unacceptable accommodation

Sacramento City continues its practice of approving construction projects that do not consider the needs of walkers and bicyclists. Here is the latest I ran across, on Folsom Blvd between Santa Ynez Way and 39th St. The construction on the south side appears to be installing cable or fiber. At the west end, there is a sudden ‘sidewalk closed’ sign. There is no prior warning, there is no ramp or marked crosswalk for crossing Folsom to the north side (it requires crossing an offset intersection diagonally to go from one ramp to another, an exceptionally long distance), and there is no indication about how long the detour is.

At the other end, there is the same sort of signing without any prior warning or information provided.

At this location, 39th St, there is a marked crosswalk with traffic signal which could allow people to cross Folsom, but just to make sure the message that pedestrians are unwelcome here is clearly received, a construction truck was parked across the crosswalk. When I asked the construction crew to move the truck, they refused. I reported it to parking enforcement but am not sure of the outcome.

Of course there is a bicycle lane along this section of Folsom Blvd, which is also blocked by the construction. That may be justifiable, but you would think that forcing bicyclists to share the general purpose traffic lane would justify a reduction of the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph, but no, that that would inconvenience drivers and in the city, that is not to be considered.

This kind of bias against walkers and bicyclists should be unacceptable in the city. And it would be if the staff of Construction Services were not biased against walkers and bicyclists. Time to replace that staff with people who care about all modes of travel.

city failure on Capitol Mall bike lane

Sacramento has nearly completed a reconstructed bridge over I-5 between 3rd Street and Tower Bridge. This is part of a project to provide access from and to Old Sacramento, but that part is not complete yet. The pavement is fresh, with bright white lines and green carpet bike lanes. But, the bike lane design is a failure. The eastbound bike lane is OK. A little strange because it varies in width, but acceptable. The westbound bike lane, though, is a hazard to bicyclists.

Below is a photo of the first problem, a bike lane to the right of a place where a right turn is permitted. This is at the entrance to the Old Sacramento access.The straight-and-right arrow indicates that the city expects heavy right turning traffic at this location.

While this design is in compliance with the law, using a dashed line to indicate that traffic from the general purpose lane and the bike lane should safely merge, the use of green paint here is the wrong message. Though green paint has no legal meaning, the general meaning taken is that this is the place for bicycles. So an average bicyclist will stay in the bike lane, not realizing that the safe manesuver is to merge into the general purpose lane. The result is a right hook danger that has been created by the design.

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Stay to the right of right turning cars? NO!

There are a lot of ways to solve this issue, but this is the worst possible solution. Creating a separate signal phase for bicyclists and right turning traffic is one solution. Dropping the bike lane in favor of green-back sharrows in the general purpose lane is another.

However, this problem spot is minor in comparison to what happens just on the other side of the intersection. Here, the bike lane suddenly ends and becomes a right turn only lane. There is no signing for bicyclists or motor vehicle drivers, no pavement markings, no indication of what biyclists should do. I’m a vehicular bicyclist and would not be in this bike lane fragment to begin with, but for the average bicyclist, this green paint is a clear message, “this is where you belong.” Whoops. Sorry. Turns out we needed the road for a right turn lane, and just got rid of the bike lane. Hope you are still alive, but if not, well it wasn’t our fault. But the thing is, it is the city’s fault. This is a mis-design, and the city should be sued the first time someone is injured at this location. It is not as though this was an existing location where the city did the best if could to squeeze in bike facilities. This is a new construction where things should have been done right. They were not.

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Bike lane ends suddenly – good luck!

There are several good solutions for this location, and the NACTO Guide to Urban Bicycling has several, but even the standard MUTCD design is better than this. Though you can’t see the turn lane due to the parked FedEx van (it was there for more than 10 minutes, double-parked, and I couldn’t wait any longer for the photo), there are no bike markings in the right turn lane at all. There is no “bicyclists may use full lane” sign. Maybe bicyclists are meant to fly over this right turn lane and return to earth at the bridge. Or maybe they are meant to die.

As I always warn people in bicyclist education classes, don’t get sucked in by paint. Paint doesn’t keep you safe. And in this particular case, paint creates a danger for you that would not exist if not for the paint. Negligent design, for sure.

Trashing the bike lanes

Trash cans in bike lanes are epidemic, and are a public danger hazard to bicyclists. Placing a trash can, or anything else, in a bike lane is a violation of California Vehicle Code (CVC):

21211 (b) No person may place or park any bicycle, vehicle, or any other object upon any bikeway or bicycle path or trail, as specified in subdivision (a), which impedes or blocks the normal and reasonable movement of any bicyclist unless the placement or parking is necessary for safe operation or is otherwise in compliance with the law.

bike-lane-trash-cansSome people misunderstand where to place their trash cans, but most people know and don’t care – I’ve had extensive conversations with many such people – they don’t think that my right to the bike lane supersedes their right to put their trash can wherever they damned well please. The photo at right is on Tupelo Drive in Citrus Heights, trash cans placed directly in a marked bike lane. Notice that it would have been easy to place them in the parking “lane” instead, but the residents chose not to. This is not just a Citrus Heights problem, this photo could as well be any street anywhere in the region.

Continue reading “Trashing the bike lanes”

More Sac county nonsense

MUTCD-2012_Figure9C-7The Bicycle Detector Pavement Marking (CA-MUTCD Figure 9C-7, shown at right) is placed to show a bicyclist where to stop so that they can trigger a traffic signal. When installed properly, they prevent the all-too-common scenario where bicyclists cannot trigger signals and must either cross against the red light when a safe gap is available, or wait until a motor vehicle arrives. They are also a clear signal to motorists that there is a reason why the bicyclist is positioned where they are. Of course “bicycles may use full lane” is true approaching any intersection where right turns are permitted, however, most motorists do not know or remember this law unless there is a sign there to remind them. The sharrow serves a similar purpose. However, these markings are often not installed in properly.

Mission southbound at Marconi, bike detector placement
Mission southbound at Marconi, bike detector placement

Here is another fresh Sacramento County mistake, where the marking was not placed properly. On Mission Ave southbound, approaching Marconi Ave, there is a Bicycle Detector Pavement Marking in the bike lane, but not in the regular through/right turn lane. This marking is on new pavement placed in a complete streets project along Marconi from Mission westward to Fulton, and was installed within the last two years. If a bicyclist is to trigger the signal, they have to stay in the right hand edge bicycle lane, where they are at risk of getting right hooked. If they adopt a merge position between the two lanes, where they should be in order to make clear to motor vehicle drivers to either get in front or fall in behind, not beside, then the signal won’t trigger.

The solution is to place a marker in the regular lane, and adjust loop sensitivity if necessary, so that the bicyclist can choose which lane position to use.

Sac County just doesn’t get it

The photo below shows Garfield Ave southbound approaching Marconi Ave, in the Carmichael community of Sacramento County. This roadway was repaved within the last year, and this is the bicycle facility that was painted by the county. The bike lane veers to the right and then ends, running into the dedicated right hand turn lane, and another bike lane continues to the left of the right hand turn lane. These pavement marking clearly give priority to motor vehicles making a right hand turn, and ask bicyclists to yield to those vehicles, as second-class users of the roadways.

Garfield-sb-Marconi_bike-lane-shift

And this is what it could look like. Continue reading “Sac County just doesn’t get it”

update on I

"bicycles must turn right" sign, I Street between 6th and 5th
“bicycles must turn right” sign, I Street between 6th and 5th

I wrote previously about the The I Street Mess. A small change has taken place here, with a new sign that says “Bicycles Must Turn Right” on the bike lane midway between 6th and 5th. Basically, this is a warning to bicyclists who missed the “Thru Bikes Merge Left” sign at the beginning of the block that they are truly screwed. By this point, bicyclist will have a very hard time merging across four lanes of high speed traffic to reach the left side bike lane that takes one to Old Sacramento or 3rd Street. At a minimum, the warnings need to occur earlier, in the block between 7th and 6th. Better yet would be slowing the traffic on I Street so that a bicyclist could actually maneuver through the traffic lanes. Best would be an alternate route for bicyclists who don’t wish to ride vehicularly, that avoids the I Street Mess completely.

14 foot lanes

There has been a discussion on the Association for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Professionals (APBP) listserv for the last two weeks on what to do with an outside lane of 14 feet (without on-street parking), particularly when there is a seam between the asphalt pavement and the gutter pan. Several people encouraged the use of narrow, substandard bike lanes in an effort to get something on the street, rather than using sharrows in the wide lane, or just leaving the lane unmarked. I believe we need to be very careful to not create “bike lanes at any cost,” and to carefully consider the actual roadway conditions before specifying anything that does not meet or exceed standards. The diagrams below are from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. The first shows a high quality bike lane adjacent to a curb; the second one shows sharrows rather than a bike lane where there is not sufficient roadways width.

bike lane adjacent to curb (right side): NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide
bike lane adjacent to curb (right side): NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

shared lane markings adjacent to curb (left side); NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide
shared lane markings adjacent to curb (left side); NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

Continue reading “14 foot lanes”

Protected Intersections

When I posted on the North 12th Street Complete Street Project, I expressed concern about how the  cycle track to the north would transition to the bike lane to the south, and how bicyclists northbound would access the cycle track. On Wednesday I attended the project open house at City Hall. Preliminary designs presented by the contractor Echelon Transportation Group indicate one possible design for the intersection of 12th Street and C Street, a protected intersection. These conceptual design drawings are not yet available on the North 12th website, so I don’t have a drawing to share here. Comments from the open house and online will be used to revise the concepts, and they should then be available on the website for further review and comment.

The protected intersection is a design new to the United States, and so far not built anywhere in its entirety. The design is fairly common in bicycling friendly countries in Europe. The Protected Intersections for Bicyclists website provides a great video showing how the design works by providing a higher level of safety for bicyclists and pedestrians without much impact on motor vehicles. The design has not yet been included in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, but I would guess it soon will be.

protected intersection
protected intersection

The diagram at right shows the general outline of a protected intersection. The intersection at 12th and C would look like the right half of the diagram on the west side, with the almond shaped corner medians, but would not look like the left half on the east side. Bicyclists heading south out of the cycle track would either continue south in the bike lane or use the protected intersection to turn east and then continue south on lower traffic streets. Bicyclists coming from the east would use the protected intersection to get to the west side and the cycle track.

At the other end of the bike lane

bike-lane-symbol-farI have long wondered why so many people ride the wrong way in bike lanes. The common label for these bicyclists is “salmon,” probably from Portland, signifying they are swimming upstream against the current. Good for spawning salmon (and bears), bad for bicyclists. There are some evident reasons for wrong-way riding:

  1. The completely wrong but common misunderstanding that bicyclists should ride facing traffic. The origin of this is the “walk facing traffic if there is no sidewalk” rule. It doesn’t apply to bikes, but when teaching bicyclist education to youth, I often hear them mention this as something their parents have taught them. In fact, riding the wrong way is the most common bicyclist-caused source of crashes, though these are usually injury crashes and not fatal crashes.
  2. One way streets make it difficult to get where you are going, so many people ride the wrong way to get where they are going. Understandable, but wrong.

I’ve recently come to realize, however, that the common bike lane design fails to discourage wrong-way riding by not marking the end of the bike lane with a direction. The beginning, departing an intersection, is marked with the bicycle symbol and arrow, but the end, approaching an intersection is not. So a person entering the bike lane does not immediately realize they are going the wrong way. Once they do realize it, I think they often just continue along their way rather than changing course to ride with traffic.

The solution? Mark bike lanes at both the beginning and end. That way a person going the wrong way immediately sees that they are going the wrong way.

What is the downside? There may be some confusion induced between the dashed line message, which is that this is a merge area for the regular lane and the bike lane, and the bike lane symbol, which seems to indicate that the exclusive bike lane continues. I don’t see this as a stopper, but it is an issue to be addressed. It is possible that a different variation of the pavement marking could be used, but another symbol is probably not what is needed.

what to do with recovered street width

When 3-lane streets are narrowed to 2-lane streets, street width is recovered for other uses. Traffic lanes are commonly 12 feet wide, though they can be as narrow as 9 feet and as wide as 14 feet or more. Most streets in the downtown/midtown area that I’ve recommended for narrowing are really five lanes wide, three traffic lanes plus two parking lanes. Eight ways in which this recovered right-of-way width can be used:

  1. Widen sidewalks: In some areas, sidewalks are too narrow to carry the number of walkers using them. For example, on 16th Street between P Street and O Street, the sidewalk is much too narrow to handle the foot traffic. There are six businesses on the east side of the street: Pronto by Paesano’s and the associated Uncle Vito’s Pizza, Super Cuts, Nishki Sushi, and Starbucks, plus a storefront that is being refurbished to be Thai Canteen. These generate a lot of customers on foot and on bike, and the narrow sidewalk is frequently crowded.
  2. Add sidewalk buffers: In cases where the sidewalk is immediately adjacent to the street, or a there is a buffer but it is too narrow, width can be devoted to these buffers. Sidewalks with buffers are called detached sidewalks. These may not appropriate in commercial areas because the isolated high-turnover parking from the sidewalk, but are completely appropriate in residential areas and may be in mixed areas.
  3. Add bicycle lanes: Bicycle lanes take up five feet of width if adjacent to the curb, and six feet if adjacent to parking. (AASHTO standards are a minimum of four and five, but these widths are unsafe.) Normally a street will have bike lanes on both side, so two bike lanes will take about the same space as one traffic lane. If we were to otherwise leave the street system as it is, with high speed one-way streets, the protection of bike lanes is critical to making downtown/midtown more bikeable. However, if the recommendations I have made were implemented, streets would move more slowly with lower volumes of traffic, and bike lanes would be less necessary.
  4. Add protected bike lanes: A protected bike lane (cycle track) is a protected bike way, with some sort of physical protection from motor vehicle traffic. The protection can be a painted no-vehicle area, hit posts, curbs, parked cars, or a surface raised to a level between the roadway and the sidewalk. Because the protection takes up space, in many situations only a single protected bike lane can be gained from the removal on one traffic lane.
  5. Add dedicated transit lanes: Bus routes on streets with heavy traffic are often slowed by congestion and by turning vehicles. Both bus and light rail can be sped up by removing some of the conflict with dedicated transit lanes. Long distance dedicated lanes can be used to create bus rapid transit routes, but short segments of lanes can be useful for solving spot congestion problems. If light rail and buses run more freely, transit times are reduced and people will be more likely to choose transit over privately owned vehicles. It is not clear to me at the moment whether any of the 3-lane streets are logical locations for dedicated transit lanes, but I will look at this in the future.
  6. Create wide medians: Medians can be created along the middle of the street, separating the two travel directions. These medians can have plantings, artwork, rainwater basins, sitting areas, and a number of other amenities that may be absent along the street. These parkways or boulevards are probably not appropriate in commercial areas, but would be in residential or mixed areas.
  7. Convert from parallel to diagonal parking: Conversion from parallel parking to diagonal parking (60 degree reverse angled parking) uses up about 8 feet of street width, and roughly doubles the amount of parking. Because parking takes more of the street width, it is even more important to consider curb extensions (bulbouts) to increase pedestrian – driver visibility at intersections and mid-block crossings.
  8. Create center turn lanes: If the street is also being converted from one-way to two-way, the center lane can become a turn lane. I think that this is the least useful of the solutions because it serves a single and not very common need, left turns, with an entire dedicated lane. If the traffic on a street is so heavy that it is difficult to make left turns, a left turn pocket or a block-long center turn lane can be provided every four to eight blocks, but having a continuous lane is just a waste of precious right-of-way.

Certainly not every solution is right for every situation, and each roadway segment should be analyzed to determine the best overall use of the width recovered from 3-lane to 2-lane conversion.