Friendly” Looks Like (Bicycle Neglect #4)
Posted by Alan Durning on 05/17/2007 at 06:30 PM
What if cities had no sidewalks and everyone walked on the road? Or, for urban recreation, they walked on a few scenic trails? What if the occasional street had a three-foot-wide “walking lane” painted on the asphalt, between the moving cars and the parked ones?

Well, for starters, no one would walk much. A hardy few might brave the streets, but most would stop at “walk?! in traffic?!”

Fortunately, this car-head vision is fiction for pedestrians in most of Cascadia, but it’s not far from nonfiction for bicyclists. Regular bikers are those too brave or foolish to be dissuaded by the prospect of playing chicken with two-ton behemoths. Other, less-ardent cyclists stick to bike paths; they ride for exercise, not transportation. Bike lanes, in communities where they exist, are simply painted beside the horsepower lanes.

Cascadians react reasonably: “bike?! in traffic?!” And they don’t. “It’s not safe” is what the overwhelming majority of northwesterners say when asked why they bike so little. (As it turns out, it’s safer than most assume—on which, more another day.)

So what would Cascadia’s cities look like if we provided the infrastructure for safe cycling? What does “bike friendly” actually look like?

Good bicycling infrastructure is something few on this continent have seen. It doesn’t mean a “bike route” sign and a white stripe along the arterial. It doesn’t mean a meandering trail shared with joggers, strollers, and skaters.

Bike friendly means a complete, continuous, interconnected network of named bicycle roads or “tracks,” each marked and lit, each governed by traffic signs and signals of its own. It means a parallel network interlaced with the other urban grids: the transit grid on road or rail; the street grid for cars, trucks, and taxis; and the sidewalk grid for pedestrians. It means separation from those grids: to be useful for everyone from eight year olds to eighty year olds, bikeways on large roads must be physically curbed, fenced, or graded away from both traffic and walkers. (On smaller, neighborhood streets, where bikes and cars do mingle, bike friendly means calming traffic with speed humps, circles, and curb bubbles.)

Picture a street more than half of which is reserved for people on foot, bikes, buses, or rail; on which traffic signals and signs, street design, and landscaping all conspire to treat bicycles as the equals of automobiles. This is what bike friendly—what Bicycle Respect—looks like.

Such “complete streets” are common in Denmark, the Netherlands, and other northern European countries. This photo is from Copenhagen, which has more than 200 miles of “bicycle tracks” and another 40 miles planned or under construction. (Photo courtesy of Jayson Antonoff, International Sustainable Solutions. See more photos here.) These tracks, which are typically above street grade and below sidewalk grade, can move six times more people per meter of lane width than motorized lanes of Copenhagen traffic. That’s right: because cyclists can travel close together, bike tracks have higher traffic “throughput” than do car lanes. Copenhagen has even synchronized its traffic signals—for bikers. An average-speed bike commuter going downtown will rarely see a red light.

What does bike friendly look like? It looks like a 60-year old and her granddaughter on two wheelers, getting the green light at each intersection they approach, while drivers brake to stay out of their way.

What does bike friendly look like? Watch this video to see. Though it’s Big Apple-centric, it includes footage of physically separated bike lanes from around the world. (Note: The eight-minute video buffers slowly; you may want to start it loading in another browser window and return to it after you finish reading. The image below is not a live link.)

(Aside: If you’re part of the YouTube generation and want to see more video of bike-friendly cities, there is plenty to choose from. The best I’ve found online are Copenhagen – City of Cyclists made by the city government and Amsterdam: The Bicycling Capital of Europe made by Cascadia’s own Dan Kaufman of Portland.)

Compared to these two-wheeled meccas, how bike friendly are Cascadia’s cities?

They’re not. Even leading cycling cities such as Corvallis and Eugene lack continuous, interconnected grids of physically separated bikeways. It’s true, Corvallis has painted bike lanes on almost all its arterials. Eugene has 33 miles of separate bike paths, and it lights many of them at night. But they’re more of a recreational resource than a transportation network, because they don’t form a grid. These towns are North American models, but they’re still a long way from bike friendly. You wouldn’t send your eight year old to school or soccer practice on these bike lanes.

The big Cascadian metro areas all lag these smaller cities, though they’re above average, by North American standards. Among them, Portland and Vancouver have invested more aggressively in bicycle infrastructure than has greater Seattle. And both are exploring new forms of bikeways to attract new riders, such as converting neighborhood streets into calmed, “bicycle boulevards” or greenways.

Vancouver, BC, is the cycling-est big city in the Northwest, and the City of Vancouver has been inserting bike routes into its urban grid at a pace of one mile every two months for almost two decades. It has emphasized waterfront bike paths and calmed, side-street bike lanes. (See, for example, this report [large pdf], especially pages 37-44.) The greater Vancouver area boasts an impressive 1,500 miles of designated bike routes, but most of them are just white lines in traffic.

The City of Portland has expanded its bikeways fast in recent decades, as shown in this animated map of bike routes over time. (Static maps [large pdf] courtesy of City of Portland, Office of Transportation. Thanks to Clark for animating.) It’s also shown in the chart below. The city has added them at a pace approaching one mile a month since 1980, outstripping even Vancouver. In fact, with 277 miles installed in Portland, the Rose City now claims more bikeway miles than Copenhagen.

The City of Seattle reports 67 miles of bike paths and lanes, plus another 90 miles of signed bike routes—a fraction of Portland’s network. The greater Seattle area has about 470 miles of paths and bike lanes, which is one third the total in greater Vancouver, a smaller, more-densely settled metropolis. The emphasis in the Puget Sound region, according to the Cascade Bicycle Club (large pdf), has been on building recreational paths shared by bikers and pedestrians, not building transportation infrastructure for human-powered travel. Tacoma is especially ill-fitted for bicycling at present, as the News Tribune recently reported.

Of course, raw numbers of bikeway miles are difficult to interpret. Researchers John Pucher and Ralph Buehler (pdf) adjusted reported bikeway length for population size in various North American cities, determining that Portland has 38 bikeway miles for every 100,000 residents, while Vancouver, BC, has 18 miles and Seattle has 9 miles. But these figures conceal as much as they reveal: a low value may reflect either fewer bikeways (for example, in Seattle) or higher population density (for example, in Vancouver).

Moreover, the quality of biking infrastructure matters as much as the quantity. Slapping a “bike route” sign on a road may qualify it for a city’s registry but doesn’t help cyclists much. Conversely, traffic calming on residential streets may make entire neighborhoods bike friendly without adding a mile to the bikeway count. Portland claims to have more miles of bikeways (277) than Copenhagen (204). But two-thirds of Portland’s are white lines on the pavement, while Copenhagen has an integrated, continuous network of physically separated bike tracks. Consequently, Copenhagen’s bike “mode split”—the share of all trips taken by bike—is ten times higher than Portland’s.

Cascadia is no novice at building bike-friendly cities, but we may be no more advanced at the art than apprentices. Still, our intentions are good. Take, for example, the City of Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan—an official policy document that’s in the final stages of public comment and review. The plan will guide the cyclo-fication of the city over the next decade. If fully implemented, the plan will bump the bikeway count up to 452 miles and put bike lanes on 62 percent of arterial streets—reaching within a quarter mile of 95 percent of city residents. The plan doesn’t envision groundbreaking on northern European-style bike tracks, but it does raise the bar in Cascadia’s largest city, setting it on a trajectory to catch up with its neighbors.

The question is, which Cascadian city will push on into the realm of true bike friendliness—of true Bicycle Respect? Doing so may not be politically easy, because in most cities, it will require taking street space away from cars and trucks and converting it to separated bikeways. The benefits will be immense and immediate, because bicycles are clean, healthful, democratic, fun, and affordable for all classes.

But who will lead the way?

Until some city does, until we can see “bike-friendly” right here in Cascadia, most northwesterners will continue to say, “bike?! in traffic?!”

(Thanks to Deric Gruen, who did research for this series.)

Individuals, states can play key roles in cutting emissions

By Dan Sorenson, Arizona Daily Star, May 5, 2007

As officials around the globe discuss what to do about climate change, the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report and some local experts say there is work to do here, now.
“It’s easy to say, ‘I’m the small guy and I don’t count,’ but we all count,” said Jonathan Pershing, director of the climate, energy and pollution program at the World Resources Institute at a Bangkok, Thailand, press conference early Friday morning after the release of the climate panel’s report report. The third report in the 2007 series focused on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and check global warming that the panel ties to human-caused atmospheric changes.
Members of the panel cited local and state efforts, such as California’s stringent air pollution and vehicle emission regulations, as examples of taking effective action on climate change at below the national level..
Yesterday’s report detailed dozens of short-term methods that could reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas including: changes in energy use and development – including use of nuclear power, an increase in the use of fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, improved efficiency lighting and appliance design, heat and power recovery, energy-efficient manufacturing techniques, improved cropland management and carbon storage, reforestation and decreased deforestation and capturing landfill methane.
Conditions, even under a best case scenario that would stop the increase in carbon dioxide emissions, could be perilous, said the University of Arizona’s Melanie Lenart. Lenart is a research associate working on climate assessment for the Southwest at the UA’s Institute for the Study of Planet Earth.
She said that even an eventual leveling off of carbon dioxide levels “would still leave us with a global temperature increase of 2.5 to 4 degrees (Fahrenheit) above today’s levels. And the Southwest has been warming at a faster rate than the world as a whole. Even this scenario is much better than what we’d be facing if we did nothing.”
But even so, Lenart said, something as likely as a power outage during a heat wave could be deadly for vulnerable city dwellers.
She is not without hope, however, noting that there are already technologies – some ancient – that could be employed to mitigate the effects of anticipated rising temperatures.
Some of it, she said, may take a change in attitude, others, legislation.
Lenart said an example would be using solar panels not just for the electricity they generate – which in itself replaces fossil fuels that would have to be burned in a power plant – but for the shade they produce. She said studies have already been done using solar electrical roofs over parking lots, dramatically reducing temperatures.
And while shade from plant life does not produce electricity, Lenart said a Phoenix-area study showed a temperature drop attributed to a planting of oleander of 36 degrees. And, she said, plants used for shade have an evaporative effect that solar panels lack.
But use of plants raises the question of water conservation. Lenart says that calls for “gray water,” using household wastewater for plant watering, rather than sending it down the drain.
Panel spokesmen at yesterday’s conference said calculating the benefits of reduced fossil-fuel use may be necessary to drive governments to enact regulations limiting greenhouse-gas emissions.
They said the costs of reducing fossil-fuel use are offset when improved health from cleaner air and reduced temperature increases are considered.
Despite voluntary efforts by industry to reduce emissions during the Clinton administration, “emissions in the U.S. have gone up 28 percent since 1990,” said Dennis Tirpak, one of the lead authors on Working Group III. “It’s time for us to quit kidding ourselves.”

more online

  • See the panel’s short- and long-term mitigation suggestions: www.ipccinfo.com
  • Visit the University of Arizona’s Institute for the Study of Planet Earth’s Web site: www.ispe.arizona.edu

What you can do

  • Visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Web page: www.epa.gov /climatechange/wycd /index.html
  • Get home energy saving tips from the U.S. Department of Energy: www.doe.gov /energysavingtips.htm

Did You Know?
Regional Climate Change modeling projects an 8 degree summer temperature increase for the desert Southwest by the last decade of this century.

Contact reporter Dan Sorenson at 573-4185 or dsorenson@azstarnet.com.

Focus on Youth in Sustainability

May 24, Thursday, from 4 to 6 pm, youth who are working toward sustainable goals will present their projects, views and vision.  Come learn what Tucson’s youth are thinking, doing, and dreaming about Tucson’s future.

Ward VI Offices.  Go east past Country Club Rd on Speedway.  Turn right at the first block after Country Club (at corner with Rum Runner) and travel one block south to the Ward VI office.

On the Rise in American Cities: the car-free zone


On the rise in American cities: the car-free zone
Pedestrians, bicyclists, and joggers are king of the road – at least
sometimes – as more US cities ban autos from parks or designated districts. By
Daniel B. Wood | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

San Francisco – Every Saturday starting May 26 through Sept. 30,
bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians will have free rein on almost a mile
of John F. Kennedy Drive, the main drag through Golden Gate Park. The usual
denizens of the road – autos – will be banned, detoured elsewhere.

Vehicles are already prohibited in parts of the park on Sundays, and the
decision to “go carless” on Saturdays as well concludes a heated seven-year
debate. In the end, arguments that such road closures promote family
activities, more active lifestyles, and tighter-knit communities carried the

The auto’s demotion at Golden Gate Park follows dozens of similar moves in at
least 20 American cities in the past three years. It’s a trend that is gaining
ground rapidly in the US, say urban planners.

o New York is proposing to shut down perimeter roads of Central Park and
Brooklyn’s Prospect Park all summer long.

o Atlanta plans to transform 53 acres of blighted, unused land into new
bike-friendly green space.

o Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, and El Paso, Texas, are planning events to
promote car-free days in public parks, most in the hope that the idea will
become permanent or extend for months.

“Cities across America are increasingly declaring that parks are for
people, not cars, … and closing roads within parks is one result of
that,” says Ben Welle with The Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park
Excellence, in Washington.

Resistance can be fierce at first, he and others say, because of worries
about traffic congestion, parking problems, and loss of visitors for
businesses and museums. But studies are showing that traffic problems can
be minimized, shops and museums get more visitors, and residents begin to
cherish their where-the-action-is location.

Not everyone is convinced, saying the jury is still out on how no-car zones
affect neighborhood vitality. In San Francisco, for instance, the de Young
Museum has said its delivery schedule must be adjusted because of the new road
closure, and it is concerned that patrons with physical disabilities may not be
able to get to the museum as readily.

The model city for road closure is Bogotá, Colombia, which in 1983 embarked on
a program called ciclovia (bike path), in which designated streets were closed
to cars every Sunday but open for jogging, biking, dancing, playing ball,
walking pets, strolling with babies – anything but driving. One-and-a-half
million people now turn out each week for ciclovia. Other cities in Latin
America followed suit, closing parts of parks or whole urban districts to cars
– some intermittently, some permanently. A result: revitalized neighborhoods
and an influx of people.

Smaller US cities, from Davenport, Iowa, to Huntington Beach, Calif., are
also starting to create car-free zones, according to Mr. Welle’s studies.

Beginning this month, El Paso will detour cars from seven roads every Sunday
from 7 to 11 a.m. so that cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians can use them

“City leaders were faced with a challenge: to get a poor city of
overweight, sedentary people moving when there weren’t any parks or
[bicycle] lanes,” says Robin Stallings of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. A
national magazine declared the city one of the four fattest in the US, he
says, “and that really got everyone’s attention.”

Two years of planning and $100,000 in donations made the program possible. El
Paso is the first ciclovia city in Texas – and it needs it more than most, says
Beto O’Rourke, the city councilman who championed the idea. It has just 25
percent of the park space of the average US city, a smaller tax base, and few
spaces for pedestrians or bicyclists, he says. “This solves a lot of problems
at once.”

The trend reflects cities’ response to residents who, after streaming back to
city centers, want more pedestrian amenities.

“The great thing about ciclovia is that cities can do it very
inexpensively. All the infrastructure is already there; there is no added
capital cost,” says Gil Penalosa, former parks and recreation director for
Bogotá who helped expand its network of closed roads from 8 miles in 1997 to 70
miles today.

In some ciclovia cities, such as Guadalahara, Mexico, fears that autoless
streets would cause economic hardship have dissolved. Some merchants
actually had to return to their stores on Sundays because the thousands of
visitors wanted everything from food and drink to curios.

“The economic boost to Guadalahara has been tremendous,” says Rob Sadowsky, a
Chicago bike activist who recently visited the city for a ciclovia symposium.
Mr. Sadowsky is organizing an August event in the Windy City that, if
successful, would extend next year from May to October.

In the US, say observers, the clamoring for car-free park space is
intensifying because of two other trends: global warming and obesity rates.

“Climate change and the obesity crisis have [rejuvenated] the movement for car-
free space,” says Paul White of Transportation Alternatives, which works to
reclaim roads from autos. As of last year, he notes, more of Earth’s
inhabitants live in cities than in rural areas. “Now we have to figure out what
urban habitat will sustain ourselves … it’s all about reducing car use.”

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