October 21, 2009

Cycle Track – an experiment in bike/traffic safety

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Recently the city of Portland, Oregon created a new kind of bicycle lane on one of its streets. The concept was to create a barrier-protected bicycle lane on one of the city streets without building a whole lot of new infrastructure. According to the local paper’s Hard Drive blog, city engineers used some paint on the road and changed a few signs – no construction necessary – to create a brand-new, cycles-only lane. How does it work?

By moving parked cars away from the curb and out into one of the traffic lanes, the city engineers created a bike-friendly, protected-from-traffic corridor between the parked cars and the curb. The bikers would still have to watch out for car passengers opening their doors (as opposed to watching drivers’-side doors, previously), and for people crossing from the parking lane over to the sidewalk. But the parked cars insulate the bikers from moving traffic. It’s a simple, elegant, low-cost solution to a common safety concern.

Yesterday the Hard Drive blog followed up on how the experiment is going. After some initial motorist confusion, and a few additions to the paint job – notably, adding the words “Bike Lane” to the lane to make it more clear to parking motorists – it seems that the experiment is seeing some success.

But Burchfield said the cycle track, aside from the early parking confusion, is now operating smoothly…

…Burchfield said there have been complaints. Some have told the city that there’s a “lack of predictability” when pedestrians are stepping into the cycle track to cross Broadway. Others say they are feeling the [e]ffects of one less car lane in the area.

“It’s hard to know if these are people who are actually using the cycle track and Broadway, or just complaining,” Burchfield said.

For one thing, even as PSU classes have started up, there is no evidence yet that congestion has increased as a result of the cycle track, he said.

Also, despite earlier concerns from motorists who said they couldn’t park without a curb, “people are better at it than they think.”

(The same Hard Drive post mentions that things aren’t going quite so well with a different kind of bike lane experiment a few blocks away.)

Can you think of any streets around here where that might be a good experiment to try?

5 thoughts on “Cycle Track – an experiment in bike/traffic safety”

  1. Adam says:

    how much room is allowed between the cars and the curb? is there room for the cyclist to swerve if a passanger suddenly throws open a car door? if not, this may be more dangerous than riding on the driver’s side as there’s nowhere to go except into the curb.

    1. Jennifer says:

      I believe that the cycle track takes up one entire traffic lane.

  2. Steve says:

    Lindell/Olive would be number one, but basically all of our arterial streets in the city are large enough and under utilized. Forest Park Avenue/Market Street, Jefferson, Grand….

  3. Jimmy Z says:

    My biggest concern would be maintenance – how and how often would the street sweepers get in, and how much of a constituency would there be for keeping the pavement in good shape? Cyclists in St. Louis are a distinct minority; creating new, hard-to-maintain infrastructure seems fraught with unintended consequences.

  4. RTBones says:

    Have to agree with Adam here — while it sounds intriguing on paper, I’d like to see how wide the cycle lane is first before I tried it. If the lane is too narrow, I’ll take my chances riding in traffic.

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