While Dallas rates, again, its well-deserved award as the worst city in the nation for bicycling, my suburb of Richardson was awarded the most bike friendly neighborhood. The best of the worst… so to speak.
One piece of cycling infrastructure that Richardson has embraced is the idea of separate, striped, bicycle lanes on their broad residential avenues. The square mile neighborhood I live in, Duck Creek, is bisected north and south, plus east and west, at the half mile marks by two of these avenues – Apollo, going east and west, and Yale, north and south.
In the last year or so, both have had a bike lane striped off going each way. These are marked off on the right hand side and are shared with bikes and parked cars. The square mile is also sliced on the diagonal with the Duck Creek Linear Park and its trail, plus the Owens Trail branching off to the north under the power lines, Glenville Trail heading west through the trails snaking around Huffines Park – my neighborhood is not lacking for bicycle infrastructure (love the Googlemap green lines for bicycle routes – though they don’t have the one’s on my streets).
The city is expanding this program, and another road near me, Grove, has had the same treatment for at least two miles of its transit through the city.
These improvements have been very popular. Not so much for the bicycle infrastructure they provide – but for their “calming” effect on traffic. These roads were wide enough to allow passing before – which only encouraged excessive speed, and a lot of folks were confused over which lane to drive in. Now the roads are narrowed to a reasonable width and seem to be the better for it.
Recently the city improved the bike lanes in my neighborhood by adding a narrow “buffer zone” that restricts traffic a tad more and gives a bit of confidence to the bike riders.
I’ve been experimenting with these lanes a bit over the last few weeks and have come up with a few opinions and observations.
The lanes themselves are great. Sometimes, sharing the lane with parked cars can be a problem – wide vehicles like lawn-mowing company trailers can force you too far to the left, and there’s always the fear of someone opening a car door in front of you. The drivers do respect the lanes, though. The lanes would be tough for a high speed rider on a hot road bike – but a slow tourist or commuter has no problem in the middle of the blocks.
One problem is the intersections. Left hand turns are harrowing on a bicycle – there isn’t enough sidewalk or shoulder to do the stop, turn, and cross. The cars use the bike lanes for right turns. Look at this picture.
This is a very busy crossing and the cars are going by fast in all directions. There is simply not enough space to navigate a bike through there. If you ride a bike very much in traffic you will learn that bicycles are often invisible to turning cars – I am more afraid of cars making turns than I am of speeding motorists.
Another observation is a more generic one. Planners tend to look at long stretches of road. If they can open up a long stretch, they view that as a victory.
When you are planning a route for your own personal use you tend to think about choke points. These are locations or short stretches of road that cannot be easily or safety crossed on a bicycle. Your route will be developed not to take advantage of long stretches of good road as much as it is chosen to avoid these choke points.
Some of the most notorious sets of these are the railroad crossings. Look at this one on Arapaho – a very busy major thoroughfare.
There are three lanes of traffic both ways going through that little space – going fast, up to fifty miles per hour or more (don’t lecture me on speed limits… this is Texas). There is no sidewalk, no shoulder, no other way to cross. That hump has a set of rough wheel-swallowing steel rails sitting there on top of it. You hit that wrong on a bike and you are going down. There is no other crossing to the south for a mile. It’s two miles south to a safe crossing.
The Grove road bike lane is right behind me… as is the Arapaho DART station. If I want to ride my bike to the library; I have to go through there. If there is any traffic at all I have no alternative than to stop, get off my bike, and carry it over the tracks.
Which isn’t the worst thing in the world… but I wish someone would work on these choke points.