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Pickled Ice Cream: Bus-Bike Combo Lanes Are No Good.

Some things are good separately, and very bad together. Bike lanes are great, as are bus lanes, but bike-bus combination lanes are the pickled ice cream of the transportation world.

RIPTA's plan to have bus-bike combo lanes, as designed by Bill DiSantis of VHB, is a bad idea. Says DiSantis, responding to my criticism of the plan in an email sent on his behalf by RIPTA:

Obviously a fully separated bicycle facility would be the preferred bicycle accommodation but the existing site conditions preclude anything other than a shared facility (my italics). We note that the City has recently restriped Exchange St from Memorial Blvd to park Row West to reduce the number of travel lanes thus making way for the proposed improvements.

Here are the "existing site conditions" that supposedly "preclude anything other than a shared facility":

With the exception of a small length near the Turk's Head south of Fulton Street, the entire length of Exchange Street is four wide lanes.
The road width gives us room to do something like this:
Plenty of room for (separate) bike and bus lanes. There's even room for an island to help transit users and pedestrians cross, and to add shade to the street with trees.
Why would we instead require bikes and buses to share the lane? This is both inconvenient for bus riders, who get caught behind a slow bicyclist, and potentially dangerous to the bicyclist, who is caught in a leap frog situation.

Bill DiSantis contends that because this is a straight route, there won't be "right hook" accidents where bicyclists get into the blind spot of the bus and are run over at turns. He also contends that "leap frogging" where the faster bus passes the bicyclist, but is caught at the light, and in turn is passed by the bicyclist, won't happen because of the shortness of the route. While I agree that the problems caused by bus-bike combo lanes would be mitigated by these factors, I don't know why would design a street from scratch to have problems built into its design. There's certainly nothing about the street that makes building appropriate (separate) bus and bike facilities difficult.

DiSantis bases his design on examples from Florida DOT and from the city of Tucson, Arizona. Florida is the leading state for pedestrian and cyclist deaths, so why he would base his plans off of something from that state I can't understand. I haven't heard anything too inspiring from Tucson. 

If we want mass cycling and transit use, then we should design both forms of transportation to operate at their best. That means basing our models on countries with mass cycling like the Netherlands and Denmark. We have more in common with the layouts of places in those countries than we do with stroads in Florida or the Southwest.

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4 comments:

  1. In general I don't buy into the leapfrog argument on shared bike-bus lanes, since for the most part, buses are only running every 8-10 minutes, on a busy route, and for many lines, the bus is the faster vehicle has a better ability to overtake by moving into an adjacent lane. (R-line for instance).

    However, I don't see the point on Exchange Street. 1) Volumes are very high at times for all modes of transportation, 2) the street is 4 blocks long. 3) the street has a light/stop sign at every intersection, so speeds never get consistently fast. I would anticipate that south of Memorial, riders would generally not want to ride there because of the volume of large vehicles. North of memorial should totally be reconfigured to connect the train station and mall better to downtown proper for bicycle users, but what happens south of there would make all the difference for accessibility.

    Are you sure that it's 4 lanes (2-each way). My recollection and looking at google maps, it looks to me like it's only 4-lanes north of Washington, south of that is 3 lanes and 1 lane to my eye.

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    1. I think you're right that it narrows slightly from Washington to Fulton--and I mentioned that it's narrower around the Turk's Head--but I think the major connection that needs to be made is from Washington north to the train station. And for that, there's no reason that we can't have both dedicated bus lanes and dedicated bike lanes (hopefully protected ones).

      I'd be okay with saying no bikes at all allowed from Westminster to Washington on Exchange Street if it's a bus right-of-way, so long as some other route(s) is designated. The urge to put everything together is what irks me. It's okay for me as a biker to understand I can't be everywhere, especially if it helps transit. Putting the two together doesn't work well.

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  2. Interesting analysis from Florida on the topic.

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  3. http://www.cutr.usf.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/CUTR-Webcast-Shared-Bike-Bus-Lanes-09.20.12.pdf

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