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Are Cycle Tracks A Better Way To Bike?

Aired 11/27/12 on KPBS News.

Protected bike lanes are an emerging idea that could make San Diego cycling safer and more popular.

— Montezuma Road is a four-lane road where car speeds reach a mile a minute. San Diego bike advocates, and the College Area Community Council, see it as a perfect place for cycle tracks.

One of the few cycle tracks in San Diego is found on this stretch of Friars Road, where a short concrete barrier separates car and bike traffic.

Call them sidewalks for bikes, or bike lanes behind barriers. Cycle tracks are getting popular with cities that think mixing cars and bikes on high-speed roads is not a great idea.

The subject came up earlier this month before the College Area Community Council, following a city report that documented 49 bike riders hit by cars on Montezuma Road in the last 13 years. One of them was killed earlier this year.

Samantha Ollinger, executive director of Bike San Diego, said cycles tracks can take the form of raised platforms, similar to sidewalks. They can be bike lanes that are shielded by cars. Just put the bike lane to the right of parked cars, not the left.

The point is to find some meaningful way of separating car traffic and bike traffic while giving both of them access to the same route.

A study by City of San Diego traffic engineers pinpointed the location of bike-car collisions on Montezuma Road.

“You can do plastic barriers (like pylons),” said Ollinger. “You can put in a concrete barrier, like they’ve done in Long Beach. There are many, many different things that I’ve seen.”

Cost would prohibit putting cycle tracks along every city road. Ollinger said the idea would be to target high-volume, fast-moving streets.

"I would put them on main thoroughfares, east-west, north-south routes. In the mid-city area, El Cajon Boulevard and University Avenue are main thoroughfares," she said. “Park Boulevard is another.”

In San Diego, less than 1 percent of travel is done on bikes, compared to more than 30 percent in a city like Copenhagen, where cycle tracks are part of the landscape. Andy Hanshaw, with the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said cycle tracks could lure many more people to cycle by making them feel safe.

Samantha Ollinger, executive director of Bike San Diego, said cycle tracks should be available along a city's main thoroughfares.

"It gives people more comfort in riding their bikes," said Hanshaw.

At this point, it’s a matter of finding the money and the political will to create them. Cycle tracks are fairly uncontroversial in the cycling community, though some bike riders say they still want access to the primary road the cars drive on.

Ollinger is lobbying the city of San Diego for a pilot cycle-track project. As for money, the local planning agency SANDAG has set aside $2.58 billion for bike and pedestrian projects from now until 2050. The only thing cities need to do is apply for the money.

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Avatar for user 'deprotinator'

deprotinator | November 27, 2012 at 8:39 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Cycle tracks are a great idea. Friars Road (the stretch with cycle tracks) is a great road to ride on. Increasing cycling also reduces the number of cars on the road which saves money on road maintenance.

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | November 27, 2012 at 9:19 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Cycle tracks are safer where they don't intersect with roads. If you don't design them with bridges or tunnels across every intersection, you have to be really careful how you design the intersections. It isn't safe to ride a bicycle in a crosswalk, because motorists don't expect people to enter crosswalks at high speeds. You can put up a HAWK beacon, a traffic light that turns red to stop cross traffic when the pedestrian or bicyclist pushes the button, but then you're making the bicyclist stop at every intersection, making the cycle track less useful for bicycle commuters.

It would be nice to have more cycle tracks, but we need to do more than give bicyclists the illusion of safety.

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Avatar for user 'jenjen'

jenjen | November 27, 2012 at 1:59 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

In parts of Shanghai, they have something like this. There are the road lanes for cars, trucks etc., and sidewalks for pedestrians, and then a wide curbed-off lane for things in between. Bikes, mopeds, pedicab type vehicles, people pulling big carts, etc. Anything that's bigger than a pedestrian but slower and more fragile than a car. It seemed like a good solution, but one that had to be designed in at the beginning. I don't know how you could go about re-engineering this model into existing city spaces.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | November 27, 2012 at 5:11 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

"but then you're making the bicyclist stop at every intersection, making the cycle track less useful for bicycle commuters."

Making cars stop at intersections doesn't seem to make them less useful to commuters.

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Avatar for user 'commus'

commus | November 27, 2012 at 7:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

This whole cycling thing is getting more ridiculous by the day.

The plans are being shotgunned through community meetings without proper notice of the intent to destroy vehicle capacity as we as legalizing the use of vehicles with zero registration or control.

Further the cycling community of this city is totally irresponsible as well as refusing to adhere to any traffic regulations. I constantly see bike riders violating laws. As an example I pointed out to a cycler one day that they had passed the intersection limit line and their reaction was just exactly what I would expect from them. They extended a single middle finger on their hand.

Until the time when cyclers start obeying the laws, registering their bikes, and obtaining riders licenses as well as law enforcement observing violations by the cyclers and doing nothing, they will be opposed by me.

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | November 28, 2012 at 10:53 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

"Making cars stop at intersections doesn't seem to make them less useful to commuters."

Now imagine a world without freeways.

"I constantly see bike riders violating laws."

I constantly see motorists violating laws. Rolling through stop signs, tailgating, speeding, not merging into the bike lane before making right turns, etc.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | November 28, 2012 at 11:34 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

"Now imagine a world without freeways."

Freeways are for intercity travel. If the proposals are for accomodating bicycles on a freeway equivalent road then I misread them. Do you believe there is a significant populaiton of cyclists attempting to commute to other cities? Most cyclists I know are interested in intracity travel and would be (or should be) obeying the same stop signs as other traffic.

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | November 28, 2012 at 1:07 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

"Freeways are for intercity travel."

That's partially correct. Freeways are for any travel where freeways are more convenient than surface streets. Imagine if you were forced to take surface streets unless you're headed to a a different city. Wouldn't that make driving a little less convenient?

When bicycles and motor vehicles are allowed to share the same lane, they also share the same traffic signals, which means close to 50% of the time you arrive at an intersection, you have a green light and can cruise right on through. But when bicyclists are forced to activate a HAWK signal, then close to only 0% of the time they will have the walk signal when they arrive. Having to stop at every intersection is inconvenient.

Turning these cycle paths into fully grade separated "bicycle freeways" would make them much more convenient, but at a high cost.

Due to tradeoffs like these, we need to be really careful how we design the intersections as I wrote earlier.

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | November 29, 2012 at 10:15 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Would bicyclists take these "freeways" even if they existed? I would prefer that they be in separet lanes not just for their own safety, but mine as well. Yes, motorists do not always follow traffic laws. Cars are highly engineered to protect thier passengers with crumple zones and air bags. The bicyclist who cut in front of me from my blind spot as I was making a right turn, and then proceeded to blaze through an intersection against the light nearly causing an accident didn't seem concerned with traffic laws or the consequences of not following them. A bicycle is not a brick wall that will protect your foolhardiness. The car will win that fight 100% of the time.

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