Thursday, April 24, 2014

Well, Actually. Yes...

Bike Lanes Everywhere

I really admire and what ever you think about Cycle Chic or Mikael Colville-Andersen himself. You've got to admit, "The Copenhagenize Guide to Liveable Cities", has some great graphics. The two below are my favourites. The simplicity and clarity of these graphics is really apealing, at least to me. More importantly the message is clear and unambiguous.  

I used the circular "The Copenhagenize Bicycle Planning Guide", in a recent post "Bike Lanes Everywhere!" Where traffic volumes and effective speeds are low, the need for infrastructure is likewise low. As volume or speed increase the need for infrastructure also increases. I framed this as protection from the "confined to" fear of some cyclists.
But, that isn't the whole story. It is also an inoculation against terrible, inadequate and unnecessary infrastructure. There are many examples of this along Ottawas East West Bikeway:
for example Wilbrod St.

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Wilbrod is a quiet One Way Street with negligible traffic volumes. In fact the school pictured above blocks the road twice a day to load/unload its school buses. A counter-flow lane like Cameron St. in Old Ottawa South would be nice:
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As it stands, Wilbroad's east bound cycling lane is frankly unnecessary.
Another example of an unneeded cycle lane would be Monk St. in the Glebe:

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Monk St. is on my regular commuting route. Especially with the construction in-front of Lansdown Park but the bike lane is superfluous, and once Bank St. returns to normal and the construction trucks are not there I will once again continue north to Fifth St. rather then make the awkward left off busy Bank St. onto Wilton Cr. Heading south I never take Monk St. Wilton is actually quite busy, with cars accessing or exiting Queen Elizabeth Drive. What cyclist wants to come to a full stop before a difficult right and a steep hill over one of the most complained about bridges, in Ottawa. Monk St. is not a south bound route.
There are many other examples: Sherwood Drive is trying traffic calming by bike. Sharrows and single file signs to slow cars down. really adds nothing for cyclists. St. Patrick really a continuation of highway 50 and the Vanier Expressway is slatted to get sharrows, this is insultingly inadequate.
I strongly believe that all of these complaints could be averted with the adoption of the two posters at the start of the post.
I love my bike, cycling makes me happy. I am motivated to choose cycling over driving but I don't always. Driving is a convenience, it is easy. I can guilelessly listen to the radio there is heat/air conditioning... Privileging walking/cycling over private autos is merely levelling the playing field. That is the first poster. Car journeys don't need to be direct or easy, in fact they should be difficult and convoluted. Otherwise, transit, walking or cycling will not appeal to any but  a tiny minority.
Adhering to the principles in the second poster is vitally important as well. Objective and subjective safety cannot be achieved without appropriate, consistent infrastructure where required and recognition of where it is not. A dense, comprehensive and complete cycling network is key to getting people to chose to cycle. Knowing where to concentrate efforts is how we get from here, to there.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Value of Sharrows...

Sharrows (pictured below) are newish road markings. A bicycle stencil beneath double chevrons. They are meant to convey several messages to all road users. These messages can be broadly grouped under: "Bikes Belong"

Sharrow on Bank St. bridge over the Rideau
To the motorist the messages are: "Bikes Belong" here, in the lane. Slow down, be patient...

To the cyclists the similar messages: "Bikes Belong" here. "Take the Lane" or at least move away from the curb...

Ottawa has gone sharrow mad painting them on all sorts or roads. The one pictured left was painted on the Bank St. bridge over Rideau River. I wrote about this bridge before, "Solution for scary bridges". That was almost two years ago, the no passing cyclists in the lane was abandoned in favour of sharrow lane markings.  You can even see them in the satellite view on Google maps, pictured below.

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So the million dollar question: do they work?
Do they influence the behaviour of motorists or cyclists?
Are cyclists comforted, emboldened, welcomed to the street?
Last time I wrote about this bridge I caught a couple crossing on the sidewalk.
Crossing Bank St. Bridge over Rideau River
At the time I noted that they may have made this choice irrespective of road conditions. This is the most direct path to the Rideau River Eastern Pathway form the multi-use pathway through Windsor Park. Rationalizations aside this is sub-optimal behaviour. The sidewalk is narrow the railings are low, it is objectively dangerous. Yet, subjectively a comfortable, and therefore common, choice. Since that photo was taken, tragically a woman lost her life when a cement truck turned right on Riverside. A Ghost Bike has been installed on the South-West corner and a lot of hand wringing over how to make the bridge safer. Have the new lane markings changed the road environment?

The photos above were taken yesterday, while I was out checking out the neighbourhood. It has been a bad year for flooding and the river is finally receding. The still incomplete Rideau River Western Pathway  is still mostly under water and I was checking out the Bank Street underpass, flooded and currently impassable. When I noticed several cyclists crossing the bridge on the sidewalk. I managed to catch these two but missed several others. I did witness cyclists on the road, but in my small sample it was about 5:1 on the sidewalk. 
I am not about shaming cyclists, people make choices based on the information available to them. Sticking to the sidewalk to cross on the "wrong" side to save a road crossing. I can understand that. It may be silly and selfish, but understandable. People, in the aggregate, are lazy and saving a few meters is worth a fair amount of risk. That said, all the cyclists I witnessed today were crossing with traffic and continuing north on Bank St. Everyone taking to the road after Riverdale Ave. No effort saving here. Objectively the cyclists would be safer on the road, and subjectively the sharrows should have, if they work at all, made the road more comfortable. People demonstrate their comfort by their actions. sharrows have not made Bank St. bridge more comfortable for cyclists. Maybe it's time for more concrete solutions.

Monday, April 7, 2014

False Sense of Security

This morning this Tweet appeared in my Twitter Feed:
After several replies and a bit of "lively" debate, this response:
These two Tweets illustrate just how far cycling advocacy still has to go in Ottawa. A city that was awarded Ontario's first "Gold Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the Share the Road Cycling Coalition" (pdf) Less then two years ago.
Those were heady times, the Laurier Bike lane the cities first protected cycle lane was in full swing, very popular, successful by all metrics. The Streets, Main and Churchill were approved for cycle tracks better sidewalks and status as "Complete Streets". Heady times, momentum and political will were on the side of those of us advocating for "Livable Cities" and better cycling infrastructure. Since then it has been a steady slide back to the 1960's Parkways, Expressways and wider roads. Which brings us to the first Tweet: Here is St. Patrick Street via Google maps:
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Not only is this street the only connection between Lowertown and Vanier, it also connects Quebec's highways 50 and 5 to the Vanier Parkway. This is a busy 4 lane divided road, and while I can't say it is popular with cyclists it is one of only three spots to cross the Rideau River north of the Queensway. East of Cobourg St. it has been marked as part of the East-West Bikeway. West of Cobourg St. to Lowertown and Ottawa's Market, popular destinations, there has been no plans to accommodate cyclists. @VanierCycles has been working hard to connect Vanier to the rest of Ottawa's active transport plan. As well as make active transport a priority with in Vanier. St. Patrick is an obvious, if difficult, cycling connection. Unfortunatly the road surface is quite narrow as can be seen in this google maps Street view:

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As you can see not a lot of room on the existing road bed. Ignore the grass buffering the sidewalk new construction is not being considered here. No this would be a paint only project, and to accommodate a painted bike lane the road will need to be over 8 meters wide. City Engineers are telling VanierCycles a panted lane is not possible, but maybe Sharrows. Now, I am a confident cyclist I like Sharrows but they are completely inappropriate here. This is a road designed for 80 km/h officially 50 km/h. Volume is high most of the day, not a Sharrows candidate but city engineers don't want to provide a "narrow" bike lane.

Which brings us to @Centretowner's Tweet:

This is I imagine the exact thought process of the city engineers; why provide a false sense of security with a sub-optimal bike lane. This is logical, a narrow bike lane can be host to all sorts of problems, such substandard facilities will not appeal to tentative potential cyclists. The question is will they provide a "false sense of security". My unscientific personal observations is, no. Narrow substandard painted bike lanes appeal to a select few. Many people on bikes will continue to chose to ride the sidewalks or avoid the route entirely. The few who do use the route will be confident cyclists, who while not needing the painted lane, prefer that it is there. No narrow substandard bike lanes don't provide a false sense of security, they provide a little bit of security to those who need it least and none to those that need it most.
St. Patrick requires grade separated protected cycle tracks. Traffic volumes and speeds dictate this. The City engineers should say this. They should say that they don't have funding to do this at this time but here is what we can do to get there. Not offer the worst backwards "solution" available. A City that claims to care about cyclists, livable environments and core neighbourhoods wouldn't do this.
That Ottawa has says a lot.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Bike Lanes Everywhere!

Well, maybe not everywhere...

I've been working on this post for a while now. It started when I tweeted a link to a video explaining "Protected Intersections for Cyclists
A novel (well not really, more on that in a bit) way of dealing with one of the most common complaints against Cycle Tracks in North America: What about the intersections?
Quickly, while there are subtle variations, Bike Lanes merge with traffic prior to intersections & Cycle tracks continue to the intersection to the right of cars and stop. Both these strategies invite conflict with other traffic at right turns, red-lights and have short comings for left-turning cyclists. Here, clearly demonstrated, is a solution. Best part, this is not a theoretical solution. This is widely used, in the Netherlands of course.  Why reinvent when others have already done all the hard work.

The reactions: "It can't be done in Ottawa, takes to much room."
"We shouldn't do this because then everyone will think that is the only place we can ride."

The room issue is complicated, but ultimately false: Issue is never is there enough just how do you choose to use it. As Easy As Riding A Bike frequently takes this on in a British context. It is the second complaint that I've been trying to get a handle on. There are two sides to this: from cyclists perspective, a fear that Cycle Tracks will inevitably lead to a loss of right to the road. Non cyclists are often exasperated thinking we want CYCLE LANES EVERYWHERE!

I can't completely allay cyclists fears that ultimately they will be denied road space. In large part because, now without extensive, safe or comprehensive cycling infrastructure. It is very common for a cyclist to be aggressively harassed by drivers who question their right to the road, occasionally with fatal results. So, unfortunately this is a reasonable fear, especially for established cyclists who successfully brave the current environment. What I can do is address the "Cycle Lanes Everywhere" fear. After all if cycle lanes aren't meant to be everywhere cyclists can't be restricted to them. Further, if cycling infrastructure has a clear plan places where it makes sense, and places where it doesn't maybe opposition to proper, comprehensive and safe infrastructure will diminish. Well one can hope. How to go about setting up the matrix? Well Kay Teschke Professor, School of Population and Public Health The University of British Columbia. Has done some great research on Cycling in Cities, showing relative dangers to and preferences of cyclists of all types. I really support this research it is very interesting and necessary in the North American context. But, why reinvent something someone else has done? This time form Denmark and the fine people at Copenhagenize have a perfect tool for planers and advocates:
 It is so elegant, so simple. Different provisions based on traffic speed and volume. Quiet low traffic streets, neighbourhood residential streets for instance cyclists of all ages should be able to share reasonably safely. Faster or higher volume roads get progressively more comprehensive infrastructure. Simple, no?