Unknown, or unnoticed, by many people, there is a bike route along N Street on the sidewalks. The route is well-signed from 8th St, where it crosses over from the south side to the north side of N Street, to 12th Street. The route extends east along Capitol Park to 15th Street, and I believe it also extends west to 3rd Street, though it is not well signed at these ends. On the City of Sacramento bikeways map, the route is shown on both sides of N Street, as “Existing Off-street (wide sidewalk).”
The bike route allows bi-directional travel along N Street, which would otherwise not be possible. The city has recognized that N Street is a significant barrier to east-west bicycling.
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.
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.
Just before posting “doubting protected bikeways” yesterday, I’d been reading Momentum Magazine, one of my favorites. After posting, I turned the page, and there was a 14 page article entitled “The Rise of the North American Protected Bike Lane” by Angie Schmitt (not yet posted to their website, so you’ll have to read the paper or digital copy). The article is a classic defense of protected bikeways, with the standard criticism of vehicular cycling.
The heart of the article is the “by the numbers” graphic which shows the increase in bicycling in seven different cities that occurred after installation of protected lanes. The increases are impressive. The text talks about Portland research on types of bicyclists, positing that such facilities are necessary to get the “interested and concerned” 60% onto bicycles. Though safety is mentioned several times, it is clear the greatest benefit proposed is an increase in bicycling mode share. I’m not in disagreement with any of this. What I am in disagreement with is the focus on increasing bicycle share as the most important goal of changes we make to our streets.
Bicycling mode share in the U.S. ranges from below 1% in some places to as high as 6% in a few cities. Andy Clarke of The League of American Bicyclists is quoted as saying we could increase this to 10% or even 15% with the use of protected facilities. Sounds great. The problem is that it leaves a whole lot of motor vehicles on the road, making our cities unlivable and threatening the lives of pedestrians.
Protected bikeways, also called separated bike lanes or cycle tracks, are all the rage these days. The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide codified cycle tracks, but they were already showing up in several cities, and are now being implementing in a great number more. I’ve ridden on cycle tracks in Long Beach, San Francisco (just yesterday, in fact) and other cities, and yes, they are a pleasure to ride on compared to riding in traffic or traditional bike lanes. Many people have declared the era of vehicular cycling dead, and the era of protected bikeways upon us.