Mar 7, 2012

Eight to Eighty

8-to-80 friendly. We hear this term tossed around a lot nowadays. On the surface, it means that a particular facility (typically we're talking about bicycles) is comfortable enough for people of all ages and abilities to use – that is, for anyone aged 8 to 80 years old. But what exactly do we mean by the term? Are we always talking about full separation from traffic? How about a calm residential street or well-designed bike lanes? What I'm getting at is whether a facility can truly be classified as "8-to-80 friendly" depends greatly on the context of the particular street we're talking about. With the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition's vision for Connecting the City with 100 miles of crosstown bikeways by 2020, we're already waist-deep into exploring this concept. Though it's clear that full separation is best for places like Fell/Oak and Market Streets, what about the Wiggle or some of our quieter neighborhoods in the Sunset and Richmond Districts. Clearly, we have some deeper thinking to do.

Is this 8-80? This is JFK in Golden Gate Park right in front of the buffalos – not included in the Sunday closure. It's just a shared road, but they still look quite content.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, how does an "8-80 friendly" facility feel and what does it allow you to do? When riding up Market Street, we're all familiar with that "ahhh" feeling you get when you reach 8th St and the green cycle track. The same happens on Fell St when you finally reach the Panhandle and leave all of the traffic behind. That exhale of "ahhh" is an expression of relaxation – that one no longer has to constantly be looking out for their safety and can now just simply enjoy the ride. When you get to this point, an 8-80 facility, here are some of the wonderful things which are possible:

  • Kids! – tons of them and parents don't have to watch their every move; this is the number one indicator of a properly-designed facility
  • Grandma! – older adults feel comfortable enough to take advantage of the convenience of bicycling; many streets are comfortable for me and other confident riders (we can call them "20-40 friendly"), but would my grandpa feel safe on Valencia's bike lanes?
  • Riding Two-Abreast – riding side-by-side allows bicycling to be a social activity, not just a form of transport; you don't walk single-file with a friend, so why would you do so while riding your bike?
  • Carrying on a Conversation – this goes along with the last one: talk with your friends as you would otherwise -- gesture with your hands and make eye contact from time to time
  • Listening to Music with Headphones – you need all your senses available when riding in traffic, but there's nothing wrong with listening to some tunes on a cycle track (just don't completely zone out)
  • Talking on the Phone – this one might stir up some trouble: if the facility is built correctly, you should be able to talk on the phone and ride; an upright bike doesn't hurt
  • Using an Umbrella in the Rain – I don't think I'd ride up Fell St with an umbrella, but I've busted one out on the Panhandle on rainy days; again, an upright bike is key here
  • No Helmet Required – I'll save my spiel on helmets for another day, but I'll just say: they don't protect you as well as you'd think, it makes bicycling look unnecessarily dangerous, and an 8-80 bikeway shouldn't compel you to wear one
  • Minor Mistakes Don't Jeopardize Safety – this is what it all boils down to: if you take your eyes off the road for a second and start to drift to the side, you won't get run over by a car/truck/bus like in this unfortunate case; not saying no one will ever crash on an 8-to-80 facility, just simply the consequences are minimized

More after the break.

Kids!  --  Three kids riding home from school by themselves. And this is just a shared street – no cycle lane, not even a sharrow (if they used them). If you keep motorized traffic low, slow, and in control, we can all share the road.

Grandpa!  --  This man is coming back from a trip to the store; no car necessary. He's riding on a comfortable parking-buffered cycle track. This is what we are going to need for our major streets like Masonic to be "8-80 friendly".

Riding Two-Abreast  --  This couple is riding side-by-side on a central city street too narrow to share. I like this photo because you can see the parallel with the couple in the car behind.

Talking on the Phone  --  This woman feels totally comfortable on the cycle track that she's on the phone with a friend. She'd probably be doing the same thing if she were walking down the street or driving.

Back at Home  --  We're able to experience how 8-80 feels every Sunday on JFK and during Sunday Streets.

Now that we've thought about how an "8-to-80" bikeway feels, what does it take to build one? Well, it depends. A couple general principles apply (as inspired by the Dutch CROW manual): on streets with high volume and fast motorized traffic, separation between modes is critical; on streets with low volume and slow motorized traffic, modes can often be integrated and share space. Think about Market Street – with all of the buses, streetcars, taxis, trucks, and autos, we're going to need a separated bikeway along the entire stretch. Now to the Wiggle – we already have ideas from ThinkBike for how motorized and bicycle traffic can comfortably share the road here. We're going to need additional traffic calming (especially diversion measures) and improved way-finding, but we obviously don't need a cycle track or even a designated lane on most streets.

When developing an 8-80 bikeway, I think it's best to think of the process as pulling various measures from a diverse toolkit, as opposed to following a particular model which works under all circumstances. (Classifying certain facilities in the MUTCD as "8-80 friendly" is most certainly not the way to go.) On a quiet street in the Sunset, all we might need to achieve 8-80 status is closely-placed (say, 5 per block) sharrows. On another street, well-designed, wide, and buffered cycle lanes with green paint at conflict points might suffice. On the fast Laguna Honda Blvd or Portola Drive, I'd like to see full separation, with the bikeway on its own level. Context matters above all.

No matter the design used, there are a few points to keep in mind for all 8-80 facilities:
  • Lighting – if you can't see your way home, it doesn't work
  • Intersections – here's the problem with Market Street right now: you're cruising along in the green bikeway, you reach a large and uninviting intersection, and you have to essentially "paddle your way across"; continuity is key and crossbike treatments work very well
  • Way-Finding – I'm not talking about those little signs we have that you have to stretch your neck up to read; no, real way-finding: signs with destinations and the time until you're there, sharrows or other markers, and green paint
And let us not forget the 8-80 concept isn't just about bikes! I see "8-80" as applying to other modes of transport as well. Does a kid feel comfortable taking the bus by himself? Does a mother have to hold her daughter's hand while crossing the street? Can grandpa figure out how to take the train by himself? Can someone who uses a wheelchair cross the street comfortably? If the answer is "yes" to these questions, the facility is probably "8-80 friendly". The concept of 8-80 is all about safety, comfort, ease of use, accommodation, and sense of not having to interrupt one's life. You shouldn't need special clothes, gear, or a confident mentality just to walk down the street, ride a bike, or take the bus. This is what it's all about.

No comments:

Post a Comment