separated bikeways and bus routes

The City of Sacramento started a design with protected bikeways on streets with significant bus traffic on P Street and Q Street in downtown Sacramento. I live on P Street, so see use of the bikeway on a daily basis. It works OK. P and Q are not heavily biked streets, and the separated bikeways are not heavily used, but they are OK. And actually, P Street doesn’t work well for buses. Since much of the bus traffic is commuter buses, a lot of them over a short period of time, there is often a stack-up of buses blocking traffic and interfering with each other at a stop opposite me on P Street at 13th Street.

Note: I’m using the term separated bikeway here because it is the term in state law, and therefore planning and engineering documents. Most people call these protected bike lanes, or sometimes cycletracks, though the term cycletrack is more commonly used for two-way bike facilities. Use whatever term you’d like!

On Q Street eastbound, the separated bikeway transitions to a bike lane at 14th Street. Since there are bike lanes on both sides of Q Street to the east, a bicyclist a decide where to transition to the right side of the street. This works OK.

On P Street westbound, however, it is a completely different story. The separated bikeway ends at 9th Street. To the west there are no bicycle facilities of any sort. It is a three lane traffic sewer (what I can three or more lane roadways, the purpose of which is solely to flush traffic in and out of downtown). With the construction going on all through downtown, P Street is and has been reduced to two lanes is several places, and with state workers mostly working from home, there is much less traffic in downtown. Nevertheless, the design is fatally flawed. I use the term ‘fatally’ on purpose – it is a design likely to result in bicyclist fatalities.

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for quite a while, but a tweet from Sacramento Streets @ajrichie about the design for transitioning from 19th Street off side parking protected bikeway to right side parking protected bikeway at W Street brought it back up. In the Central City Mobility Project, a diagram shows that transition happening with a required two-stage turn box for bicyclists. I’m all in favor of optional two-stage turn boxes for bicyclists who are not comfortable making traditional left turns in the flow of traffic. But a required two-stage turn? Absolutely not. Why does the city think this is necessary? Because it is fixated on off-side separated bikeways on bus routes.

SacCity Bikeway Transitions diagram 19th St
SacCity Bikeway Transitions diagram 19th St

I am also a big transit supporter. Transit needs to run efficiently and safely in order to provide an alternative to private motor vehicles. But the city has picked the wrong solution. I think the reasons are several:

  1. resistance to prioritizing transit or bicyclists over motor vehicle traffic and parking (Sacramento is a profoundly cars-first city, no matter what the lip service to other modes; a few bike facilities doesn’t change that)
  2. resistance to using bicycle signal faces (too expensive, though they seem to have no problem spending $100K or more on a traffic signal)
  3. resistance to in-lane bus stops (they would rather delay a bus full of riders having to pull out of and into traffic, than slightly delay a driver waiting behind a bus)
  4. resistance to any permanent transit modifications to streets (the city plans to do most street improvements solely with repaving projects and striping, which excludes real changes)

NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) has provided a great alternative, dating back to 2016, in the Transit Street Design Guide. An excerpted graphic is below, though I encourage you to read the entire page on Side Boarding Island Stop.

NACTO side boarding island stop diagram to accommodate transit and bicyclists
NACTO side boarding island stop diagram to accommodate transit and bicyclists

San Francisco has implemented a great number of these, along Folsom Street and other high volume transit, bicyclist, and motor vehicle streets. In several places SF and east bay cities have put in temporary boarding islands to gather experience to determine what the best location and design is.

My experience with boarding islands is great, both as a bicyclist and as a transit rider. They have made a significant difference in speeding up bus service along these routes (along with, of course, transit-only red lanes). Drivers seem to have accepted them. They do remove some parking, but less than a full length bus stop that is necessary when buses have to pull out. Delays to drivers are minor. Conflicts between bicyclists and transit riders crossing the bikeway seem minimal – it is amazing how people can negotiate safety when not behind a windshield.

My recommendation to the city is that they cease installing off side separated bikeways, change the design for 9th, 19th, and 21st streets to be on side, and eventually fix P and Q streets. And making the only acceptable design for new separated bikeway anywhere in the city be on side (right hand) side. Off side bikeways are confusing for many bicyclists, as it controverts the normal exception that bicyclists are on the right hand side. It also confuses drivers who don’t expect to see bicyclists on the left side. We do have a number of both sides bike lanes in the central city, but almost everywhere else they are right side only.

3 thoughts on “separated bikeways and bus routes

  1. I see your recent comments re City forums for mobility discussions. Is there a City web site that follows these discussions? If not, how does one keep track?


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