Sunday, July 22, 2012

The 2014 Challenge - Designing the "Bike Paths for the 21st Century"

The Republican Leadership in the House of Representatives have been touting victory with the transportation bill. Saying that money for frivolous bike paths was reduced in the MAP-21 Transportation reauthorization. Clearly there is a ideology held in by some in Congress that believes that money for transportation is being wasted on circular paths in parks.

So what is a bike path?

In the US there really is no such thing, unless you are thinking about bike exclusive cycle tracks. Paved paths whether on the side of a road or along an exclusive right of way are shared use, in fact depending  on who you ask shared use paths are routinely referred to as jogging paths. In the design process this conflict between bikeway and jogging path sometimes creates a product that neither side is happy with.

So maybe it is time create a new class of bikeway. One that suggests that a bikeway is a transportation facility that prioritizes bicycle travel over other modes. Not every shared use path needs to be a first class bikeway, but routes that are intended to be regional first class bikeways shouldn't be designed like the Seaside Heights boardwalk.

Cycling Superhighways, especially this one in Copenhagen has been getting a lot of media buzz this week. Over the past few years the Netherlands and Denmark have been upgrading bicycle connections between cities and suburbs. These connections are engineered for comfort and minimal delays using a network of off road trails, underpasses, cycletracks and the green wave which a network of green traffic signals timed for bike speed 10-14 mph.

Unlike Europe which has preserved its railroads corridors as railroads the US is full of the grade separated abandoned corridors and converted rail trails Perhaps the best of the best is the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis which is sometimes called a bicycle freeway.

Whatever we want to call these bicycle superhighways is an assignment for someone else, but just like interstates it is important that first class bikeways are built to a standard that is higher than the traditional shared use path.

We put forward some ideas as to how a bicycle highway could function.

Regional Significance: 
  • It should be least 5 miles in length and provide access to major destinations or employment centers
  • Connects with other bicycle and transit facilities
  • High maintenance standards (Snow and debris removal, pavement smoothness standards)
  • Properly signed and numbered (e.g. Bikeway 1) 

Off Road Design Standards:
  • Minimum 12 ft with centerline striping or dashing 
  • In high pedestrian traffic areas at least 10 feet of bikeway along with a parallel pedestrian path 
  • The bikeway is open 24 hours and lit in high use areas 
  • Major roads - Grade separation where feasible, signal protected elsewhere (no yellow flashers) 
  • Minor roads - Intersection design guidelines with roads that have lower volumes and speeds
On Road Design Standards: 
  • Cycle tracks where possible 
  • Green Wave signal timing in urban areas 
  • Green Bike lanes that are buffered whenever feasible
  • Bicycle Boulevard standards for shared roadways

MAP-21 expires in 2014, beginning next year there will be intense debate over bicycling will begin again with opponents will be dragging out their old "frivolous bike paths" argument. Developing the concept of cycling superhighways and selling its merits to the next Congress is a discussion that needs to begin now.


Andy B from Jersey said...

John, were you inspired to write this by the discussion on the APBP listserve? :)

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