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.
On I Street between 7th and 6th streets, there is a floating bike lane on the north side. A floating bike lane, also called a part-time bike lane, is one that is designed to be a parking lane for part of the day and a motor vehicle travel lane for part of the day.
The first photo below is the lane when parking is prohibited, and it is a shared motor vehicle travel lane. The signing indicates that parking is prohibited from 4 to 6PM on weekdays. This is in order to provide more lanes for the flush of traffic heading to the freeway during the afternoon rush hour. There are sharrow markings at the beginning and near the end of the block, to reinforce the “bikes may use full lane” sign (MUTCD R4-11).
The next photo shows the same floating bike lane when parking is allowed, the rest of the time. As you can see, the sharrows are partly covered by parked cars. The remaining width of the lane, which forms a de-facto bike lane, is too narrow for a lane adjacent to parked cars and is unsafe. In this particular location in front of the county jail, it is doubly unsafe because frequent turnover in cars (one hour limit) and the type of people who park here, not the sort to be thinking of bicyclists before they open their car door. In fact, guidance on floating bike lanes recommends against their use in situations with high-turnover parking.
I never ride in this floating bike lane when there are parked cars, I always ride in the full travel lane to the left, but I often get honked at by drivers who think I should be in the “bike lane,” and don’t realize it is not a safe place to ride.
There is nothing inherently wrong with floating bike lanes. A number of cities use them in cases where they perceive a need to carry high volumes of motor vehicle traffic at certain times of day, but want to accommodate bicyclists at other times. They are always seen as a compromise that doesn’t make anyone completely happy. However, this is the only instance that I’m aware of in Sacramento, and it is not signed and marked in such a way as to communicate its purpose and use to either drivers or bicyclists. It needs to be crystal clear for everyone, or be removed. Maybe it is time for this floating bike lane to sink.
This section of I Street is the logical main access route for bicyclists to the train station. Rush hour for cars is also rush hour for bicyclists. What I see during this time of day (4-6PM) is a lot of bicyclists riding the wrong way, or on the light rail tracks, along H Street in order to access the train station. It is worrisome to me that that I Street was not designed with bicyclist safety in mind. Bicyclists feel that it is safer to ride against traffic on H Street than with traffic on I Street, despite the fact that wrong way riding is the leading cause of bicycle-motor vehicle crashes, or to risk spills getting caught in the light rail tracks, anything to avoid I Street. I have seen several bicyclists fall on the light rail tracks here.
I Street in this section could be made safe for bicyclists in two ways:
- Remove parking from the left side of I Street and shifting travel lanes to the south so that a full 6.5 foot bike lane could be installed. The sharrows would not then be needed. Or,
- Make the right hand lane a full-time parking lane and move the sharrows into the next travel lane to the left.
Given that there are bike lanes both east and west of this block, option one is probably the best because it would create a continuous bike lane, but option two is workable.
As part of a recent repaving project, now mostly complete, bike lanes were added to several streets in the downtown area, sometimes by converting three travel lanes to two, and sometimes just by narrowing the travel lanes. As an example, 9th Street (one-way southbound) and 10th Street (one-way northbound) were converted from three lanes to two, which freed up space for bike lanes. 10th Street is shown at right. A reduction in the number of travel lanes is sometimes referred to as a road diet. However, the amount of right of way is the same, it has just been shifted to serve all modes of travel more effectively. The reduction in motor vehicle lanes reduces the motor vehicle road capacity slightly, but far less than many people think it will. In fact, with more space for bicycles, more people will bicycle and the motor vehicle traffic drops somewhat, lessening congestion for everyone.
Sharrows (shared lane markings) were also used liberally throughout, particularly on east-west streets. Along I Street westbound, bike lanes are present in some blocks and sharrows in others. The photo at right shows the sharrows placed within a time restricted travel lane in front of the courthouse on I Street. When parking is allowed, the sharrows form a defacto bike lane adjacent to parked cars. This lane is a bit wider than it was before. During no-parking times, the sharrows define their usual meaning, that “Bikes Can Use Full Lane”. The MUTCD R4-11 sign is used at times to provide the same indication. Sharrows are placed in lanes which are too narrow for a motor vehicle and a bicycle to share side by side, which is less than 14 feet. In any lane narrower than 14 feet, the bicycle not only can be should occupy the middle of the lane to prevent motor vehicles from passing too closely.
Some criticisms of the project:
- Sharrows are placed inconsistently within the travel lanes. They should always be centered in the travel lane, but it looks like in some cases they were placed a certain distance out from the curb. Placement too far to the right encourages motor vehicle drivers to try to squeeze by, which is what creates the hazard.
- The alternating of bike lanes when there is space with sharrows when there is not space is an understandable effort to create the best solution to a challenging situation, but in my mind, it fails. Regular bicyclists often take the travel lane anyway, in order to create the necessary distance from parking cars and their dooring hazard, to bypass slow traffic, and to prepare for left turns. It is the less confident bicyclists who would benefit most from the new bike lanes, but I think they will be quite confused with the change back and forth between bike lanes and sharrows.
- I think that all three lane streets in downtown should be converted to two lanes. Three lane streets encourage high vehicle speeds. It is not unusual during non-congested times to see vehicles going 40 mph on these streets, where the posted speed limit is 25. An opportunity was missed to make these conversions.
- I also think that one-way streets should be converted to two-way streets. Again, one-way streets encourage high vehicle speeds, and in fact they are designed to do this, to flush cars in and out of downtown twice a day. They are called traffic sewers for a reason. Two-way streets create an environment where drivers are much less likely to speed. Of course once a street has been road dieted to two travel lanes, a conversion to two-way is much easier.
Despite these criticisms, though, I am pleased to see the new bike lanes freshly painted. I suspect this project has doubled the number of sharrows in Sacramento, and as people see them used more and more, they will become more effective. It was a pleasure riding on Sunday from my residence in midtown south to the farmers marked on 9th Street, and then back north on 10th Street.