Where Should We Put Bike Lanes? (Part 2 of 3)

Bike Lanes on Major Streets

There are significant advantages and disadvantages to building bike lanes on streets like Broadway and Brighton. From the perspective of bike advocates, the most obvious advantage is the visibility of the lane as a political victory. The effect of claiming one of Denver’s most important arterials is resounding. It sends a message, loud and clear, that bikes matter; that people on bikes deserve part of the road; and that, as a transportation mode, they’re just as important as people in cars.

Further, it directly connects people on bikes with their destinations. In Denver, and especially on South Broadway, the destinations aren’t on Bannock or Sherman—they’re on Broadway. Putting people on bikes right on Broadway connects them directly with their destinations—no first and last block considerations needed. Additionally, from a business standpoint, people on bikes who are just passing through become an important customer base for those businesses on Broadway. People riding on Bannock aren’t going to make an impromptu stop if they can’t see the business.

Check out this protected bike lane in Vancouver. It’s beautiful, and has increased bicycle traffic along this route by 19% per year since 2010–but are we willing to build this intensely on our major arterials?

M62_FEAT_ProtectedBikeLanes_Vancouver_Dunsmuir_Photo-Paul-Krueger
*Photo courtesy of Paul Krueger, Momentum Mag (source)

How much work and investment does it take to build a good bike lane on Broadway? And if the lane only attracts people who are already biking, what have we really accomplished? As I wrote in my last post, any new bike lane that a family with kids doesn’t feel comfortable riding in, is insufficient—plain and simple. The sheer infrastructure that building such a lane on Broadway would require, would be monumental and expensive. A three-foot buffer with plastic bollards-style lane like 15th Street simply isn’t good enough. Have you ever seen families biking on 15th Street? I haven’t.

That is the downside of building bike lanes on major streets: the lanes have to be much more intensive in order to account for existing high-speed, high-volume traffic, and guarantee safety–real and perceived. Overall, they are more expensive to build out entirely, and take a long time to build because of all the engineering and traffic considerations. But, they connect people on bikes directly to their destinations, while facilitating more low-speed traffic (bikes and pedestrians) on retail corridors.

By | 2016-12-27T18:43:20+00:00 April 29, 2015|Categories: Advocacy, Bicycles, Infrastructure, Transportation|Tags: |10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Toast2042 March 20, 2015 at 7:20 am

    A well done (if expensive) bike lane will pay higher dividends in return. The problem is the half-assed nature of the solutions that are so far politically viable. Real, protected lanes on a few major streets would really push the needle on making cycling an acceptable and desirable alternative to driving everywhere.

  2. Ben March 20, 2015 at 11:37 am

    I feel like the extra expense you refer to is a little short sighted. If you build bike lanes on Bannock or Sherman, you’ll need to build extra bridges over Cherry Creek, or have some way for bikes to get back to Broadway or Lincoln and cross the creek in a protected way, then move back over to Sherman or Bannock. For Brighton, crossing railroad tracks and I70 is another issue.

    Any time you make a route that isn’t direct, or has more stopping, people riding bikes are less likely to use it. That’s also why having bike lanes in commercial corridors is ideal. A protected lane for people on bicycles is to allow them to stop, not to pass by, which is how many view the function of Broadway and Brighton.

    • EcoCatLady March 21, 2015 at 5:32 pm

      How about Grant St?

      • mckillio March 22, 2015 at 9:17 am

        Grant, South of Speer becomes very narrow and can’t support dedicated lanes. Grant should be converted to a two way though, I think you could narrow the lanes and have two lanes in each direction.

        • EcoCatLady March 23, 2015 at 12:26 pm

          Maybe not bike lanes… but it would make a great bike boulevard.

  3. James March 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Its a tough question. I think the most important part is making a comprehensive network with signage directed towards bikes and as few gaps in coverage as possible. I would love to see a route on Broadway simply due to its mass appeal (bars, restaurants, offices, apartments, city services, museums, light rail, cherry creek), but fundamentally if we can make one of the side streets work just as well, I am for it and agree it may even lead to a better bike experience especially if stop signage was appropriated to the cross streets; however I would prefer a Broadway route for the cities and our future citizens sake.

    In regards to usage. Signage could go a long way. For example I love the ideas around signs bike routes which state distance in time:

    > 10 minute ride to City Park
    < 7 minute ride to Art Museum/History Colorado
    < 15 minute ride to Union Station

    How cool would it be to have some of these around different routes. It would illustrate to people how quickly biking can work.

    All we need is a comprehensive network which can get you anywhere. We are close but not there.

  4. sporobolus March 20, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    i would see it not as a “political victory” but as a change of consciousness; the two are not the same—political victories are much shorter-lived

    on a practical level, streets with more than two lanes are good choices for bike lanes because of some specific effects:

    1) the more lanes there are, the less overall traffic throughput is impacted by removing a lane; yes, it will “hurt” at rush hour, but most of the time Broadway’s multiple lanes are grossly underutilized

    2) multi-lane streets like Broadway are more prone to chronic speeding and other poor traffic behavior because of the perception of space that the extra lanes give; reduce the number of lanes, and you psychologically inhibit some bad behaviors

    3) on multi-lane streets parking can be retained, whereas on two-lane streets, generally a parking lane will be sacrificed for a bike lane

  5. EcoCatLady March 21, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    As I read these comments I’m starting to realize that people have very different motivations for being on their bikes. Some folks want the most direct route, others want the safest, some want access to businesses, others want to stay as far away from them as possible, some people want to go 25mph, others want to meander at 5mph, some folks want to commute, others want to enjoy the experience of riding.

    I totally get the idea that the visibility of a protected lane on Broadway makes a statement – and also more people will know that it’s there because they’ll see it while they’re in their cars – so they are more apt to use it, whereas a bike lane or boulevard on a smaller street… well, you’d sorta have to know it was there.

    I guess I’m just not convinced that there is one “right” solution… and I see any improvements in bike infrastructure as a step in the right direction. I personally would be less apt to use a bike lane on Broadway because my goal is to stay as far away from cars as possible – not necessarily for the sake of safety, but because I dislike the noise and exhaust fumes. I want my bike riding to be as enjoyable as possible, and for me that means staying away from busy streets – of course, I hate driving on major thoroughfares too, so I think I might just be a weirdo!

    • Ted April 30, 2015 at 8:59 am

      I think you make a very real point about the varying motivations of bicyclists. I guess for me this whole discussion about which street is right for the bike facility is silly. There should be bike facilities on every street… we would never have this same discussion about which street is right for a sidewalk network, every street is! The question, I feel, is more about what design is right for the street in question. If you don’t like biking on a busy street, you can choose a different one, just as you can as a pedestrian.

      Historically there was very little distinction between the sidewalk and the roadway in many places. It is almost expected now that almost all streets will have both of these functions. But there is no reason (other than fighting between user groups over space) why our streets can’t have more than two transitways (for lack of a better term – in this case sidewalks and roadways). Many places I visited in Europe have 3 or sometimes 4 or more transitways within a single ROW… roadways, sidewalks, as well as cycle tracks, and various kinds of tram and bus guideways. The intersections have to be redesigned to account for all these things crossing each other, but there’s always a solution if there’s a will! And in my opinion makes for much more beautiful, distinctive, and lively streets as well.

  6. Sloan March 26, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    While this is an extremely conscientious and thoughtful response to a problem (lack of bicycle lanes on major arterials) I believe this sells us a bit short on actually getting bicycle lanes on streets like Broadway. The costs will not be “monumental” as described in your article. What is required is priorities set for implementing bicycle facilities where those priorities do not exist already . It is clear that the City and County of Denver wants a protected bicycle lane on Broadway: The Golden Triangle Neighborhood Plan calls for it explicitly. But it also calls for mobility to work as a complete system, and herein is what the blog post fails to discuss. To segue, your standards for a protected bicycle lane are too high. True, 15th street isn’t the absolute safest bicycle lane, but it is utilized by several commuters and bicyclists every day, and the bollards do protect many bicyclists (including myself) every time it is used. And this is where proper functional design of the bicycle lanes comes into play: if we design the city (including the sidewalks and traffic lanes) more around bicycles, then we could perhaps achieve that level of comfort with a family a kids you are blogging about. Improvements can be made to fund Class I bicycle lanes such as the one in Vancouver; but don’t speak like it is an all-or-nothing mentality. Bicyclists will find their lane if you give it to them.

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