Protected bike lanes are becoming the recommended treatment for streets that can accommodate bike facilities and provide a low-stress experience for bicyclists of all ages and abilities. Cities such as Royal Oak, Grand Rapids, and Detroit have incorporated protected lanes into recent and upcoming projects. Ferndale recently included semi-protected bike lanes on Pinecrest (north of W. Nine Mile) and will include protected bike lanes in Livernois and W. Nine Mile projects in summer 2018.
When planning nonmotorized infrastructure, we often ask the question, “who are we planning for”? Complete Streets principles broadly state to plan for all ages and abilities as a baseline, but more recent research has determined that there are four types of bicyclists to keep in mind. The findings were based on a study by the Portland Office of Transportation as a way to understand who was using bicycling infrastructure and continued concerns about safety. Each type of bicyclist was defined as follows:
· Strong & Fearless – will ride regardless of roadway conditions
· Enthusiastic & Confident – comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but they prefer operating on their own facilities (bike lanes and bike boulevards)
· Interested, but Concerned – curious about bicycling, but are nervous about safety with cars passing by
· No Way, No How – not interested in bicycling at all, for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest
The Portland study found that their increases in ridership came from the Enthusiastic & Confident segment of residents, but Interested, but Concerned represented the largest opportunity to convert curious riders to more frequent and confident riders. The study has been utilized by cities across the country including Austin and Chicago, and promoted as part of the Federal Highway Administration’s 2016 Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide. Protected bike infrastructure has been the recommended best practice to encourage more ridership among Interested, but Concerned riders to lessen the perceived safety barriers.
Protected infrastructure prevents collisions for all users on the road and acts as traffic calming by providing clear delineator of where users on the street should be. Positive advantages include:
· Increase perceived safety and comfort for bicyclists leading to increased ridership
· Reduces “dooring” crashes
· Prevents parking, loading/unloading, and right turns by motorists in the bike lanes
· Traffic calming leading to slower vehicle speeds
· Shortens crossing distances for pedestrians
There are a number of treatments for protected bike lanes, but the four most popular treatments include use of flexible delineators, concrete curbing, planters, and parking protection. Typically, if a streets project is already including a buffered bike lane (wider striping between the bike lane and driving lane), a project could potentially include physical separation in the buffer area. In the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Facility Assessment completed in September 2018, Ferndale streets that had buffered bike lanes present experienced almost double the bicyclist traffic and a less proportion of bicyclists riding in the sidewalk than streets with conventional bike lanes or no lane.
Studies have been conducted across the country regarding the benefits of protected bicycling infrastructure, but the results have been similar in showing an increase in perception of safety increases and increases in ridership. A 2014 study of protected bike lane projects across five cities by Portland State University found nearly 80% of residents thought safety was increased on streets after protected bike lanes were installed. The City of Chicago is currently in the process of installing 50 miles of protected bike lanes over the next 4 years. As of fall 2017, there are 18.5 miles completed and the City saw positive results on their Kinzie Street protected bike lane project the incorporates parking protected lanes with flexible delineators. Ridership increased by 55% and users felt very safe or very safe in the lanes compared to 17% in traditional bike lanes. A similar project in Washington D.C. saw ridership increase by 40% and sidewalk riding decrease 14% after installation of protected bike lanes. Minneapolis is also planning 35 miles of protected bike lanes through 2020.
Urban areas like Ferndale do not often have the luxury of other more suburban and rural communities to create off-street paths that are completely separated from automobile traffic. However, cities like Ferndale do have the benefit that wider streets than necessary which allowed for the transformation to streets for users of all ages and abilities for multiple modes. Those streets provide direct links to downtowns, schools, parks, businesses, etc. for short trips and commutes, where many suburban trails are primarily recreational in nature. This makes protected lanes more important in places like Ferndale where “Interested but Concerned” and “Enthused and Confident” users perceive physical separation as desirable for short trips that would typically be car trips. Increased bike ridership has potential to reduce car dependency, decrease carbon emissions, lessen demand for parking, and provide health benefits.
The Ferndale Moves plan and the street improvements implemented help nurture and provide a community that allows residents to participate in a multi-modal life. Providing a variety of transportation options, provides residents and visitors with a greater access to services and goods within our community, as well as connecting to surrounding communities. The best way to continue to provide options for all ages and abilities in Ferndale is to plan our built environment for the “interested, but concerned”. Just because larger cities are installing protected bike lanes, that is not a good enough reason to plan them on every street in Ferndale. Instead, we should be planning Ferndale streets to ensure residents feel safe and encouraged to bike in the community. Protected bike lanes with concrete separation would be staff’s preferred treatment (where appropriate) going forward, but acknowledge the expense associated with such improvements and the context of each Ferndale street. However, providing flexible delineators is an incremental protected improvement toward the goals we as a city has set for ourselves – to create a community that is accessible to all.