Cyclists using Sidewalks Should Dismount at Crosswalks

First published in the Coloradoan November 11, 2014

Many people consider the sidewalk a safe haven for bicycling. The truth isthat 32 percent of all crashes involving bikes and cars in Fort Collins over the five years ending in 2012 involved cyclists riding off the sidewalk.

Two recent examples of crashes reported by the Coloradoan offer lessons on the dynamic of these crashes. On Oct. 1, a 13-yearold girl was hit while pedaling north on the sidewalk on the west side of Lemay Avenue. She was hit by a right-turning car pulling out of a large parking lot to head south on Lemay.

On Oct. 30, Timonthy Bonhof, 36, was bicycling north on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Lemay and Riverside Avenue. According to Fort Collins Police Services, Bonhof was awaiting a green walk light to cross Riverside Avenue. The pedestrian light changed to green and a right-turning car hit Bonhof’s front tire as he rolled into the crosswalk.

The victims in both of these crashes had the right-of-way and were fully within their rights to be bicycling on the sidewalk. Both victims sustained minor injuries and were transported by ambulance to nearby Poudre Valley Hospital. The motorists in each case were ticketed for failing to yield the right of way to a pedestrian. Such a ticket involves a $100 fine and 4 points against their driver’s license.

According to the 2014 Draft Bicycle plan, 15 percent of all bikecar crashes in Fort Collins involve a right-turning motorist hitting a bicyclist coming from the right. This is the single biggest type of bike-car crash in the city. The remaining crashes related to sidewalk riding are caused, for the most part, by cyclists riding off the sidewalk mid-block.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat for moment and imagine you are pulling out of a parking lot or that you are making a right turn from a stop sign or stop light. You look left to see if there is any oncoming traffic. Rarely will you look right for pedestrians or bicycles coming
off the sidewalk. Hence the reason for this type of crash.

We could cut back on bikecar crashes in Fort Collins by 15 percent if all cyclists would get off their bikes and walk at these intersections and if all motorists would remember to “watch for bikes” at busy intersections. In 2010, the Fort Collins Bike Co-op launched a “watch for bikes” campaign and since has distributed over 20,000 vinyl stickers to be placed on drivers side rear view mirrors. Also, since then we’ve seen similar campaigns launched by the Canadian Automobile Association and cities such as Toronto; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Albany, California; and many others.

These campaigns cost little, heighten awareness about watching for bicycles on the road and help raise general consciousness about road safety for all users. Stop by the Bike Co-op, 331 N. College Ave., during open hours from noon to 6 p.m. Sundays or 2 to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to get a free sticker.

Bicyclists Need Their Own Set of Rules

First published in the Coloradoan October 28, 2014

“Same road, same rules, same rights!” This is the mantra of many bicycle rights groups and vehicular cyclists.

Unfortunately the antagonists to bicycle driving, or those who believe that bicycles are not vehicles and don’t belong on the road, have adopted these same priniciples. They believe that, as slow vehicles, bicylists need to follow the rule requiring them to stay as far to the right as possible. They believe, mistakenly, that bicyclists must stay in the bike lane and they are the most vehement about denying cyclists any special treatment, such as allowing them to treat stop signs as yield signs.

Yet we regularly treat cyclists as “special” road users. In Idaho and a few communities in Colorado bicyclists are allowed to treat stop signs as yield signs. In many states including most of Colorado cyclists are allowed to ride on the sidewalk and across pedestrian crossings. In Paris cyclists are granted special privileges and allowed to ride in lanes otherwise reserved for buses and taxis. They are also allowed to ride on sidewalks and are even given their own special guideways to do so.

At Plum and Shields Street in Fort Collins a “bike box” allows cyclists to stream up to the front of a row of cars at a red light. This bicycle “accommodation” reduces conflicts between automobiles and cyclists when a car is turning right across a bike lane, for example. The box favors cyclists when the light turns green and helps to avoid that particular conflict. This is quite a privilege and it helps to make bicycling more pleasant and efficient.

In the recent past in Fort Collins bicyclists traveling south in the bike lane on Stover Street were allowed to ride through a three way stop sign at the intersection with Dartmouth Trail. The south bound stop sign bore a sign that read “except bicycles” since it was perfectly safe, efficient, and cyclists weren’t stopping anyway. The sign was removed when the City’s Bicycle Coordinator and I pointed out that we would like to see more signs like this in town.

The bottom line here, in my opinion, is that bicycles should not be considered as equal to other vehicles on the road. A bicycle and rider weigh one twentieth or less than the weight of a motor vehicle. They move more slowly, accelerate at a slower pace, and do less damage to others in a crash.

So my idea is that bicyclists, though road users, deserve a handicap similar to novice golfers who play against the pros. Require them to follow the rules of the road but make exceptions for them when safety and efficiency for all road users can be improved. Let them treat stop as yield, give them special lanes and guideways, bike boxes and special lights and place signs indicating that bikes may use the full lane when necessary.

These are my comments on the City’s draft Master Bike Plan soon to go before City Council.

Cyclists Should Pick a Bike Route for their Level of Experience

First published in the Coloradoan October 14, 2014

The City recently announced new bicycle facilities at the intersection of Laurel and South Mason Streets. Our first bicycle stop light here now gives south-bound cyclists a head-start over other traffic in clearing this intersection. Also we have our first bike-bus shared lane as south-bound cyclists are allowed to use the center turn lane now reserved for the MAX buses.

This intersection also has, or will soon have, a painted guideway to show cyclists where to position themselves as they pedal through the intersection. The guideway shows how cyclists should cross the railroad track to avoid a crash.

We still haven’t got this intersection right, though. The bicycle guideway through the intersection clearly indicates that bicycles should go up onto the “shared use path” on the east side of Mason Street. According to our transportation planners cyclists are allowed to use Mason Street here but since cyclists are slowing MAX down on its appointed rounds the planners prefer that cyclists stay on the path. When I pedal along here I prefer to use Mason Street rather than the path as the path has several driveways crossing it. I believe the street is safer.

Another problem with this intersection is that southbound motorists headed to campus are not allowed to proceed straight onto Mason Street as they are required to use the left turn only lane. Motorists use the left turn lane and then turn right mid-way through the intersection.  This is illegal and is dangerous for cyclists.

Finally, cyclists on Mason Street north of Laurel are still asked to share the lane with MAX and with motorists. In my experience only the most experienced cyclists will do this with confidence.

Cyclists not comfortable sharing the lane along Mason Street should take another route. Remington is a good alternative for those headed to Old Town. There is good access to Remington from the Mason Trail both on the Spring Creek Trail and via the underpass to the University Center for the Arts. Access this underpass from the Mason Trail through the parking lot between Lake Street and University Avenue.

For those coming north across campus west of Lory Student Center the shared use path exits campus at Laurel and Meldrum Streets. Meldrum Street will take you straight to the Lincoln Center and the Post Office. There is no bike lane along Meldrum Street and there are diagonally parked cars here so be sure to ride in the middle of the lane so cars backing out of a parking space will see you. If you are not comfortable controlling the lane then head east to Howes Street where there is a bike lane. Remember, however, that the bike lane on Howes is narrow. So watch for opening car doors from parked cars.

If you have a bike route question consider joining the Facebook Group, “Fort Collins Coalition for Infrastructure.” This is a group of over two hundred citizens that share ideas about bicycle, pedestrian, and transit issues throughout Fort Collins. Join us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/fococfi/.

Is a Bike Plan Necessary to Create a Bicycle Friendly Community?

First published in the Coloradoan September 30, 2014

“Is a bicycle master plan necessary to create a bicycle friendly community?” The question was recently put to me by a doctoral student in Environmental Studies at CU Boulder. The student is researching the process by which cities like Fort Collins build bicycle friendly environments.

I said yes, arguing that Fort Collins City employees and policy makers needed a blueprint to guide them in their work. A plan provides for continuity in a complex institution where policy makers change, staff moves on and management needs direction to get their job done. This is especially important in the US where public expenditures are subjected to careful scrutiny by the voting public and policy watchers.

This interview was weeks ago and since then I’ve been wondering if I got that answer right. I thought of Emil Mrak, the chancellor of the fledgling University of California, Davis, in 1959 and how he instructed the architects planning for a five-fold growth in the student population in the 1960s to create a campus that was friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.

Or, I thought of Earl Blumenauer and Mia Birk, the former a politician and Transportation Commissioner and the latter a combination bicycle advocate and Bicycle Coordinator for the City of Portland in the 1990s. Together they helped launch Portland on its now-famous bicycle friendly infrastructure journey.

Finally, in London, Mayor Boris Johnson, first elected in 2008, has been a key player in launching “Barclay’s Cycle Hire,” the London bike share program. Johnson has been so instrumental in the success of the program and in making central London bicycle friendly that the bike share program has been dubbed “Boris Bikes” by the press.

So I revisited the question of whether a community really needs a plan to become bicycle friendly or if an ambitious public servant who loves to bicycle is able to make it happen single-handedly.

The answer, of course, is that a plan is necessary. A policy maker, University Chancellor or Mayor can’t single handedly change the culture of a community to make it bicycle friendly. It takes a community to make this happen and it takes a plan. But a plan alone won’t result in a bicycle friendly community. The plan needs a champion and it needs public support.

I wrote about this topic two and a half years ago and concluded that the process for creating a bicycle friendly community requires willing policy makers and citizen involvement. Having a champion helps and money is also necessary and that, too, requires citizen involvement and willing policy makers. Mrak’s planners wrote and the university adopted the CU Davis “Long Range Development Plan” in 1963. Portland’s first Bicycle Master Plan was approved in 1973 and while London’s plan for a bike share program was only adopted first in 2008 before Boris Johnson was elected Mayor, Johnson championed and implemented the plan.

So the 2020 Bicycle Master Plan currently being prepared in Fort Collins is vital to the future of bicycling here. But we could use a champion to implement it.

Making Left Turns from Bike Lanes at Complex Intersections

First published in the Coloradoan September 16, 2014

Making a left turn across heavy traffic can be unnerving. On our bicycle tours overseas we always advised customers to stop to the right and walk left across the road if they found themselves in heavy traffic and were unable to merge safely to make the turn. This last technique is also good for children learning to ride in traffic right here at home.

Colorado law requires a bicyclist to make a left turn as any other vehicle would by merging into the center or left turn lane from the bike lane or right-most lane by first scanning for traffic, signaling a merge if it is clear and can be done safely, then signaling the left turn before turning.

The alternative to this, which is also described in Colorado traffic law, is suitable for kids or anyone not comfortable with the the merge process described above. Called a “box turn” or an “L turn,” this maneuver allows the cyclist to stay in the bike lane or right hand lane to cross the intersection. Once across the intersection the cyclist repositions him or herself in the opposing bike lane, or right hand lane, and proceeds left when the light changes or when it is safe to cross.

The above manuevers work fine in simple, four-way intersections. But many intersections in Fort Collins aren’t simple. Swallow at Lemay Avenue, for example is more difficult as are many of the streets leading to Colorado State University from west of Shields street. Students from neighborhoods west of Shields have to negotiate Westward and Springfield Drives, University Avenue or Bennett Road, none of which allow a straight crossing of Shields to campus.

The City’s 2020 year Master Bike Plan, presently under preparation, has identified intersections such as these and will propose “spot solutions” to several of these problems. City Council is scheduled to approve this plan in December. Unfortunately the City Manager’s Proposed Budget for 2015-2016 has already been made public and will be approved before the Bike Plan. This lack of synchronization means that the bike plan may not receive funding for any of these “spot” fixes in 2015-2016 unless Council asks the City Manager to amend his proposed budget.

An amended budget would benefit the 2020 bike plan by beginning to resolve several of these “problem” intersections and by providing some funds for demonstration projects for protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways.

As it now stands the new budget keeps the FCBikes program, the Bike Library, and the Safe Routes to School Coordinator’s position and it allocates funds to help complete our trail system. But the budget does nothing to fund some of the innovative solutions to the problems described above and identified in the 2020 Bike Plan.

As a citizen cyclist you can learn to make safe left turns as I have described but you can also encourage City Council to ask the City Manager to accelerate implementation of the 2020 Bike Plan by providing funding in the 2015-2016 budget.

Can we Create a Paris on the Poudre?

First published in the Coloradoan September 2, 2014

I just completed a trip to Paris and London that included a 250 mile bicycle ride between the two. To begin this trip my wife, Paola Malpezzi Price and I, spent five days exploring Paris by bicycle using the Vélib’ (from the French, vélo liberté or “bicycle freedom”) bike share system.

We tried this system when it was new in 2007 when transit drivers were upset because bikes were allowed in their dedicated bus and taxi lanes. That rule still stands but the affected drivers have now accepted cyclists in “their” lanes. Additionally the City of Paris has incorporated more bicycle infrastructure to encourage more cyclists. It seems to be working.

Our Parisian experience brought me to wonder what Fort Collins would be like if we could import Paris’s bicycle transportation planners to design a bicycle network. In short, what would Fort Collins look like as “Paris on the Poudre?” Here’s what I came up with.

“Parisian” Fort Collins would have protected bike lanes the length of College Avenue from the Y at Highway 1 to Loveland. Protected bike lanes mean that bikes would travel along College protected by a curb, a line of parked cars or a combination of the two. Imagine, for example the center of College Avenue in Old Town, with a two way bike lane down the middle from Cherry to Mulberry Streets.

Most of the other arterials in town would have protected or buffered bike lanes and those scores of miles of sidewalks that we build for pedestrians in central and south Fort Collins rarely used by anyone would do double duty as bikeways and walkways. These would be attractive to less experienced cyclists, to children and to families.

At major intersections with lots of bicycle traffic, such as Shields Street at Prospect, Elizabeth and Laurel Streets, bicycles would be encouraged to use the sidewalk and they would have preferential stop lights giving them priority over motorists. College Avenue has a number of intersections where this would apply as well, such as Prospect, Drake, East Elizabeth, Laurel and much of Old Town.

A “Parisian” Fort Collins would have bicycle guideways through pedestrian areas where bicycles would be allowed to travel. These would include Old Town Square, the Oak Street Plaza, the CSU Plaza and the Einstien Sculpture on Pitkin Street on campus.

Paris on the Poudre would have 1500 bikes in a bike share program with 130 stations based on the Parisian model that has one bike per 100 residents in its bike share program. New users of the system would have shared lane arrows throughout old town and bicycle decals on the street to show them how to cross complex intersections throughout the city.

I know, Fort Collins isn’t Paris. We don’t have 12 million people in the metro area or 2.2 million in the City. So perhaps we could cut back on some of this infrastructure. But at least we could start bicycling more while speaking French. Bon voyage!