Cycle Tracks Safety Neutral at Worst, Safer and Attract Bicyclists At Best

January 23, 2012 in Bicycling, Featured

On the Right Track from Mayor Sam Adams on Vimeo.

TULSA – You can already ride your bike down Tulsa’s Cincinnati Avenue, Harvard Avenue, 11th Street (Route 66!), or even 71st Street near Memorial. It’s perfectly legal. But does it feel safe? Is it a pleasant experience? The answer for most people is likely no, which is why you rarely see anyone doing it.

In fact, according to a research study published in 2011 and conducted in part by the Harvard School of Public Health, the chief obstacle to bicycling, especially for women, children and seniors, is the perceived danger of vehicular traffic. We didn’t need a study to know why most people elect to travel busy Tulsa streets by motor vehicle instead of bicycle. It’s not rocket science, people are scared.

Imagine now if some of these busy Tulsa streets had cycle tracks or buffered bike lanes. Many more people would likely be willing to venture out on their bikes because cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes offer an environment more suited to bicyclists of all ages and abilities, especially the many bicyclists who aren’t comfortable riding in mixed traffic. The video above from Portland, OR explains the cycle track concept as well as buffered bike lanes.

Cycle tracks are basically bike lanes that swap spaces with the parallel parking lane. Instead of cars parking next to the curb, cars park a distance away from the curb, allowing a bike lane to be placed between the parked cars and the curb. The parked cars provide a physical buffer between bicyclists and passing motor vehicles that can improve bicyclists’ safety and level of comfort. A cycle track can also be created where there is no parallel parking by installing a physical barrier such as a curb or a narrow median between the cycle track and the travel lane.

Those who oppose cycle tracks often do so on the grounds of safety, making the claim that cycle tracks put bicyclists in more danger at intersections. To improve visibility at cross streets, parallel parking can be prohibited within a defined distance from a cross street so turning motor vehicles will have a clear line-of-sight that enables them to yield when a bicycle is approaching.

But is riding on a cycle track more dangerous than riding in the street? If a city installs a cycle track, are they really sending unsuspecting, untrained, newbie bicyclists into a bike lane instrument of death?

The aforementioned Harvard study sought to determine the risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street. The study examined six North American cycle tracks located in Montreal and compared them to reference streets without cycle tracks.

Cycle tracks were found to have a relative risk of injury 28% less than bicycling in the street. Source: injuryprevention.bmj.com

Turns out, the overall relative risk of bicycling on a cycle track is 0.72, which means the rate of injury on cycle tracks was 28% less than the regular street. What’s incredible about this result is that all the cycle tracks examined in Montreal for the study were two-way cycle tracks, which are thought to be more dangerous than one-way cycle tracks. So you might expect the relative risk of bicycling on a one-way cycle track to be even better.

What’s more, 2.5 times more bicyclists used the cycle tracks than the regular street. The findings of the study showed that separated cycle tracks are safer at best and no more dangerous than bicycling in the street at worst.

The study also mentions that in The Netherlands, where cycle tracks are prevalent, 27% of Dutch trips are made by bike, 55% are women, and the bicyclist injury rate is 0.14 injured per million kilometers traveled. In the United States, however, only 0.5% of commuters bike, 24% of adult bicyclists are women, and the bicyclist injury rate is 26 times greater than in The Netherlands.

Earlier this month in a City Council Public Works Committee meeting, Planning Director, Dawn Warrick said, “The comprehensive plan, through the PlaniTulsa process, really did talk to the community about the concept of Complete Streets. It is prevalent throughout the document that there is a desire for us to fully utilize our infrastructure and provide choices for people when it comes to how they get around the community. So there is public support for this type of concept.”

Given the public support for Complete Streets and the results of this study showing that separated cycle tracks are, at worst, no more dangerous than bicycling in mixed traffic, what are we afraid of when it comes to cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes?

Pilot Program to Provide Tulsa’s First-Ever On-Street Bike Parking

January 10, 2012 in Bicycling, Featured

TULSA – Nearly 100 bicycle racks, including bicycle corrals that will provide the city’s first-ever on-street bike parking, are coming to Tulsa as part of a bike rack pilot program, according to city officials.

The bike racks will be installed in various locations in Tulsa’s downtown, Brady District, Blue Dome District, Pearl District, Kendall-Whittier, Brookside and Cherry Street.

“The plans for the racks are about 95% complete,” says Doug Duke, Senior Traffic Engineer for the City of Tulsa. Duke expects a contract to be awarded sometime in March with installation beginning as early as April. All the racks could be in place as early as June.

Bike Racks in Pilot Program

These bike racks will be installed as part of Tulsa's pilot bike rack program. Image: City of Tulsa

Most of the racks being installed will be “Type A’s”, according to Duke. “They are basically inverted U’s with a logo plate attached.”

Each district or neighborhood will have its own logo displayed on the logo plate of the bike rack.

Yet, one of the most exciting aspects to the pilot program is the addition of on-street bicycle corrals to locations downtown and on Cherry Street. The corrals will create the first on-street bike parking in Tulsa in modern history.

Each bicycle corral will replace an on-street car parking space or other vacant street space with five racks that can fit 10 bikes within the space of one car. Placing the racks in the street ensures pedestrians have room to move on the sidewalk.

The on-street corrals are planned to be installed in front of Caz’s Chowhouse in the Brady District, Joe Momma’s in the Blue Dome District, and TCC’s downtown campus. Five on-street corrals are planned for Cherry Street.

“Installing angled parking [on Cherry Street] created opportunities for on-street rack corrals in hatched-out areas where we didn’t want vehicles parking as they would block visibility of traffic,” said Duke. “Not wanting these areas to go to waste, we thought they would be ideal areas for the corrals, as the bikes and racks would not block views of traffic and would put the racks “front and center” to vehicular traffic.”

In bicycle-friendly cities like Portland, businesses are on waiting lists as long as two years to receive bicycle corrals because they know it means they can have more customers park directly in front of their establishment.

In locations where bike racks cannot be placed in the street, the single Type A racks will be installed on the sidewalk in an orientation parallel to the curb to ensure bicycles don’t encroach upon the expected or normal pedestrian path.

In addition to the regular Type A racks, several locations are set to receive upgraded custom “art” racks in the shape of oil derricks, bison and the city skyline.

The custom art rack upgrades are being funded by the Tulsa Beautification Foundation and the Zarrow Families Foundation. The city has been working with these foundations and the Tulsa Hub to develop the designs and the desired locations.

The pilot bike rack project is a joint effort between the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) and the City of Tulsa, who recognized the need for bike parking as a result of the Trails Master Plan, according to James Wagner, INCOG’s Transportation Projects Coordinator.

“We conducted webinars and provided “best practice” material from the Association of Pedestrian & Bicycle Professionals to the engineers at the City of Tulsa to identify the best designs used around the country and placement of the racks within the sidewalk space,” said Wagner. “Plans are to provide this same opportunity to other communities in the metro area in future years.”

INCOG allocated $50,000 in federal grant funds for the bike rack program. The funds came from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality (CMAQ) program designed to encourage alternative transportation.

To learn more about bicycle corrals, check out the Streetfilms video below.

Crosswalk Enforcement

December 21, 2011 in Walking

PORTLAND – The City of Portland regularly conducts crosswalk enforcement in problem areas to remind vehicle drivers, including bicyclists, they need to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

The enforcement action involves a decoy pedestrian who attempts to cross the street. A police spotter notifies a police officer when a vehicle driver doesn’t yield and the officer then pulls over the driver and issues a warning or citation.

Tulsa has many places where this kind of enforcement action, if done regularly, could really change driver behavior. Good candidates include areas with large number of pedestrians like the crosswalks near the angled parking on Cherry Street and Brookside.

But it would also be smart to run enforcement operations in locations where pedestrians aren’t the norm, like 71st and Memorial or 15th and Louisville, because these locations can be some of the most dangerous for pedestrians because drivers are not expecting people to be walking in those areas. Drivers need to learn to be aware and yield to pedestrians at all crosswalks.

Mia Birk: Design Cities For Biking and Walking, People Will

December 5, 2011 in Bicycling

PORTLAND – “If we plan and build our cities around driving, then that’s what we’ll do,” says Mia Birk, former bicycle coordinator for the City of Portland and author of “Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet.

Birk then goes on to say, “If we plan and build around bicycling and walking, and then encourage people to do so in ways that are meaningful to their lives, then that’s what we’ll do.”

It wasn’t easy to convert Portland to the bicycle city it is today, and it certainly won’t be any easier for Tulsa. In her TED Talk above, Birk tells the story of how car-centric Portland transformed into a city where 8% of commute trips are made by bicycle.