Building Connected Networks

This past Tuesday I posted an article with a link to a survey conducted by the League of American Bicyclists.  The League asked members and advocates what they’d most like to see in terms of bike friendliness, and identified the five most popular suggestions.  I wanted to tackle these in a series of posts, starting with the number one item:   connected infrastructure.

Network connectivity, or the ability to safely and conveniently get from point A to point B was the most important issue to most survey respondents.  To many respondents, this means protected bike lanes.  That’s all well and good, except that it’s going to take a very, very long time before we have a connected network of protected bike lanes that will take you more than a few blocks in any direction.  It took over 50 years to build the interstate highway system.  This isn’t going to happen any sooner.  As a practical matter, most of us will be long gone before we have a comprehensive network of protected bicycle lanes that span even modest swaths of the cityscape.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail offers bicycles grade separation from traffic and is often held out as an example of what is possible.

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail offers bicycles grade separation from traffic and is often held out as an example of what is possible.

We have to think outside of the box in order to make this happen more quickly.  The good news is that more and more places are.  They’re cobbling together solutions, some quite elegant, without waiting for the funding necessary to build full blown protected bike lanes.   Many of these solutions involve  shared streets with lower speed limits.

One example of what these streets might look like can be found in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.  There, local officials have sliced a waterfront street right down the middle.  Half goes to motor vehicles and the other half goes to bicyclists and pedestrians.

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The area to the left of the curb is dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians.   The speed limit is 25 mph.  This isn’t bad, though 20 mph would be better.

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Looking behind we can see that  landscaping is used to delineate the non motorized portion where roads intersect.

I’m familiar with Lake Avenue because Jan and I lived nearby in the early 1990s.  We used this street regularly.  At that time there was no curb separating cyclists and pedestrians from cars. Space was allocated the same as it is now, but there was only a painted line and the road felt very wide when in a car.  The new design is narrow and this undoubtedly causes motorists to drive more slowly.

Another example of a shared street is this bicycle boulevard along 14th Street in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  City officials posted an unorthodox speed limit that probably gets motorists’ attention, which is the whole idea.  It calls attention to the fact that you’re likely to encounter bikes here.  I think this is clever.  I ran this by a couple of folks and we all decided that this would cause us to take notice more than a “share the road” sign.  I don’t know how well it works in practice, but I think it’s an intriguing approach.

By John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Where the same pavement is shared, low speed limits that catch motorist attention are being used in cities like Albuquerque.  Photo by John Phelan (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Dutch take street sharing one step further.  Interestingly, shared streets are quite common in Holland.  It’s not all cyclepaths all the time as it sometimes seems.   “Fietstraats” (literally “bike streets”) are streets that give bicycles priority over motor vehicles.  Cars are welcome but must always yield to bicycles.

The pavement marking reminds motorists that bicycles have priority on this street.  The literal translation is "Bicycle street.  Cars are guests."  By Ben.manibog (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The pavement marking reminds motorists that bicycles have priority on this street. The literal translation is “Bicycle street. Cars are guests.” By Ben.manibog (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So, yes, by all means let’s build connected networks. Let’s link cities up from one end of town to another.  Let’s do it now, even if it means using shared streets, odd speed limits and other unorthodox approaches.   Then let’s get out and use these connected networks, because that’s how we will create real change…through numbers.  It’s the only way, in fact.

In my next post, I’m going to write about distracted driving.  That’s item number two in the League survey.  More soon.

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One thought on “Building Connected Networks

  1. Pingback: Survey Item #3: Education | Bike 5

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