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Archive of posts filed under the Bicycles category.

Portland & Seattle streetcars: Rail for close-in neighborhoods

As Denver considers the possibility of streetcars on Colfax, it may be informative to learn about what other cities have accomplished.

Portland opened its first modern streetcar line in 2001, and Seattle followed in 2007. Both cities use streetcars in a decidedly different way than Denver uses light rail. Rather than shuttling commuters into downtown from far-flung suburbs, streetcar lines circulate residents of central city neighborhoods to shops, restaurants, and entertainment, plus of course jobs and homes.

Portland streetcar. All photos by

Streetcars are the central city answer to light rail. In Denver, where FasTracks lines shoot out from Union Station in every direction except into the dense urban core, that’s a sorely needed piece of the transportation puzzle.

Since Portland and Seattle streetcars are more for shorter central city trips, their interior layout is more open than suburban commuter rail. Like Denver’s 16th Street Mall shuttle, streetcars are intended to be for hop-on & hop-off type trips. Train interiors are less tightly packed than buses or light rail.

Portland streetcar interior.

Seattle’s initial streetcar line, to South Lake Union, is pretty short. But its second line will open this year, and will bring service to Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Just like in Denver, Capitol Hill is Seattle’s densest inner city district.

Seattle South Lake Union streetcar line.

Since streetcars work together with bicycles to serve close-in transportation needs, Seattle’s Capitol Hill route has been designed to accommodate both. The streetcar line runs next to a fully protected cycletrack that was built simultaneously, as part of a joint project.

Seattle’s Broadway, with streetcar tracks on the left and a cycletrack on the right.

Elsewhere along that line, Seattle has installed special crossings to help cyclists navigate across streetcar tracks safely.

A “bike sneak,” directing cyclists to cross tracks at the safest angle.

At future streetcar stops the bike lane swerves behind the stop, to avoid trains.

All in all, Portland and Seattle offer great models for Colfax, Broadway, Highlands, and other central Denver neighborhoods that need better transit.

Status of US bikesharing systems as of 2013

American bikesharing boomed in 2013 like never before. Led by huge new systems in New York and Chicago, the total number of bikesharing stations in the US more than doubled, from 835 at the end of 2012 to 1,925 in 2013.

After three straight years at the top of the chart, Washington’s Capital Bikeshare slipped behind New York’s newly-launched Citibike. Chicago also launched its system, Divvy, and ranks a close third. Those three cities each have at least 300 stations and make up a clear first tier nationwide. After them, no other systems crack 200 stations.

Denver’s B-Cycle grew from 53 to 81 stations, but still dropped from 5th largest in 2012 to 7th largest in 2013, because of New York and Chicago’s launches. But Denver’s growth was enough to remain ahead of San Francisco, the next largest new system in 2013, with 67 stations.

Overall, 13 new bikesharing systems opened in the US in 2013, bringing the total to 40. In addition to New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, other noteworthy additions this year included Fort Worth, Columbus, and Aspen.

At this point, it’s fair to say we’re no longer in the pioneering period. Any city that still doesn’t have bikesharing is beginning to fall behind.

It’s not just the big coastal cities where bikesharing is becoming popular. There are some unexpected hotspots, where groups of nearby cities have independently launched small systems. Colorado’s three cities is a growing cluster. Meanwhile, four Texas cities have bikesharing, plus two more in Oklahoma. Small systems are also popular in the southeast, with 6 systems in close proximity in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Oddly, the only area of the country that seems particularly underrepresented is the west coast. San Francisco’s Bay Area Bikeshare finally became the first large west coast system this year, but it’s still the only one. Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles continue to lag.

Here’s the complete list. New systems in 2013 are in bold. Previous years are available for comparison.

Rank City 2012 Stations 2013 Stations
1 New York 0 330
2 Washington (regional) 191 305
3 Chicago 0 300
4 Minneapolis (regional) 145 170
5 Boston (regional) 105 132
6 Miami Beach 84 97
7 Denver 53 81
8 San Francisco (regional) 0 67
9 San Antonio 30 51
10 Fort Worth 0 34
11 Chattanooga 30 33
12 Madison 24 32
13 Columbus 0 30
14 Houston 3 29
15 Ft Lauderdale (regional) 25 25
16(t) Boulder 22 22
16(t) Nashville 20 22
18 Charlotte 20 21
19 Long Beach, NY 12 13
20(t) Kansas City 12 12
20(t) Aspen 0 12
20(t) Salt Lake City 0 12
23 Austin 0 11
24(t) Washington State Univ (Pullman, WA) 9 9
24(t) Georgia Tech (Atlanta, Ga) 9 9
26 Omaha 5 8
27(t) Oklahoma City 7 7
27(t) George Mason Univ (Fairfax, VA) 4 7
29(t) Greenville, SC 6 6
29(t) Des Moines 4 6
31(t) California Univ – Irvine (Irvine, CA) 4 4
31(t) Tulsa 4 4
31(t) Spartanburg, SC 2 4
31(t) Univ of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY) 0 4
31(t) Lansing 0 4
36(t) Louisville 3 3
36(t) Stony Brook Univ (Stony Brook, NY) 0 3
38(t) Kailua, HI 2 2
38(t) Roseburg VA Hospital (Roseburg, OR) 0 2
? Hailey, ID 0 2

Notes: Systems covering multiple jurisdictions are counted either together or separately depending on how they choose to represent themselves. Thus Bay Area Bikeshare is counted as a single system, while Denver B-Cycle and Boulder B-Cycle are counted separately.

Colored lanes aren’t just safe, they send a message

Denver’s 15th Street bike lane is the latest in a growing trend around the world to paint bike lanes in bright colors. These bright markings make cycling safer, by reminding car drivers to watch out for cyclists when driving across bike lanes. That’s a great benefit, and it works, but there’s a second benefit, that’s as big a deal for non-cyclists as it is to cyclists.

Green paint on Seattle’s Broadway cycletrack.

The broader benefit to green-painted bike lanes is simple: They send the clearest-possible message that roads are not only for cars.

Despite a century of sharing roads, and despite the fact that people walked, biked, and rode trolleys in streets long before most people owned cars, there’s a strong entitlement mentality among some drivers that roads are only for cars. A 5 second google search turns up plenty of examples.

Green-painted bike lanes accomplish what a white stripe next to the parking lane cannot. They proclaim loudly and clearly that streets are not merely sewers for traffic, through which to funnel as many cars as possible to the detriment of all else, but rather they’re fully multimodal public spaces. Colored bike lanes send the message that drivers are welcome to use roads just like everyone else, but must not expect to have roads completely to themselves.

These painted lanes are public relations features as much as they are safety features, and that matters.

Incidentally, the trick works for transit too.

Red-painted bus lanes in New York. Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid.

Denver’s Bicycle Commuter Mode Share Increases 20% in 2012

According to the recently released results of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, Denver saw an impressive 20% increase in the numbers of people choosing bicycling as their primary way to commute to work in 2012. Bicycle commuter mode share rose from 2.6% of the population in 2011 to 2.9% of the population in 2012. The numbers are even more significant when looked at in the context of the past six years. In 2007, just 1.6% of the city’s population chose bicycling as their primary commuter mode. That number has steadily climbed every year to the point where we now see nearly 10,000 people bicycling to work each day in Denver.

Graph courtesy of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee member David Rapp

Denver’s increasing number of people choosing bicycles for transportation makes sense. The city has had more 25- to 35-year-olds migrate here than any other U.S. city and this demographic is increasingly choosing walking, biking and transit over automobiles for transportation.  We owe a great deal of this success to a progressive city leadership with a Mayor, City Council and key department managers endorsing multi-modal transportation. Denver’s city officials understand the importance of building a city that is sustainable, healthy, and multi-modal in nature. The opening of the 15th Street Bikeway in August is a tribute to this leadership.

Councilman Albus Brooks and Crissy Fanganello, Director of Public Works Planning and Policy, on opening day of the 15th Street Bikeway

What Denver has done over the past 6 years is invest in multi-modal transportation infrastructure, steadily increasing the number bike lanes each year from 60 miles in 2007 to over 120 miles in 2013. The graph below shows that the increase in bicycle infrastructure investment correlates strongly with the increase in bicycle commuter mode share. For cities looking to diversify commuter mode share beyond the automobile, “Build it and they will come” has borne fruit. As in other cities around the world, Denver has found that building a safe, well-connected bicycle network encourages significantly greater numbers of people to commute on bicycles.

Graph courtesy of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee member David Rapp

Over the next few weeks, City Council and the Mayor will work out the details of the 2014 city budget. Currently, the Mayor’s proposed budget includes 2.5 additional employees to work on the implementation of DenverMoves, the city’s plan for bicycle infrastructure connectivity. Denver’s City Council has also identified increasing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as a key budget priority for 2014. Under their leadership, we can expect the upward trend in people choosing healthy, sustainable modes of transportation to continue to rise in the Mile High City. This is a trend that will make Denver a healthier more livable city for current and future generations.

Colored bike lanes come in many colors

Denver’s new 15th Street bike lane includes green and red painted sections, which help to remind car drivers to watch for cyclists. Such green-painted bike lanes have become common around the US in recent years, but different places use different colors. Here are some examples.

Dark green. Used in Washington and New York.

Copenhagen’s blue. Photo by Steven Vance.

Amsterdam’s dull red, also seen in Vancouver and many other cities. Photo by Scott Lowe.

Madison’s bright red. Photo by benet2006.