May 4, 2012

SF's Next Generation Bikeways

It's time to celebrate – earlier this week the SFMTA finished construction of San Francisco's first parking-buffered cycle track! People in Golden Gate Park finally have a dignified place to ride their bikes without having to even think about auto traffic. This new bikeway is truly a facility comfortable for bike riders of all ages and abilities, hopefully opening up the bicycle to even more people in San Francisco. Cycle tracks, or separated bikeways as some have come to call them in this country, take on many different forms, but the main quality is some form of physical separation from motorized traffic. This could be a planted median, soft hit posts, a raised curb, or, in the case of JFK, a row of parked cars. Which design works best for a given street depends considerably on its unique context.

JFK Drive has had its fair share of criticism since the start of construction. Where am I supposed to park my car now? How do I make a left turn? I feel "boxed in"! I can't ride as fast as I used to! I don't like having to look out for people getting to and from their parked cars. These are only some of the many complaints people have made about the new facility thus far. While I'm happy to see that, despite some noted trouble spots, most people seem to have gotten the floating parking concept down, many of us are still having trouble navigating this new bikeway design. Since it was a surprisingly smooth transition to park away from the curb, we now have some work to do with getting people used to how to actually ride in cycle tracks.

Riding in a cycle track is a little different from riding with auto traffic.

At the root of the problem, I believe, are ingrained vehicularist habits and ideals that are incompatible with the next generation of bicycle facilities. You're not riding with car traffic anymore so you no longer have to bike so fast. No one is going to honk at you if you don't ride single-file. And the old way of making a left turn (like a car) isn't necessarily the best way to turn anymore. There's also a lot more coordination involved – not with cars, but with others bicycling and people on foot.

Truly, this is all good news! We're finally reaching a point where the routines of bicycling need not be defined by what works best for the automobile. Riding in a cycle track is a different kind of bicycling from riding with traffic and it requires correspondingly different behaviors.

Continues after the break.

To start, we all need to learn to slow down a bit. Letting someone reach their parked car, yielding to someone in the crosswalk, passing a slower cyclist, and other everyday maneuvers are much easier if you're traveling slower. You don't have to race to keep up with traffic anymore – slow down and enjoy all the wonderful things around you! You won't reach your destination that much later.

Slow it down a bit and enjoy the day.

Keep to the right. Some of us are slower, others are faster, but we can all share the bike path if we default to riding on the right side. Right now most people are riding in the middle of the lane on JFK, so yes it can be difficult to pass, but by keeping to the right side, you can help make passing much smoother. It's just like driving on a multi-lane road – keep right and passing becomes a breeze.

Plenty of room to pass when you keep right, even on a narrow path.

Get a bell that sounds swell and then use it. Bells are great for letting someone ahead know that you'd like to pass them and they should move over. They're also useful for alerting someone on foot that you're coming up the track and they should mosey to the side. A little jingle is much more polite than yelling "on yer left" and it's notably more effective too. Indeed, all city bikes should have a proper bell. They're especially helpful when riding in cycle tracks and on multi-use paths since you're coordinating with people who can actually hear you. Hand signals work great too – sometimes just pointing to where you're headed makes a big difference.

Bells are very effective communication tools.

Try out the box left turn. Also known as the Copenhagen turn or the two-phase left turn, this is where you make a left turn in two steps. First, you cross straight to the far side of the intersection, turn left, and wait. When traffic is clear, you proceed straight and continue on your way. Many people are adverse to this maneuver, but it's really not that tricky. In fact, it's the only legal way to make a left turn in Copenhagen – one of the the top bicycling cities in the world – so it can't be that bad, right? Give it a shot at Middle Drive where they've cleared the parking lane so you can easily make just this kind of turn. It's not so horrible to not have to turn like a car. It's actually kind of nice not queuing up in a left turn lane with a long row of big metal boxes.

For most of us, comfort is more important than expediency.  Source: between yellow and blue

At Middle Dr, it's even easier. Just move to the left, yield, and make your turn.

Cycle tracks require people to part with many of the vehicular cycling techniques we've gotten used to from riding in traffic. You're interacting less with motorized vehicles now and more with other bicycle riders and people walking, so the rules change. Remember: grandma doesn't want to ride as fast as a 20 year old and 10 year old Suzie won't ride in mixed traffic (not even the old JFK). These new facilities really aren't for people currently bicycling; they're for everyone else. So, honestly, tough stuff if you can't go as fast as you used to or if you liked the old setup just fine. You're 4% of the population. The other 96% needs bike facilities separated from motorized traffic for them to feel comfortable to ride and we're finally building them. In due time, the hold-outs will come around too.

I'll finish with this great Streetsfilm from about a year ago when NYC was experiencing similar apprehension to these next-generation facilities. Now they're all over the place!

No comments:

Post a Comment