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Friday, June 24, 2011

San Francycle: Your Bike to the Future

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 7:25 AM


Oh, sure, you may think that the fantasies of municipal infrastructure bureaucrats are boring. But allow us to shatter your misconceptions with just five words: Two-Stage Turn Queue Boxes.

National Association of City Transportation Officials is a sort of national clearinghouse for transportation visionaries in major cities. This spring, the organization released the new Urban Bikeway Design Guide, an exhaustively researched document that looks into the future and tells us, "Bikes, y'all."

Let's take a closer look.

The report is divided into five sections: Bike Lanes, Cycle Tracks, Intersections, Signals, and Signs & Markings. That's a lot to slog through, so we'll just give you the highlights.

It's a delight to see some common-sense guidelines about something as simple as bike lanes. The report recommends separation between parked cars and lanes to prevent dooring, as well as configuring right-turn lanes so that they don't lead cars to slam into bikes.

There's also a section on buffered bikeways, which the city would like to install along the Panhandle. If Austin can do it, why can't we?

And how about left-hand bike lanes? That can be handy when stores on the right side of the street get frequent deliveries.

All these guidelines are nice, but there's something even better than bike lanes: cycle tracks. Those are line lanes plus: physically separated from cars and the sidewalk, with plenty of room for bikes to stretch out.

A standard one-way track might have a median, street signs, or bollards to separate it from other transportation lanes. That sort of design features prominently in the SF Bike Coalition's dream for a redesigned Market Street, which it's pushing heavily in advance of that street's repaving in 2015. In a perfect world, cycle tracks are raised to separate them from cars.

Two-way tracks are what you see on the Panhandle and along Crissy Field, and possibly in Golden Gate Park by the end of the year. They are tricky, because what do you do at the intersections? NACTO has a few suggestions, such as "yield to bikes" signs, narrow channels for cars, elevating the track across intersections to act as a speed hump, and installing two-stage turn queue boxes (more on those in a bit).

The report then talks about how best to handle intersections, which might be the trickiest part of planning bike lanes.

There's the science and art to guiding cycletracks through cross traffic. How do you prevent conflict? By "receiving" the bikes with some sort of facility (like a basic bike lane or bike box) rather than just letting them fend for themselves.

That may require a through bike lane, a little wiggle that puts the bike lane between lanes of traffic. That's helpful if there's a right-turn lane for cars. If the bike lane is at the far right of the street, bikes might get "right-hooked." But if they are gently guided to a middle lane, they can mix more safely with cars before the intersection.

And then there is signage. Of course, improvements don't count if nobody can figure out how to use them. That's why the report goes into detail on signals, signs, and markings.

First of all: Green. Green, everyone. Can we please agree on green? American cities are going through a sort of color crisis, with bike lanes filled in with every hue of the rainbow. Come on, folks. GREEN.

And then: sharrows. Those are the stencils on the road with a bike and some chevrons to express the direction of travel. They're best when used in a bike lane, but can also be used when the street is too narrow for a dedicated lane. Sharrows can also be helpful in roundabouts, and we can confirm that they're desperately needed in the Laguna Honda/St Francis Wood circle where Montalvo, Taraval, Claremont, Kensington, and Dewey collapse in a heap.

So, there you have it: A blueprint of your biking future. There's a lot to wish for in there, and plenty of gleams-in-the-eye to inspire future bike construction. All that's left now is to start building it.

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Matt Baume


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