Oct 052018
 

Update (October 16, 2018): The County Council decided to retain this trail segment in the Bicycle Master Plan!  Thank you, trail supporters who wrote to the Council!

The 13-mile long PEPCO paved trail was conceived to run from the South Germantown Recreational Park in Germantown to Cabin John Park in Bethesda.  These two parks are superb destinations, each with its own trail network, parking, and amenities.  The paved trail will be accompanied by a parallel natural surface trail, some of which has already been built.

But the 2018 draft of the county Bicycle Master Plan omits the last mile of the paved trail, between Tuckerman Lane and Westlake Drive, thus eliminating the connection to Cabin John Park.  Trail users would have to use a future detour sidepath along Tuckerman Lane and Westlake Drive instead, crossing two busy intersections and several driveways in the process.  That’s unsuitable for this type of trail.

Please write to the County Council by October 15th to support the full trail (see below).

The map below highlights the issue.  The bicycle plan would omit the green segment, putting trail users onto the detour sidepath shown in red.

The Bicycle Master Plan would omit the green segment, putting trail users onto the detour sidepath shown in red

The detour sidepath along Tuckerman Lane would pass through two busy signalized intersections: Tuckerman/Seven Locks Rd and Tuckerman/Cabin John Mall Entrance (usually much busier than what Google depicts).  The detour path would also have to cross several residential driveways and at least one side street.  The PEPCO trail is meant to be a safe, comfortable hiker-biker trail with few crossings.

Here is the full future paved trail as originally conceived (click to enlarge):

The future PEPCO paved trail trail as originally conceived (click to enlarge)

Advocates pushed for the paved trail for 20 years and never gave up, but the county wants to give up on the last mile after just a few months’ analysis, based on PEPCO rules among other things.  Rules can change.  Omitting the last segment from the plan would likely mean it never gets built or even studied.  County planners are justifiably concerned about steep terrain, but there are potential solutions that can and should be explored.

The County Council is currently deliberating on the draft Bicycle Master Plan and may decide on this issue very soon.  Please write to the County Council by October 15th, 2018 at council@montgomerycountymd.gov.  Ask the Council to include in the plan the omitted paved trail segment from Tuckerman Lane to Westlake Drive.  Explain the need for a quality link to Cabin John Park, not just a sidepath detour. See the Council webpage if you need additional Council info.

If you have questions, you can contact me, Jack Cochrane, chair of Montgomery Bicycle Advocates (MoBike), at email@mobike.org.

And finally, a video of the dedication ceremony for the natural surface trail, thanks to John Wetmore…

Oct 052018
 

The 2018 draft of the Montgomery County Bicycle Master Plan is located right here.  Follow the two “Download” links on that page to see the main document and the appendices that make up the plan.  See also the plan map.

PEPCO trail issue

For a full discussion of the PEPCO trail issue raised by Montgomery Bicycle Advocates, see here.

The official public comment period on the plan is over, but you can still let the Council know your concerns as long as you don’t wait too long (mid to late October to be safe).  The Council is now conducting worksessions to decide on any changes to the plan.  Then they’ll approve and adopt the plan and it will become official.  You can send any concerns to the County Council via email at county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.  For more Council contact info, see the full Council web page here.

Jul 032018
 

The new draft of the Montgomery County Bicycle Master Plan is about to go before the County Council.  Please let the Council know you support the plan and tell them how it can be improved.   Express your support at the hearing or in writing by July 10th.   The draft plan is an excellent template for the future, representing a paradigm shift towards “low stress” bikeways like protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), shared use paths, and bicycle boulevards.  The proposed network of low stress bikeways will attract more people who want to bike but are afraid of riding too close to cars.  This will increase the number of people out there on bikes.

BUT WHERE ARE THE SHOULDERS?

It’s an excellent plan.  We should all support it.

But it does have a few issues that should be addressed by the County Council.

Notably, the plan omits a great many bikeable shoulders and conventional bike lanes that are used by cyclists in the county today.  The plan ascribes too little value to these so-called “striped bikeways” on busy roads, because it does not consider them to be low stress (they’re called “striped bikeways” because a real or implied stripe rather than a physical barrier separates bikes from cars).  In a sense, the plan marginalizes confident cyclists who want both safety and efficiency – the “power users” of the bike network – who are often best served by striped bikeways.  In most cases the plan doesn’t call for existing shoulders to be retained – even when it’s feasible to retain them AND provide a low stress option.

Pedestrian in the county’s newest protected bike lane

Many experienced cyclists rely on shoulders (and conventional bike lanes) because they provide some separation from busy traffic, but are often faster and more convenient than protected bikeways and sidepaths. They allow riders to maintain continuously higher speeds, maintain right-of-way at intersections, and ride where they’re more likely to be seen.   Protected bike lanes, on the other hand, can make it harder to exit and re-enter the bikeway, which cyclists may want to do to get around pedestrians and obstacles, make quick left turns, avoid right-hooks at intersections, or avoid cars with their noses sticking out, among other reasons.  When placed behind parked cars, protected bike lanes invite pedestrian conflicts and reduce visibility, making it dangerous to ride too fast.  Yet they still expose cyclists to traffic at intersections.  Sidepaths are even more problematic at intersections, and most importantly, they must be shared with pedestrians.  Path cyclists must keep speeds down and always be concerned at side street and driveway crossings.

County planners point out that the plan doesn’t explicitly call for the removal of existing shoulders or conventional bike lanes, but the plan obviously intends to remove these bikeways on a vast number of roads, and planners aren’t willing to provide assurances for other roads.  Where these facilities aren’t explicitly called for by the plan, they are at risk of being removed or narrowed (intentionally or inadvertently) the next time the street is modified or resurfaced.  This can happen when:

  • travel lanes are added
  • intersections are upgraded
  • the road is rebuilt during redevelopment
  • traffic-calming curb extensions or median islands are built
  • curb and gutter are added
  • the shoulder is blocked with bus pads or drainage
  • lines are repainted without consideration for bikes

Shoulder was pinched when an island was added (Seven Locks Rd)

Not specifying existing shoulders in the plan also makes it less likely they’ll be improved (by filling in short gaps, for example).

THE SOLUTION: PROVIDE BOTH

It’s still very important to provide low stress bikeways.  So the solution, wherever shoulders have value, is to provide both shoulders (or conventional bike lanes) AND a low stress bike facility along the same road.  The low stress element would likely be a sidepath or a two-way protected bike lane on one side.  In some cases the shoulders may allow parking.

This “dual bikeway” treatment isn’t needed (or even possible) on every street. But it’s generally appropriate for roads which meet these criteria:

  • Already has shoulders or conventional bike lanes
  • Not located in dense areas
  • Frequently used by bicyclists today

Dawson Farm Rd is an example of a dual bikeway, having both conventional bike lanes and a sidepath:

The Planning Department’s primary objection to dual bikeways is that providing shoulders or conventional bike lanes could make it more difficult to implement the low stress bike accommodation.  But I’m recommending dual bikeways where they’re likely to be feasible.  For some other roads I’m asking for what I call a “qualified dual bikeway”, meaning that if both bikeway types can’t be feasibly implemented, then just provide the low stress bikeway.  This idea was rejected by planners, who seem afraid that any mention of the striped bikeway option could lead implementers to choose that and only that.  The resistance to dual bikeways seems rooted in distrust of DOT — a belief that DOT will disregard the plan and use the dual designation as an excuse not to build the low stress component.   My response is that I don’t trust DOT to do what’s NOT in the plan — because, after all, it’s not in the plan.

The Bicycle Plan notes that bikeable shoulders or conventional bike lanes “can” be provided as long as they do not substantially detract from the accompanying recommended low stress bikeway.  I’ll work to make sure this becomes the policy of Montgomery County DOT and Maryland SHA.  But it’s a weak guarantee.  The plan should still stipulate these elements road by road, so it’s clear to everyone from DPS supervisors to DOT engineers to the next round of planners that these facilities are worth providing.  I don’t see how this could be interpreted as a green light to ignore the plan’s low stress mandate, repeated over and over in the document.

Below are my recommendations of what needs to be added to the plan.

First Priority – Essential shoulders and conventional bike lanes

Here’s a prioritized list of the high priority roads where shoulders or conventional bike lanes should be explicitly specified in the plan in addition to a low stress bikeway.  All of these roads have shoulders or conventional bike lanes already.  (I’ve omitted roads where the Bicycle Plan already recommends shoulders or conventional bike lanes).

  1. Tuckerman Lane (Old Georgetown Road to Falls Road) – A vital and popular route for road cyclists. Planners propose to replace the shoulders with protected bike lanes, when the best option is to add a sidepath and keep the existing shoulders.  DOT is already designing improvements.
  2. MD 28 (Darnestown Rd/Key West Ave) (Seneca Rd and Shady Grove Rd) – Plan would remove shoulders from two segments – here and here – or about 3 out of 6 miles.   This rare road route to Darnestown already has both shoulders and a sidepath.  Planners want to eliminate the shoulders to widen the grass buffer, which would not actually increase the distance between the path and cars.
  3. Briggs Chaney Road/Norwood Rd (Automobile Blvd to Layhill Rd) – An important road biking route connecting the Rt. 29 corridor to the Olney area. It includes a short segment of New Hampshire Ave.  Shoulders may need a few improvements.
  4. Knowles Ave (MD 547) (Beach Dr to Summit Ave) – This connects to the very popular Beach Drive and also forms part of a signed bike route from North Bethesda to Wheaton.  At least provide a shoulder going uphill (a climbing lane).
  5. Kemp Mill Rd (Arcola Ave to Randolph Rd) – DOT specifically striped this as a shoulder bikeway and there appears to be room to add a path as well.
  6. Bells Mill Rd (Gainsborough Rd to Falls Rd) – These bikeable shoulders are needed to fill in for the Democracy Blvd shoulders that would be difficult to improve.
  7. Ridge Rd (MD 27) (Brink Road to Damascus High School) – Good shoulders with pocket bike lanes already exist for a significant length of this segment, and there appears to be room both this and a path.
  8. Dufief Mill Rd (Travilah Rd to Darnestown Rd) – Currently has bike lanes and it and links to MD 28.
  9. Gainsborough Rd (Seven Locks Rd to Bells Mill Rd) – Currently has unmarked shoulders shared with parking

Tuckerman Lane:

Second Priority – Keep shoulders if possible (“qualified dual bikeways”)

This list specifies roads where both the existing shoulders and a low stress bikeway should be planned, but with a note saying that if both don’t fit, at least provide the low stress bikeway.  I call these “qualified dual bikeways”.  If the plan doesn’t specify the shoulders, DOT may needlessly remove them.  In priority order they are:

  1. Fairland Rd (Old Columbia Pike to East Randolph Rd) – Has fast shoulders that get frequent use, but space may be tight.
  2. Plyers Mill Rd (Lexington St to Amherst Ave) – This is part of a signed cross-county road route (along with Dennis Ave, Tuckerman Lane and Knowles Ave).  Protected bike lanes may work where shoulders aren’t adequate.
  3. Grosvenor Lane (Cheshire Dr to Rockville Pike)
  4. Massachusetts Ave (MD 396) (Goldsboro Rd to Sangamore St) – Good shoulders but space is tight; at least provide path and uphill shoulder (climbing lane).
  5. Montrose Rd (Seven Locks Rd to Falls Rd) – Already has shoulders, needs a path.
  6. River Rd (MD 190) (Ridgefield Rd to Norwood School main entrance) – This already has bikeable shoulders, with the portion east of I-495 marked as bike lanes. It would benefit from better striping near I-495.

Fairland Road:

Roads that are no-brainers

The following roads already have both conventional bike lanes and a shared use path that fit together comfortably.  It’s unlikely that either bikeway would be removed, especially on the state roads, but it’s safer to recognize them in the plan:

Stringtown Road:

Roads that need more than a sidepath

For the following roads, shoulders exist and only a shared use path is recommended in the plan.  Either keep the shoulders (and fix pinch points) or provide protected bike lanes, but above all, a path should not be the only bike facility.

Plyers Mill Road:

Long upcounty state roads…

Some segments of the following state roads have existing shoulders or wide lanes that could be narrowed to make room for shoulders.  But each road is long and complex.  It’s late in this planning process to be studying each one. Therefore advocates may want to work with SHA, which has a good record of providing shoulders or bike lanes where they fit, regardless of county master plans.  The general segments are:

Wide lanes on Georgia Avenue:

A special case: Little Falls Parkway

  • Little Falls Parkway south of the Capital Crescent Trail crossing has existing shoulders but isn’t planned as any kind of bikeway in the Bicycle Plan (because the CCT is parallel, more or less). The plan should just recommend what’s already there (shoulders) but remain flexible.
  • Little Falls Parkway north of the Capital Crescent Trail crossing is likely to be reconfigured due to the crossing fatality. The bike facility should include a shoulder on the northbound side. The temporary southbound configuration is a sidepath transitioning to a de facto two-way protected bike lane, which seems to work given the unique layout. But the trail intersection is being redesigned, so the Bicycle Plan should be flexible.

Little Falls Parkway:

Shoulders that ARE in the Bicycle Plan

Fortunately the plan recommends shoulders or conventional bike lanes on several roads.  Here they are, excluding roads in rural areas (sorry if I’ve missed any):

  • Bradley Blvd (MD 191) (Persimmon Tree Rd to Fairfax Rd) – Bike lanes and path
  • Calverton Blvd (Gracefield Rd to P.G. County line) – Bike lanes
  • Carroll Ave (University to Long Branch Pkwy, Flower Ave to Tulip Ave) – Bike lanes
  • Democracy Blvd (Seven Locks Rd to Falls Rd) – Bike lanes and path
  • Homecrest Rd (Longmead Crossing Dr to Bel Pre Rd) – Bike lanes
  • Gateshead Manor Way/Aston Manor Dr/Sheffield Manor Dr (Briggs Chaney Rd to Shady Knoll Dr) – Buffered bike lanes
  • Goshen Rd (Lochaven Dr to Odendhal Rd) – Bike lanes and path
  • Greencastle Rd (Old Columbia Pike to Greencastle Ridge Terrace) – Bike lanes and path
  • Jones Mill Rd (Jones Bridge Rd to East-West Hwy) – Shoulders
  • Layhill Rd (MD 182) (Glenallen Dr to the ICC) – Bike lanes and path
  • MacArthur Blvd (Falls Rd to D.C. line) – Shoulders and path (ongoing project)
  • Midcounty Hwy (Shady Grove Rd to Montgomery Village Ave) – Shoulders and path
  • Muncaster Mill Rd (MD 115) (Norbeck Rd to Muncaster Rd) – Shoulders and path (where they don’t already exist, shoulders will be difficult to add)
  • Norbeck Rd/Spencerville Rd (MD 28/198) (Layhill Rd to Old Columbia Pike) – Shoulders and path (shoulders and two paths, one on each side of the street, west of New Hampshire Ave)
  • Old Columbia Pike (Tolson Place to Tech Rd)
  • Redland Rd (Muncaster Mill Rd to Needwood Rd) – Path plus shoulders that would very difficult to add
  • Riffleford Rd (MD 28 to MD 118) – Shoulders
  • Second Ave (Seminary Rd to 16th St) – Bike lanes
  • Seminary Rd (Forest Glen Rd to Second Ave) – Bike lanes
  • Seven Locks Rd (city of Rockville to Bradley Blvd, I-495 to MacArthur Blvd) – Shoulders and path
  • Stewart Lane (Old Columbia Pike to Lockwood Dr) – Bike lanes
  • Westlake Drive (Tuckerman Lane to Democracy Blvd) – Shoulders and path
  • Wexhall Rd/Ballinger Dr (Greencastle Rd to Robey Rd) – Buffered bike lanes

Westlake Drive:

In rural areas, the plan proposes bikeable shoulders on several more roads.  It does this almost casually, covering many roads where there’s little hope of adding shoulders, like Seneca Rd or rural Clarksburg Rd.  Rural Montgomery County can be a conundrum for road cyclists who don’t want to “take the lane” on fast roads – full of missing links and few comfortable ways to get there by bike.  At least the plan calls for retention of what shoulders already exist in rural areas.

A parting thought

Sometimes I feel as if there’s a defensive posture in bike planning circles due to resistance planners must have received from avid cyclists when protected bike lanes were first proposed — resistance based on the notion that cycling is easier and safer when you’re not trapped along the edge of the road, possibly going in the wrong direction.  Years of being told to “get on the bike path” can make bikers grumpy, and then to hear it from bike planners, well, that couldn’t have gone over well.  Defensiveness can lead to fear of any messages that could be construed as distracting or mixed — messages like shoulders have value or dual bikeways are a good option.  In the new draft Bicycle Plan, neither the objectives,  metrics nor road-by-road recommendations pay much heed to the value of facilities that aren’t defined as low stress.  But I shouldn’t be too critical.  The plan authors did add a nice statement in the plan that truly acknowledges the value of shoulders (a statement I submitted by the way), which I appreciate.  But I’m concerned that this plan (and almost every plan I’ve seen touting protected bike lanes) characterizes research data in a way that dramatically understates the percentage of likely cyclists who are confident riding in shoulders.  That’s a sign that people might be trying just a little too hard to push for their favorite facility type.  But then, we’re all zealous from time to time or we wouldn’t be good bike advocates!

Jul 022018
 

The County Council is now soliciting public comments on the new draft Bicycle Master Plan, which will chart the future of biking in the county for years to come.  The plan includes a main document and appendices (see the “Download” links on that page).  See also the handy map of planned bikeways on that page.

The Council will make changes to the plan in response to comments they receive.  So it’s important to weigh in now!   The public hearing will be on Tuesday, July 10 at 7:30 pm at the Council Office Building (100 Maryland Ave, Rockville, MD, third-floor hearing room).  Sign up online to testify or call 240-777-7803 by 10 am on July 10.  The Council will begin deliberations on the plan in the fall.

If you prefer, you can submit written comments instead of (or in addition to) speaking.  Email comments to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

Speakers are encouraged to email a copy of their testimony 48 hours before the hearing, and are encouraged (but not required) to bring 15 copies of their testimony to the hearing.  The hearing will be streamed online.  To learn more about the County Council, see their web page.

The goal of the Bicycle Master Plan is to make Montgomery County a place where anyone can get around by bike.  It does this by calling for many more “low stress” bikeways like protected bike lanes (cycle tracks), shared use paths, and bicycle boulevards.  This is an important paradigm shift that will get more people on bikes.

There is some concern that the plan is omitting shoulders and conventional bike lanes used by cyclists today.  Low stress bikeways don’t have to be an either-or proposition.  Montgomery Bicycle Advocates (MoBike) requests keeping several shoulders and conventional bike lanes in addition to provision of low stress bikeways.  That will make this a truly great plan.

See the Bicycle Master Plan home page for more information on the history and process behind the plan.

 Posted by at 3:17 pm on Jul 2, 2018  Comments Off on Support the new county Bicycle Master Plan!
Nov 282017
 

Not long ago, there were no protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks) in Montgomery County, but now there are three, with more are on the way.  As a result, county bikeway designers are faced with many decisions they never had to make before. How should PBLs be separated from the street?  How can cyclists make left turns?  And so on.

One question that I find especially important is this:

What should protected bike lane crossings look like?

I’m referring to the green areas where a protected bike lane crosses a street or driveway.  There’s a growing push across the country for what I call the “floating bars” design, which resembles a ladder consisting only of rungs.  This is very similar to “continental” pedestrian crosswalks that are the new standard in Montgomery County.  The bike crossings are colored green (using thermoplastic paint in high-wear areas) whereas pedestrian crosswalks are white.  Here’s a protected bike lane crossing a driveway in Rockville:

Protected bike lane crossing on Nebel Street in Rockville

For comparison, here’s a solid painted crossing:

Protected bike lane crossing in Davis, California

Concerns about “floating bar” crossings

Montgomery County has decided to use the floating bar design for all new protected bike lane crossings.  But I believe solid painted designs are far superior in most contexts.

My first concern is that floating bars do not visually define or declare the crossing as well as a solid area does.  Solid crossings aren’t merely visible; they are bold and conspicuous.  A solid area literally resembles a path crossing the street.  So a solid area does a better job alerting drivers that they’re coming to a bikeway, and drivers who see it as a bikeway are more likely to look for rapidly approaching cyclists.  Drivers who see it as a bikeway are more likely to stop before the crossing rather than on top of it.  Drivers are often hesitant to stop on top of large painted areas in any case, based on my observations.  The edges of solid crossings are better defined, less “permeable” so to speak.  We all know that drivers don’t take barred crosswalks seriously enough, often pulling across them before stopping if they stop at all.

My second concern is this:  Intersections with protected bike lane crossings also typically have crosswalks, which can result in a virtual flotilla of floating bars.  All the bars can be difficult for drivers to decipher in a few seconds.  One barred crossing by itself might be easy enough to process, provided the bars aren’t too far apart.  But when there are lots of bars belonging to multiple bike and ped crossings, it gets hard to pick out one from another, like a herd of zebras.  The bike crossings might not form a simple square around the intersection like crosswalks do, but may form more complex arrangements, with some closer to the intersection, some further away, and some that don’t even reach the curb (ending at another crossing).  So it’s crucial to make each crossing as visually clear as possible.  Solid paint would go a long way towards helping drivers disentangle the bike crossings from each other and from the crosswalks.

This what the intersection of Nebel Street and Old Georgetown Road looks like to a driver:

To a driver turning left, the further green bars are hard to distinguish from the white bars, as seen below (look at the bars under the white SUV):

That’s a lot of bars!  And this is just a small intersection with a three-way stop.

Curiously, “Nebel” is the German word for “fog”.

Solid paint examples

Below is the Millennium Trail (a shared use path) where it crosses Henslowe Drive in Rockville.  The crossing is very clearly defined, with red pavement and white lines on each side.  The red pavement even has a stamped brick texture, adding to the effect.  Visually it looks like a path.

The effect is more striking when bright green paint is used, like on Woodglen Drive (where the protected bike lanes predate the county’s switch to floating bars):

This is further north on Woodglen Drive:

Compared to disconnected bars, this solid green crossing has more “weight”.  Drivers are more likely to interpret this as a bikeway, and less likely to turn across it without looking for bikes.  Compare that side by side with the Nebel mishmash:

Side by side comparison

Bar dimensions and spacing

If floating bars must be used for cost reasons, the bars should at least be close together.  But as the county builds more protected bike lanes, the bars seem to be getting further and further apart.  On Nebel St., some look like they’re 2′ apart, equal to the width of the bars themselves (similar to pedestrian crosswalk dimensions), but most of the crossings on Nebel appear to have a 3:2 gap to bar ratio (equivalent to 3′ gaps and 2′ bars) or a 2:1 ratio (equivalent to 4′ gaps and 2′ bars).  Here’s a view of Nebel showing what looks like a 2:1 ratio on one side of the street and 1:1 on the other side:

Bars in foreground are more widely spaced than bars in background

I didn’t actually measure the widths (I eyeballed it) but on some crossings the bars appear to be less than 2′ wide.  The distance between bars isn’t always constant from bar to bar, as if the road crews eyeballed it.  The actual width of the bars isn’t as important as the relative width — i.e. the ratio of gap width to bar width.  So I’ll cite ratios here.

In any case, the county is now adopting a 3:1 standard, equivalent to 6′ gaps between 2′ bars.  This can be seen in the newest protected bike lanes, on Spring Street in Silver Spring.  Here the bike crossing is barely noticeable compared to the crosswalk:

Spring St/First Ave. bike lane crossing where the gaps are three times as wide as the bars

This is really not enough to visually define the crossing.  But there’s more.  Some driveway crossings along the Spring St. bike lanes appear to have a 4:1 ratio, possibly 6′ gaps between 1.5′ bars.   This is the exit from the MNCCPC parking garage:

MNCPPC garage exit onto Spring Street

A lot of drivers exiting the garage will simply see three isolated green rectangles, not a bikeway crossing.  The bars are too far apart to define a line.  (Update Feb. 2018: Due to grit that’s accumulated in the crossing, one of these bars is very difficult to see at all).  Some commercial driveways on Spring are even worse, with just one bar in the path of drivers.

So if a floating bar design is to be used, the bars must be close together.  Spacing must be 1:1.  Spacing of 2:1 or higher completely ruins their effectiveness.

Other bar styles

The county might also look at changing the bar style.  For example, more of each bar could be white – like one or two feet at each end, not just a few inches.  The white ends of the bars would almost resemble the parallel rows of squares in this Dutch example (but with green bars instead of a solid red background).  With less green paint per bar, the bars could be brought closer together without adding cost.  The crossing would look less like a crosswalk, but might be confusing in other ways, so I don’t know if that particular design would help.  But my point is that other designs should be explored.

Pros and Cons

There are perhaps three good arguments against solid painted crossings:

  1. They might not alert cyclists to the fact they’re crossing a street or driveway.
  2. They could be mistaken for things like bike boxes and queue boxes, which also use solid green paint.
  3. They are more expensive to build and maintain.

It’s not a problem for me, but I could see where some cyclists might not realize they’re crossing a street when the crossing is solid green without additional cues, especially if the non-crossing portion of the bike lane is also solid green.  But there are a variety of ways to let cyclists know they’re crossing a street, in particular dashed edge lines to markings alongside the crossing like these in AmsterdamVancouver, and our own North Bethesda.  Stop signs can be used at some locations.  Another solution is the hybrid style of crossing I propose below.  Floating bars may still be appropriate in special contexts, like turn lane crossovers, where drivers might not be sure they can cross the bike lane, justifying a more “porous” appearance.

Differentiating solid bike crossings from other uses of solid green paint like bike boxes and queue boxes is an issue as well.  Some intersections use quite of bit of solid paint for these elements.  Of course these elements may be mistaken for crossings even when the real crossings use floating bars.  The problem is compounded by bike emblems in bike boxes showing a cyclist (or a little parade of cyclists) riding from right to left, suggesting it’s a perpendicular crossing.  Distinguishing between solid areas may come down to using special edge lines or the hybrid crossing style I propose below.  Such ergonomic issues have been studied and resolved in countries like Denmark, so solutions using solid paint are possible.

Cost is important of course.  I believe it’s the single biggest factor driving the push towards floating bar designs.  Some arguments for floating bars seem to be rationalizations in service of saving money.  Green thermoplastic paint is very expensive.  When the paint wears out, barred designs allow for easier replacement of just the worn sections. But at some point the savings do not justify putting cyclists at greater risk.  Why provide protected bike lanes at all if we skimp on the protection at intersections, where riders are already less protected?  There may however be ways to use somewhat less paint without impacting safety.

Note that European countries often mix the color into the pavement when the road is surfaced, which is something to consider here.

Here are the weaker arguments in favor of floating bar crossings, with my responses:

  1. In driver thinking (and designer thinking), dashed lines are okay to cross and solid lines are not.
    • This is a weak argument given the many other uses of solid lines that may be crossed, including older style crosswalks that have edge lines.  If anything this argument supports solid crossings, since drivers should think twice (and look carefully) before driving over a bike crossing.  Often the drivers are supposed to stop.  The white lines bordering the crossing can be dashed in any case.  Barred crossings could still be used in certain contexts, such as turn lane crossovers.
  2. Foreshortening makes barred crossings appear dense when it matters most, to drivers who approach at higher speeds (i.e. parallel to the crossing, then turning across the crossing).
    • Nevertheless, 2+ ton vehicles approaching from the perpendicular direction are still very dangerous.  There’s no such thing as a safe collision, and the vehicle could run over the cyclist or push him into traffic.  Drivers pulling out and turning right are particularly hazardous in the case of two-way PBLs and sidepaths, something known to all bikeway designers (but unfortunately not to all cyclists).  Moreover, vehicles stopping in the bike lane are quite a nuisance, obstructing the lane.
  3. Stripes are more conspicuous than solids.
    • If you’re looking at wallpaper, yes.  But solid bike crossings can be very striking — more so than floating bars usually — because they add a lot of color.  Just look at the examples in this post.  Bars on the other hand, when viewed by a driver perpendicular to the crossing, look less like stripes and more like small rectangles.  In any case, the important thing is how drivers process and interpret the crossings, in which case solid crossings are the much better choice.  Also the value of striping rests on the contrast between light and dark areas, but I theorize that green isn’t all that different from gray in terms of lightness, like in this photo. (That bike crossing is oddly labeled a crosswalk by NACTO — if they can’t tell a crosswalk from a bike crossing, who can?)

Where is the research?  Industry experts seem to defend one standard over the other without studies to back it up.  Yet in the Netherlands and Denmark, solid bike crossings are widely used, so in the absence of any research, it seems reasonable to do as they do.  This is in Copenhagen:

Solid bike lane crossing in Copenhagen (photo by Keith Hauser)

Here’s a video of an interesting Dutch roundabout.  Note the borders of the crossing areas:

Hybrid crossings

To address concerns about both floating bars and solid crossings while saving paint, I propose what I call a hybrid crossing.  It’s neither solid nor striped, but rather consists of a pattern of smaller shapes, like a solid area with a visual (not physical) “texture”.  Some might call it a patterned crossing.  It would have the perceptual impact of solid paint but would clearly be distinguishable from areas that must be solid, like bike boxes.  It also wouldn’t be hard to pick out among pedestrian crosswalks.  A surprisingly solid feel can be achieved with just 25% paint coverage, equivalent to the 3:1 bar design (2′ bars and 6′ gaps).  Even better is 40% coverage, equivalent to 2′ bars with 3′ gaps.

Consider the following design, which has 50% paint coverage:

Checkerboard style

The following pattern has only 25% paint coverage:

Floating diamonds

Possibly the rows of diamonds in the above design might look like stripes when viewed from a distance.  To fix that, the shapes could be staggered (25% coverage):

Offset floating diamonds

If it works better, the edge lines could be dashed instead of solid.

Below is a more complex design (I’m guessing 33% paint).  Feasibility may depend on how hard it is to paint these odd shapes:

Floating semi-circles

And of course there’s polka dots (50% coverage as shown):

Polka dots

Some jurisdictions install artistic crosswalks that convey some local theme.  This might be popular in Maryland, with the added benefit of taking days to paint, keeping road crews fully employed:

Go Maryland!

Let’s innovate…

The national consensus on many PBL design issues is far from settled.  There is certainly room for local planners to experiment and improvise.  I think Montgomery County is in a good position to try innovative solutions like hybrid bike crossings.  National consensus seems to be coalescing prematurely around an inferior solution.  It only takes a few influential consulting firms to spread such a consensus across the country, creating an environment where cyclists pushing for alternative solutions at the local level face an uphill battle.  So the county should act now to try new things.

 Posted by at 12:40 am on Nov 28, 2017  Comments Off on Green bike crossings – solid, stripes or polka dots?