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Design within context

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A separated bikeway makes more sense

By Khalil J. Spencer

In the Thursday story published in the Los Alamos Monitor, “Trinity Drive Still Hot Topic,” the reporter greatly simplified my blog comments on the relative value of separated bicycle facilities vs. on-street bicycle facilities.
There are no good “one size fits all” solutions and I would not suggest, without context specific information, what type of bicycle facility I would recommend to the county council in my capacity as a Transportation Board member or for that matter, as a private citizen.
Readers can refer to the blog for details (www.labikes.blogspot.com.)
Cycling facilities, which are included in street design to improve both safety and efficiency, have to be designed within a context including the type of street and the kind of cyclist that is being considered.
A heavily used arterial or high speed highway will likely have a different treatment than a collector or a quiet residential street.
Some streets will likely require no modifications at all — the road is, after all, the “bikeway” as well as the “car-way.”
Specific considerations, too, are given to locations where we expect children, the elderly, or the inexperienced might be riding.  
When we (the Bicycling Subcommittee of the Transportation Board and county Staff) wrote the county bike plan, passed by council in 2005, we explicitly recognized differences among street types and also considered the needs of the Safe Routes to School program.
Cycling facilities also have the express purpose of encouraging those citizens who don’t currently ride to do so.
People don’t ride for a variety of reasons, but the perception that it is unsafe to ride in traffic is usually at the top of the list.
In work done elsewhere in the U.S. and elsewhere and noted by the League of American Bicyclists, much higher numbers of non-cyclists or occasional cyclists (10s of percent) can be attracted to cycling as a regular part of their transportation mix if provided their own separated right of way on major roads (such as arterials), while only a few percent are likely to be attracted to riding regularly if only provided with on-road facilities on these roads.
Thus, the context of my comment in the Los Alamos Monitor is that if Los Alamos wants to provide a “bicyclist friendly” Trinity corridor that would appeal to more than a few percent of our residents and thus provide taxpayers the most bang for their bucks, it makes more sense to build a separated bikeway rather than include a set of on street bike lanes on what will be, under almost any set of design criteria, a heavily trafficked arterial.
None of the various A options proposed for Trinity would, in my estimation, make that road attractive to those who are not already experienced, confident cyclists, i.e., that few percent.
The specific designs proposed by MIG would have new or inexperienced bicyclists having to merge in and out of arterial traffic at every roundabout or alternatively, dismount and tediously use side paths at every roundabout.
Further, the specific designs shown the Transportation Board, in my estimation, could have encouraged cyclist and motorist error and thus discourage those new riders from using the facility once they had a bad experience.
As far as safety, I think I agree with Mr. Neale Pickett. Single lane roundabouts are the least problematic for cyclists while multilane roundabouts carry higher risks due to their more complex traffic patterns.
As far as riding in traffic, a cyclist who takes a riding safety course or otherwise develops reasonable riding skills is likely to be as safe in a single lane roundabout environment as that cyclist would be using the present design or any other one, which meets the county’s recently adopted set of street design criteria.
But bikeways are only part of the solution to a bike-friendly environment.
Cyclists need to develop reasonable cycling skills if they are to be confident enough to ride in an urban environment, rather than depending on facility design alone.
Hence, the reason that the League of American Bicyclists works to promote both bicycle-friendly design criteria and formalized traffic skills instruction for cyclists.

Khal Spencer
Transportation Board League Cycling
Instructor