Even in cities with setbacks, consensus for protected bike lanes keeps rolling

February 04, 2014

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer


Bluebonnet Lane in Austin, Tex.

The sign that a new idea is succeeding isn't when it scores some early victories. It's when it experiences setbacks ... and survives.

Here at Green Lane Project HQ, I'm pleased to say we're having trouble keeping up with all the protected bike lane projects popping up across the continent. Though we've just updated our database of proposed, planned and built protected bike lanes in the United States, cities of all sizes seem to be doing their best to make it obsolete as soon as possible. And as I went through the news from January, I noticed an interesting trend: even when bike projects suffer setbacks, advocates and city leaders continue to embrace protected bike lanes as a desirable solution.

This is what's happening in San Antonio, where advocates are conceding that an out-of-the-way protected bike lane project has failed but seem to be preparing to fight for a new one on a major commercial corridor:

“A bike lane that is open to car parking is not a bike lane,” said Rivard Report Director Robert Rivard. ... “We’re fine with the elimination of the city’s first attempt at a cycle track,” he said to the committee and audience of about 10. “But Broadway is a much bigger proposition for us.”

Broadway is the main artery between an increasingly revitalized downtown and the burgeoning Pearl District that includes several high-density housing projects (completed and planned), an emerging commercial market, and cultural and educational institutions.

It's happening in San Francisco, where the city's department of public works director unexpectedly pushed to the top of his priority list a protected lane on Polk Street that had been delayed for 10 years. Here's San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum:

“When they see there’s a problem, there’s often more they can do to get things back on track, and they were able to do it in this case,” she said. “I can’t emphasize how important these two blocks are for so many people."

It's happening in Rochester, N.Y., where a two-way protected bike lane is the latest (though still flawed) compromise proposal over a proposed road diet:

In order to salvage the bike lanes, the only option may be to build a two-way cycle track and place it awkwardly on the west side of the street due to lack of room between St. Bernard’s and the road/utilities. The placement would be awkward because the Genesee Riverway Trail is on the EAST side of the street. Therefore cyclists would be forced to cross over Lake Avenue – twice.

It's happening in a different sense in Boston, where advocates didn't even have to ask for a grade-separated bike lane to be included in a new set of plans because it turned out to be a possible solution to a biking/walking conflict:

MassDOT engineers decided to create the crosswalk at Mansfield Street but in order to build the accessible ramps, they realized that the bike lane would need to be raised onto the sidewalk. So they decided to create what may become Boston's first sidewalk level cycle track.

It may seem strange to say, but more than anything else I've written about since we launched this site in 2012, these stories convince me that in big cities and in smaller ones, advocates and practitioners alike have come to see protected bike lanes as the future of bike infrastructure and, often, the next ring worth reaching for on their local political merry-go-rounds. It's a remarkable moment of consensus in the national transportation conversation.

Correction 2/6: An earlier version of this post used the wrong name for the director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write michael@peopleforbikes.org. 

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