Ohio Bikeways Blog
- U.S. E-Bike Regulations are a Mistake
- The Ongoing Trail Bollard Hazard
- Terror on the Bikeway
- 'Walk Left - Ride Right' Revisited
- The Magic Electric Bike
- Trail Users Targeted
- Fast Trail Riding
- Holmes County Experiment
- Spoiling a Great Trail Ride
- The Blind Eye of Advocacy
- The "F" Word in Trail Building
- Trails: A Waste of Money?
- The Trail Bollard Hazard
- Dan Rice Q&A
U.S. E-Bike Regulations are a Mistake
By Pete Medek - 8/1/18
No, I’m not suggesting that regulating e-bikes is a bad idea. However, I am saying that the classes established by the regulations get it wrong.
Our Love of Speed
Americans love speed. Fast cars, fast boats, fast bikes — yeah! So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the “slowest” category for e-bikes, Class 1, has motors that crank out up to 750 watts. Mind you, that’s 250-300 watts more than a professional bike racer produces racing at a max steady state (not sprinting) on flat terrain.
750 watts is serious overkill for any multi-use trail. So manufacturers had to come up with a work-around so these powerful motors might be accepted in these places. They did this by mechanically regulating Class 1 bikes to not exceed 20 mph. In a country where hot-rodding has long been a part of our culture, does anyone really believe that many of these bikes won’t be un-modified? And if they are, how fast will they go?
To answer that question, I visited this bike calculator page and plugged in these parameters:
- Power: 750 watts
- Rider Weight: 200 lbs. (an arbitrary number)
- Bicycle Weight: 50 lbs. (e-bikes are heavier than standard bikes)
- Rider Position: Bartops (a non-aero position, sitting upright)
After hitting ‘calculate,’ the velocity (speed) came back as 30.02 mph. So there you have it, a motorized bike that can easily keep up with automobile traffic on residential streets. That’s the power of Class 1. And it’s not appropriate for any multi-use trail… or protected bike lane, for that matter.
Some Euro Regs Get it Right
You might wonder, “Wouldn’t it be better to simply produce a lower output motor to ensure safe speeds on bikeways?” Why yes, yes it would. And leave it to someone else (not the U.S.) to do just that.
Described in this excellent article, Class 1 in some Euro countries is limited up to 250 watts and a maximum speed of 15 mph (25 kph).
This Euro Class 1 solves the power problem (for bikeways) by lowering the motor output to a more reasonable level. It should be noted that a cyclist producing a steady 250 watts can also reach higher speeds. To see how fast this output would allow an e-rider to travel, I made a second trip to the Bike Calculator page and changed only 1 of my previous parameters to — Power: 250 watts.
The result was a speed of 19.97 mph. You might think that’s still a bit fast for a multi-use trail. (And I agree and will cover that in a moment.) But when you consider that the motor is also designed to assist in climbing hills, carrying heavier riders and perhaps heavier bike frames, the output is reasonable. And by regulating the output to 15 mph — barring tampering with the stock set up, of course — you have a more reasonable top speed for multi-use trails.
Why 15 mph is Plenty
Or course, there are different types of bikeway infrastructure. But let’s stay with the multi-use trail as our example, since that’s where e-bike riders typically want to ride.
The disparity in speed among users has been a common problem on many trails before e-bikes came on the scene. So the pertinent question is: How best can we safely assimilate potential new e-bike users with existing trail users?
The answer: Have their max speed more closely match the average speed that bicycles already travel on the trail.
I’ll hazard a guess and suggest that the average speed that bikes travel on most trails is probably somewhere in the 12-15 mph range. Keep in mind that we’re talking about all riders here, which includes fit riders, as well as leisurely riders and families with small children on bikes. (When you factor in all trail users — runners, walkers, etc. — that 12-15 mph average comes tumbling down.)
By integrating e-bikes that travel close to the existing average speed for bikes, you are simply adding more bike riders to the mix. The motor doesn’t necessarily become a disrupting factor, or a factor at all.
But when you allow 20 mph Class 1 bikes instead, you are adding more fast-movers, so average bike speeds will rise. Not only will that make trails less safe, it’s inconsistent with what we’re trying to do on the road with complete streets (think traffic calming). And as already noted, if the 750 watt motors are un-modified (unleashed), lookout. Things only get worse from there.
If you’re with me so far and tend to agree (or not) that the Euro Class 1 is a better fit for trails, I hate to tell you that none of this is likely to matter — in practical terms. Because there really isn’t any system in place on most trails to police this issue. Just as there aren’t radar guns (or manpower) available to clock speeding bicyclists on most multi-use trails that already have posted speed limits.
Imagine the expertise required to enforce e-bike rules and classes: What class is this electric bike? Is it a legit Class 1, or has it been modified? That looks like a normal bike, but that guy is moving along without pedaling! Does his bike have a hidden motor? What class is that?!
How E-Savvy Are Your Trail Managers?
Most states are adopting e-bike rules that tend to let local jurisdictions have the final say on which class of e-bikes, if any, will be allowed on their trails. This can be a good thing or not, depending on how knowledgeable your local managers are.
As you might imagine, to many people 20 mph seems quite reasonable. And 750 watts, well… that sounds like a very powerful light bulb, so that shouldn’t be a problem either. (750 watts equals 1 HP — horsepower.)
If you do not have faith in your local officials knowledge on this subject, push for public meetings to provide input and to better educate them, should the need arise. Because after reading this blog post, you could very well be better informed than they are.
But again, without a practical way to police e-bike classes and speed on most multi-use trails, it’s unlikely that regulations alone will have the final say. It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out, not just as far as e-bikes are concerned, but also e-scooters and the other personal transport devices that will follow.
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Terror on the Bikeway
By Pete Medek - 11/3/17
In response to the bike trail terror attack in NYC, bike advocates have been calling for more protective treatments (bollards, guardrails, etc.) to make bikeways less vulnerable to acts of terrorism. That suggestion is leading other communities to question if they’re doing enough to protect their trail users as well.
Before everyone goes into a panic over this knee-jerk reaction to "fix" supposedly vulnerable bike trails, let’s take a closer look at terror attacks on bikeways.
Are More Barriers The Answer?
You can place trail bollards at road crossings, but that won’t keep terrorists from driving cars and trucks onto bikeways. Bikeways often run along streets, alongside parking lots and other open spaces where vehicles have easy access. A determined person is likely to find a way around or through.
But let’s say that you manage to completely cordon off a bikeway with bollards (a known hazard to trail users that has resulted in fatalities), concrete barriers, etc. Don’t local pedestrians on nearby public sidewalks have the same right of protection as cyclists? So to be equitable, we’ll also need to barricade all public sidewalks, plazas, parks and all entry ways into sports venues, etc.
Before you’ve finished such an attempt to terror-proof your bikeway or city from terrorists in motor vehicles, you should consider that you’re only guarding against one potential means of carrying out such an attack. What about the suicide bomber who uses a bike and a backpack to roll right up next to his/her group of potential victims? Or the terrorist with self-preservation tendencies that chooses to play sniper from a nearby window?
These are but 2 examples of scenarios that many are deliberately ignoring, because they shine the spotlight on the fact that their proposed solutions are not really solutions at all. They are schemes meant to make the public feel safer, while not addressing the cause of the problem.
Start at the Source
The real solutions are those that make it more difficult for terrorists to enter our country or be indoctrinated here.
Also, finally addressing the mental illness problem in our country that has lead to mass shootings is long overdue. Nah, let's just put up some barriers, pat ourselves on the back and call it a day. We're good.
I find it curious how some advocates can fully support vision zero initiatives, an extremely difficult and worthwhile goal, yet resign themselves to believing that death by terrorists has become the new norm of modern life in the U.S. That’s a telling contradiction.
I have applauded advocates for fighting against the barbaric mindset that traffic deaths are to be expected or tolerated in our transportation system. But sadly, some of those same advocates see death by terror as inevitable, while others prefer feel good strategies, instead of addressing the sources of the problem.
If there is a will to solve such problems in our society, we'll certainly find a way. But no, barricading your local bike trail is not the answer.
It’s time for Vision Zero for terror deaths, America.
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'Walk Left - Ride Right' Revisited
By Pete Medek - 10/3/17
For those who are unfamiliar, 'Walk Left - Ride Right' is a safety concept that was intended for foot and bike travel along roads with no sidewalks. It simply means that pedestrians should walk on the far left edge of the road, facing traffic. While bicyclists should ride on the right side of the road, with traffic.
In the past, a few people had suggested that this practice would be good for multi-use trails as well. I lampooned that idea in an article called, 'The Great Trail Debacle,' which is no longer online. But before the article was removed (along with other aging web content), I received an email from a 'Walk Left' supporter.
This individual claimed to have trail managing experience and said he was pursuing bringing the 'Walk Left' concept to trails in Ohio through ODNR and the Ohio State legislature.
Well, that got my attention. So, I thought it was time to revisit this topic and take a more serious look at this really bad idea.
The Flawed Premise
It's easy to suggest that what works on the road, will work on the trail. And that's exactly what proponents of 'Walk Left' do. They go as far as to say that there's virtually no difference between road and trail, as far as 'Walk Left' is concerned.
So they begin with a false premise, that roadways and trail corridors are essentially the same. They are not. In fact, they have far more differences than similarities. Let's take a closer look.
A paved multi-use trail that is striped down the middle, looks like a miniature road. And users move along the trail corridor similarly to how vehicles move along roads. That’s where the similarities end.
Roads often have a shoulder, curb (gutter area) or adjacent sidewalk. Also, roadways in many cases are/were overbuilt. That is, many are wider than necessary. So even roads with no curb or shoulder are often wide enough for pedestrians to walk safely against traffic on the edge of the road.
Drivers, when operating their vehicles properly, do not typically drive their cars in the gutter or on the road shoulder. Nor do they usually drive along the extreme right edge of the road. As a result, there is an unmarked space available for pedestrians to utilize when there is no sidewalk.
That’s how/why walking against traffic works on the road. It’s important to note that the walker does not physically impede (walk directly in the path of) motor vehicles. That is not permitted on roadways, as it would be unsafe.
Multi-use trails are not typically overbuilt and are often only 10’ wide, sometimes less. And that includes both "lanes" of travel. If we break it down further, that leaves 5' or less for each side. So, when two adults walk or bike side-by-side, which users commonly do, they are taking up virtually all their allotted space.
There is no curb (gutter area), shoulder or other unused space along the trail’s edge. Anyone walking left on a multi-use trail will directly impede those users approaching on the right from the opposite direction, forcing them to change their path to avoid a collision. That is unsafe.
Trails Have More User Groups
And keep in mind, multi-use trails have far more user groups to manage -- bicyclists, walkers, bladers, dog-walkers, runners, wheel-chair users, bird watchers, families with small children, etc. On popular trails during busy weekends, there is simply no room available for trail users moving in conflicting directions. And as already mentioned, it would be unsafe.
On rural trails with little or no traffic, 'Walk-left' could work. And I’m sure that’s where proponents practice it. However, for a travel pattern to be both effective and safe, it needs to work in all traffic conditions. And 'Walk Left - Ride Right' fails to meet that rather basic requirement on the trail.
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Ohio Bikeways Website Refresh
By Pete Medek - 8/30/17
Ok, I’ll admit it. It’s more than a refresh. It was time for a serious website rebuild.
While the News Section was humming along as strong as ever, weeds were growing tall and thick in other parts of the website, with dead links piling up high enough to reach the moon.
The old format was untenable, outdated and had to go.
A New Direction
The new Ohio Bikeways website is smaller, leaner… and updated! We’ve tried to keep the most popular aspects of the original, while simplifying the overall site structure.
The site is now mobile-friendly. All viewport sizes should now be able to view our pages.
The review pages have been traded in for trail "information" pages. Some are the descriptive-type, like a review, while others are intentionally different. The idea is to use a more flexible format to deliver trail information, not the same pre-packaged format every time.
The Ohio Trails map has undergone a major refresh. We're bringing it back as a major focal point of the website, with useful tools for trip planning. The new map features helpful facility markers for many trails.
The Google trails map now comes in two versions, one for cell phone users on small screens, and an option for larger screens and laptops. The larger version has an additional feature, a debugged Trip Planner. The small version maximizes available screen space by doing away with headers, footers and sidebars. So you don't get the Trip Planner, however you do get all of the map markers that are available on the larger version.
Trails that are not deemed "relatively flat" by Google, now have a Google Elevation Profile link. (Mobile users will have to switch to the Google Map App after clicking the link to view the profile.)
The Ohio Trail Lists have also been updated and reworked. We’ll leave you to explore that, as well as the rest of the new website.
There are bound to be some bugs, so let us know if you have any problems. And feel free to give us some feedback on the new setup. If you miss some content that was left behind (we’ll be updating and resurrecting some of it), tell us what you miss.
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I’ve added your suggestion to our 'to-do’ list, thanks.
In the past, the interactive Ohio trails map had a local search feature. We'll look into bringing that back, or perhaps doing an instructional video on how to use the Google map and its built-in features to accomplish the same thing. (You’d have to open a separate browser tab for that.)
Holmes County Trail Experiment
By Pete Medek - 8/31/11
At the time of this writing, the completed section of the Holmes County Trail extends from Killbuck north to the county line, where a single trail (that does not allow horses) continues into Fredericksburg.
I made an out-and-back pass along the finished 15 miles of trail. It was interesting to note how the twin trails are being used by cyclists and horse-and-buggies.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, much of the trail consists of two side-by-side pathways, one for bikes and another for horse-and-buggies.
The twin trails are about 16' in width, creating a wide berth for users. The design was intended to give horse-and-buggies a separate trail. The buggy path was given a chip-n-seal top coat to help protect against wear from horse hooves.
Now that the twin trails have been in place for several years, one might ask, "How well is it working?"
Cycling was the primary mode of transport on the Sunday I visited. Most oncoming riders gave me an unusually wide berth by moving completely off the bike trail and onto the buggy path to pass by. I found myself overtaking riders in the same way. I'd swing wide onto the buggy path, rather than call out a warning and pass in closer proximity on the bike trail.
As a result, riders were all over both trails. (I found myself following a smooth wheel track on the buggy path for a few miles as well.) This didn't pose any problems as there is more than enough room on both trails to yield to buggies and peds, when necessary. It felt like a more freestyle type of trail travel.
Although travel on traditional trails is pleasant and doesn't feel restrictive, you are generally staying in one 4-5' wide slot along the right-hand side of the pavement. The extra room afforded by tandem trails creates a more open feel as you travel.
As previously mentioned, part of the original concept was to give horse-and-buggies their own trail. By giving other users their own path as well, the buggies travel unimpeded and surface wear is confined to one trail. But is it?
Well, not exactly. Though the center of the buggy path shows the most wear from hooves, similar wear (to a lesser degree), as well as horse droppings, can also be found on the bike trail in some areas. Are these simply a consequence of two buggies passing each other on the trails? Perhaps.
And perhaps the freedom of space feeling that cyclists experience is also shared by buggy drivers. If that's the case, the surface wear issue may become more of a maintenance cost than originally thought.
The building of the Holmes County Trail has already been scaled back. The newest trail segment, in Killbuck, is essentially 1 trail wide. Resurfacing costs are high, and while chip-n-seal may be good for the separate buggy path, it would not be welcomed by road bike riders on the narrower, shared trail. And we were happy to see no chip-n-seal on the narrow trail sections during our visit.
As this is the first trail in the country to use the twin trail concept to accommodate buggies, it will be interesting to see how trail use continues to play out on the Holmes County Trail in the years ahead.
2018 Update: The new 7.4-mile paved section from Brinkhaven to Glenmont that was opened in late 2017 is only one trail wide. With only 1 unfinished section remaining to be completed (Glenmont to Killbuck), I think it's safe to say that the twin trails segments that were constructed early on along this bikeway, will be the only segments that support the original duel trail format.
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The Blind Eye of Trail Advocacy
By Pete Medek - 9/29/14
If you've spent much time on the Ohio Bikeways website, chances are you have encountered some content that's frank, raw or surprising.
Perhaps it was our interview with a bike advocate who dislikes trails. Or maybe our news coverage that regularly reports sexual attacks and murders along trails, as well as other crimes.
In today's world of sexual predators and suicide terrorists, there is little that can shock the reader. So if that were Ohio Bikeways' goal, we would fail miserably.
However, our coverage is a bit shocking when compared to other bike and trail advocacy sites. Why? They tend not to cover any bad news unless it fits their agenda.
That means they report heavily on hit-n-run drivers who mow down bicyclists. But what about cyclists who cause accidents or run down and injure pedestrians? Well, no, that doesn't really help advance their cause... so they may take a pass on those stories.
And what if there's a rapist on the loose targeting women along an Ohio trail? Are you likely to learn more about that from the trail's website? No, sorry. That might make them look bad and discourage tourism. Can't risk losing those tourism dollars.
So a trail website that provides public service announcements regarding construction closings, flood warnings, etc., decides not to inform you about serious crimes along that same multi-use corridor. Why? To avoid giving itself a black eye. So they make it a blind eye instead and say nothing.
Obviously, we have a problem with that.
Their approach prevents trail users from being properly informed so that they can take steps to protect themselves and steps to help local law enforcement identify and apprehend criminals. As a result, trail users become sitting ducks. That's an outcome that we find deplorable. And one in which we'll never willingly participate.
As mentioned in our blog on the Knockout Game, this blind eye approach creates a lose / lose scenario for both the public and law enforcement. And a big win for the perpetrators who can continue their crime spree, thanks to reduced public awareness of their activities.
Ohio Bikeway's approach is advocacy through education, not by filtration or censorship. And we'll continue to do just that.
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The "F" Word In Trail Building
By Pete Medek - 7/3/14
The obscene phrase in trail building that landowners dread hearing doesn't start with the letter "F." But it sends a similar message.
The phrase is Eminent Domain. To put it simply, it's the "screw you" directed at property owners when their land is taken outright.
Are there good reasons to take private land? And why do so for a trail? Let's start with some basics.
What Is Eminent Domain?
Eminent domain is "the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation."
Historically, this has been a common practice in constructing new roads and highways. Engineers plot the course for the road, which inevitably crosses private land, and eminent domain is used to secure (take) the necessary corridor from landowners. Proper compensation ($$) is sometimes a further point of contention in this process.
Eminent domain may also be used for trail projects when a governmental entity is doing the building. But there is a key difference here, or at least there should be. Whereas taking land (with compensation) for roadways is typically a given, the same should not necessarily be the case for trail projects, in my opinion.
Trails bring many benefits to local communities. So it can be said that trail-building is a pro-community undertaking. If that's true, why would trail builders want to alienate some community members by commandeering their land? For the good of the community, you say? Perhaps. But there is more to this issue than taking land because you can do so legally.
When Should Land Be Taken For Trail Use?
I'm a proponent of the idea that eminent domain should be used as a last resort when trail building, if at all. This motivates builders to be creative and look at alternative route options. It also forces them to be more considerate with landowners, rather than dictate to them. To try to work with those neighbors through an open dialogue where both sides can be better understood in the search for common ground.
No doubt there will be circumstances where a landowner is not interested in any of the above. Even in those cases, there may be other viable options to explore. When there are not, and intrusion on private land is minimal AND we're talking about a major trail route (aka transportation corridor) of real significance, only then should eminent domain be considered. [There are exceptions to every rule, but you get the idea.]
How Not To Use Eminent Domain
And of course there is the wrong way to use it: the Land Grab. A news story out of Dakota County in Minnesota makes my point.
There are a number of pro-landowner articles in these cases, as well as those depicting halos over trail builders heads. So whether the details of this particular case are being skewed in the above example is not important for the sake of this discussion. Let's assume the "facts" are correct.
If they are, this is indeed a land grab. Rather than build a simple trail along the river, builders are seeking to establish their own park-like setting and acquiring much more land than is necessary to put the trail through.
This is greed, plain and simple. The kind that comes from using eminent domain as a first option. The kind from which elaborate development "visions" are born.
Who Really Wins? Who Loses?
Sure the trail builders get their big chunk of park land, so they're happy. But what about the affected landowners along the river? And their friends and family within the community? Hard feelings can fester for years. This is not a desirable result for a supposed pro-community project.
It also sets a bad example for future trail builders, who may be tempted to wield the power of eminent domain and forego working with affected property owners altogether.
And land grabs for trails do nothing to bridge the gap between trail users and those who frown on trails and see them as a waste of money. In fact, it gives the latter more reason to vilify trail users and trail builders alike.
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Trails: A Waste Of Taxpayer Money?
By Pete Medek - 6/6/11
A popular criticism levied against trails is that they are a waste of taxpayer money. Oh, really? Funds completely wasted, like when someone gives a contractor a hefty deposit and never sees them again? That's a waste, I agree. A total ripoff.
Trails, however, give a lot in return. They provide recreation and transportation avenues for local residents and help students get to school or to the local park more safely. They also bring tourism revenue to communities. And for the people who use them, they build better health and save users real dollars in transportation costs and commuting expenses.
In fact, these wasteful trails are used to attract young professionals and improve the quality of life in communities all across our state. They are regularly included in city and township bike plans. Isn't it an incredible injustice that all these communities are clamoring for such waste?
Typically, those who don't use trails only see the recreational aspect and nothing more.
Big Government = Real Waste
Our government is growing larger all the time. And as it does so, it creates layers upon layers of red tape. The bureaucratic quagmire that results is the farthest point from lean and thrifty that a governing body can be. As a result, virtually everything it does is unnecessarily complex, extremely expensive and frequently wasteful. And, yes, that includes how it builds roads and trails. But that's small potatoes.
Let's look to the king of waste, Uncle Sam, to show us how it's done. In this 2009 article, 50 examples of government waste are listed. Here are a few:
- The federal government made at least $72 billion in improper payments in 2008.
- Washington spends $25 billion annually maintaining unused or vacant federal properties.
- Washington has spent $3 billion re-sanding beaches -- even as this new sand washes back into the ocean.
- More than $13 billion in Iraq aid has been classified as wasted or stolen. Another $7.8 billion cannot be accounted for.
That's billions with a capital "B" and this is just a sampling of how Uncle Sam handles your money on a regular basis. That's real waste -- like hiring that shady contractor, only on a ridiculously grander scale.
Value For The Money
Trails cost considerably less than roads to build and maintain. When properly constructed, a trail surface typically lasts years longer than a road surface that's subject to heavy automobile and truck traffic.
Trail costs are often deferred by volunteers, private funding and in-kind donations by the communities that value them. A good example is the Friends of the Little Miami State Park volunteers that help maintain the Little Miami Trail. These volunteers mow, remove downed trees, fundraise and do whatever is necessary to keep their trails open for use. In recent times, more trail groups have begun to follow this model, while others have done so for many years, in one form or another.
Another impressive example is the 13.4-mile Kokosing Gap Trail which was built, resurfaced and is maintained by private funding and the tremendous work of its volunteers.
For comparison sake, what do drivers do for their roads? Maybe pickup some litter?
Anyone who is genuinely concerned about the waste of taxpayer money in this country should start by doing their civic duty to chop down the size of government. Vote out any and all federal and state representatives who perpetuate this wasteful status quo. Now THAT would be a real money-saving move!
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Examining the Cleveland Bike Lane Controversy
By Pete Medek - 10/7/15
A new bike lane configuration surfaced recently in Cleveland that goes against convention. And it wasn't installed by guerrilla bike advocates. It was implemented by a guerrilla engineer, Andy Cross.
How is it Different?
Here's what a typical buffered bike lane looks like.
Now imagine placing the buffer (striped area) against the curb and leaving a single white stripe in its place. You're basically moving the cyclist closer to the traffic and removing the separation that was intended to keep him/her safer. So you end up with a standard, non-buffered bike lane with a buffered curb. That, in a nutshell, is the controversial new configuration that was installed recently in Cleveland.
Breaking the Engineer Mold
Given that engineers are generally known for following standards and specifications to the nth degree, I find it interesting that Cross bucked convention here.
And convention, in this case, is best current practices.
Flipping the Buffer
This quote from Green City Blue Lake seems to sum up Cross' reasoning here:
"...[Cross] rationalized that [his] design puts cyclists in a better line of sight for drivers. Cross' concern: Cars turning right across the bike lane, he said, would be more dangerous with the buffer along the left side."
The problem is that right hooks occur when a driver has already passed a cyclist (or is driving ahead of), then slows to turn in front of them. The rider is no longer in the driver's forward field of vision, regardless of his/her proximity to the curb.
Obviously, if the cyclist is in the driver's forward field of vision, the driver can avoid turning into them.
The Real Issue
The fact in this matter is that neither a buffered bike lane, nor a standard one with a buffered curb, prevents a right hook. It would take a change in driver behavior to achieve that.
Cross' point that his design is safer, is an opinion. It's subjective. And not backed by any data that I'm aware of. Ideally, road safety standards are based on data.
Safety Comes First
Is safety subjective? It certainly shouldn't be. Not when it comes to public safety.
That's where press conferences and public meetings come in. If you take your case to the public and they buy in, everyone's happy.
But when you play 'Father Knows Best,' you're sticking your neck out.
Who Needs a Buffer Anyway?
With Cross' willingness to do away with a buffer between drivers and bicyclists, you would think there is no need for one. Au contraire. Greater separation is in demand right now and for good reason. Distracted drivers are everywhere.
During my 9-mile work commute by car, I see them so frequently, that I can recognize their behavior when following them from behind. (I'll bet you can, too.) The distinctive weaving pattern on the road, or the listing to one side that often takes them outside of their lane... repeatedly.
By putting cyclists closer to that hot mess, you are asking for trouble. And for fewer cyclists to use your bike lanes. So, think twice Mr. Cross, before deciding that buffer serves no useful purpose.
I invite you to join us in the ongoing process of refining bike infrastructure to improve it further. Your concern for cyclists' safety is much appreciated. But there's a process here that needs to be respected.
Experimenting with new designs should never be taboo. But at the very least, you should have local approval before implementation.
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Bike Boxes - How Well Do They Work?
By Pete Medek - 5/10/11
For the record, I'm all for bike infrastructure that improves safety and travel for cyclists on the road. I find many of the newer concepts interesting and admire those who are working diligently to create and improve upon them.
But the real test for any design is how well it works in practical terms, not just in theory. That brings me to today's topic: bike boxes. How well do they work?
The obvious disadvantages of bike lanes are the notorious 'right hook' and the dilemma a cyclist faces when trying to turn from a lane on the far side of the road. In other words, traditional bike lanes can make intersections a nightmare.
The bike box is intended to help eliminate these problems at intersections. The idea is to allow the cyclist to move to the head of the line at a stoplight. Here he is more visible to make a safe turn in either direction, or simply continue riding straight through the intersection.
In theory (and demo videos) it all works smoothly. And I must admit, I've never encountered a bike box on the road to try out myself. But after mulling over the concept and design, I have a few doubts.
To my knowledge, the bike box consists of pavement markings and signage. So the cyclist has no warning as to when the light will change. (Unlike the flashing hands or countdown that peds see that warn them to clear the crosswalk before a light change.) So, visualize our friendly neighborhood cyclist rolling up alongside cars stopped at a light about to pull in front of them to enter the bike box when -- oops -- the light suddenly turns green at the worst possible moment.
Whatever type of driver one considers, it's not likely to be one that is looking for a cyclist approaching from the rear and making a short turn in front of them just as they're stepping on the gas.
And what happens when the light remains green and there is no opportunity for cyclists to slide into the bike box ahead of traffic where they can be more visible? If they continue on in the bike lane, they are just as vulnerable as if the box didn't exist.
And a final point concerns large vehicles like buses or box trucks stopped at red lights behind (hopefully) bike boxes. I'm cycling up from the rear in the bike lane and am trying to determine if the box at the approaching intersection is full of fellow cyclists or if the truck at the light has left room in the box (as opposed to stopping on top of it). I have to commit myself by riding up alongside the truck and hoping it has left a spot for me. If it hasn't, I'm stuck in the worst possible position before the light change.
So, to summarize the potential problems I see:
- The inopportune light change
- The green light / stay in the bike lane scenario
- Trying to determine if the bike box is clear as one approaches
The bike box concept, as I see it, is simply trying to integrate cyclists back into the traffic lane prior to them entering the intersection. That's a worthwhile goal. I'm just not sure the box is the best approach.
One obvious improvement would be to create a warning just prior to the light change to eliminate one of the dangers. A flashing red light could warn the cyclist that it's about to go green. But that may also encourage impatient drivers to start into the intersection a bit early.
A better solution may be to integrate cyclists into the lane prior to the intersection stop line, rather than once there. Imagine a bike lane that dissolves before an intersection, then reforms again after. The advantages to this strategy are worth considering:
- No light change issue
- No issues with a full or obstructed bike box
- No being stuck in the bike lane on green lights
- Integrates cyclists into traffic lane both in front of and behind cars (more slots for more cyclists)
- Configuration is less confusing than bike box (in my opinion)
- Cost is minimal compared to $10K green bike box
It might look like this --
Note that the diagram is only a concept and would need to include markings or signage that informs drivers that cyclists are merging to use the full lane.
Vehicularists may be screaming, "Just ride in the traffic lane and forget the bike lane!" I agree that on some streets it's better to put down some sharrows and ask everyone to play nice. On others, it doesn't work so well. As with most good designs, it's all in the details. What is the lane width? What about traffic flow? Speed limit? Sight lines? On-street parking allowed? Bike lanes definitely have their place and encourage more people to ride. The trick is to eliminate their shortcomings.
And in that regard, the bike box is a good start. Now let's continue to improve on it or devise something better.
How well do you think bike boxes work?
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The Pitfalls of Traditional Bike Lanes - 4/6/15
By Pete Medek
I sat in a couple of meetings recently with local transportation engineers and planning officials in Mansfield and Richland County. The meetings were about introducing marked bike routes to the area.
During discussions about safety and potential heavy auto traffic, a suggestion was put forth to extend the road shoulders on one particular road to accomodate a 5' wide bike lane for bike travel.
This proposal seemed acceptable to both city and county engineers. And initially I didn't disagree. When engineers speak of providing a separate place for you to ride, you don't begin by saying, "No, thank you." But the more closely I examined the idea, the more questions I had.
Traditional or Old-School Bike Lanes
The wide-shoulder bike lane has been around for decades and is likely the first bike infrastructure introduced on U.S. roads. At first glance, the concept seems very reasonable. Pave a wide, well-marked bike lane on the edge of the road to provide cyclists with their own lane of travel. What's wrong with that?
On the surface, nothing. But there are consequences to this approach that are worth considering. Let's take a closer look.
Life in the Fast Lane
By placing cyclists outside of the auto travel lane, drivers no longer have to share the lane and can drive "unimpeded." This results in higher speeds, compared with shared use lanes. This can be viewed as a benefit for drivers and a definite drawback for cyclists, who ride a mere few feet away from the car lane, unprotected.
In another sense, you are also removing cyclists from the consciousness of the driver by separating the two. Again, with everyone in their separate lanes, it can work. But what happens at intersections?
Well, there is no bike infrastructure in the U.S. that maintains this separation at intersections. (Update: 2017 The Dutch have a solution and a few U.S. Cities have started using it since this blog was written.) And therein lies a problem. How do we safely reintegrate bikes with cars there?
Right Hooks & the Left Cross
The video below demonstrates the 2 most common dangers intersections pose for cyclists traveling in a bike lane. It also offers advice for both parties regarding how to avoid them. You'll notice that the advice is counterintuitive, and therefore, will be lost on many who will have the mindset to remain in their respective lanes.
Understandably, there have been efforts to find a design solution that eliminates this "experience required" dilemma at intersections. The Bike Box is one such attempt that is not without its shortcomings.
Once one fully appreciates the design challenges that the road-shoulder bike lane creates at intersections, one can see the importance of looking at the bigger picture.
Road-Widening Not the Only Expense
By placing the bike lane on the shoulder of the roadway, one is putting the lane where debris collects. I.E. - Loose gravel, broken glass, bits of metal, etc. Debris is a problem for cyclists that can bring them off their bike in a crash or to fix a flat. To prevent this, the lane will have to be swept periodically.
In addition, bike lane pavement will require maintenance to prevent potholes, broken pavement and other tire-sucking hazards that cyclists avoid at all costs. If the pavement in the bike lane is bad or full of debris, the rider will cycle in the travel lane, defeating the purpose of the bike lane.
And finally, the bike lane markings (lines, bike symbols) will need refreshed periodically. So let's take a look at costs and challenges that have to be addressed with a traditional bike lane.
- Road Widening Cost (when required) - to install bike lane(s)
- Bike Lane Maintenance Costs - to ensure the lane will be used
- Intersection Hazard Challenge - strategy needed to address safety
The Shared-Use Lane
Interestingly, where shared-use lanes are possible, virtually all of the costs of the bike lane disappear. (With the exception of costs related to signs and refreshing bike sharrow markings, if the corridor is marked for shared-use.)
With cyclists riding in the travel lane, there is no need for sweeping maintenance. And safety at intersections is improved with bikes already sharing the lane as they approach and engage crossing traffic.
Summing Up the Options
In areas where shared-use lanes are possible (lower speed limits, lighter traffic density, etc.), they may in fact be a better option than the old-school bike lane.
Even when bike lanes are moved away from the gutter or road shoulder, there can be problems. Such as when they are placed in the door-zone alongside parked cars. This illustrates how bike lane placement requires careful consideration.
And perhaps explains the growing popularity of separated or protected bikeways, which do not necessarily suffer from the same drawbacks as traditional bike lanes. As long as all design aspects such as intersection safety are handled properly.
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Vehicularists & U.S. Bike Infrastructure
By Pete Medek - 7/12/15
Have you ever wondered why the U.S. is not among the world leading countries in bike infrastructure? For decades we've been playing catch-up to select european countries with the most advanced designs.
It's a bit like we're cavemen staring at a Picasso on a cave wall and scratching our heads. It takes us some time to understand and appreciate the design. And when we do, we're eager to paint some on our walls.
So how did it come to this? How did we get left so far behind?
A recent article by Marc Caswell has shed light on this subject and created much discussion among bike advocates.
In a nutshell, it says that in Davis, CA in 1967 advanced bike infrastructure was being implemented and further developed around the country. It claims, however, this development was successfully compromised by a minority of outspoken cyclists known as vehicularists, or vehicular cyclists. And that compromise led to "designs that treated the cyclist more like a motor vehicle than a human."
For those not familiar, vehicular cyclists are those who believe that one should ride a bike as one drives a car -- taking the lane as necessary, following all traffic laws and being predictable. They also believe that bike infrastructure is unnecessary and dangerous, that other cyclists can manage just fine on existing roads (with some training/education), just as they have.
And therein lies the problem. The majority of U.S. cyclists did not agree with this in 1967, nor do they agree today that bike infrastructure is unnecessary or dangerous. Furthermore, most cyclists are no more hard core messenger-types or vehicularists, than they are bike racers. As a result, they have not taken to the road in increasing numbers, until more recent times when better bike infrastructure has become available.
I think all cycling advocates can agree that more people on bikes is a good thing on so many levels. So let's chalk this up to a valuable history lesson learned. It's not only about being the most vocal at those public meetings. It's about advocating for the best and safest designs.
Because in the end we now know that properly designed bike infrastructure = more cyclists. And that's a big win for everyone who wants to ride.
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Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse
By Pete Medek - 7/2/16
As I watched a video that showed an Ohio Highway Patrol Officer harassing a bicyclist, I had a realization. But before I get to that, let's address what was happening in the video below.
The bicyclist was lawfully taking the lane, as permitted by Ohio law. The officer was giving commands to the rider that would have put him at greater risk, had he followed those commands. So he didn't. This is the drama that plays out.
I have watched a number of similar confrontations that didn't end so well. You may have watched some yourself. Where the law officer doesn't want to hear what the cyclist has to say, or can't fathom the possibility that any cyclist might actually know the law, or that he, the officer, could be in the wrong.
Here's an example where a Michigan officer not only doesn't understand the law, but decides that a hand signal given by a rider was offensive.
He tickets the cyclist who decides to fight the ticket and wins. Read more about that case here.
Ignorance of the Law
When I was growing up, we were taught basic life tenets in public school. One of those tenets was "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Fast forward to today and we find that ignorance of the law by law officers is not that uncommon. What's their excuse?
How much education officers receive obviously plays a crucial role. But if you don't know the laws well, how can you do a proper job of enforcing them? Answer: You can't.
In the case of the Highway Patrol, the organization that specializes in patrolling our roadways (among other things, of course), you'd think all laws pertaining to persons using these corridors -- bikes, peds, mopeds, etc. -- would be well understood. The video above demonstrates that this is not the case.
Hence there are police education programs that are intended to do what standard law enforcement education often does not, better inform law officers as to the law and legal rights of cyclists on public roadways.
Disobeying an Officer's Command
Perhaps due to this lack of education exhibited by some law officers, many advocacy groups are now encouraging cyclists to know the law, follow it, and stand up for their rights when confronted by law officers. I concur. But anyone doing so should fully understand the risks they are taking if / when they disobey an officer. There are countless videos online showing brutal consequences for some who take such a stand.
'When the Cop Says Stop' by Bob Mionske covers the subject thoroughly. Bob points out that "...If an officer believes that you are not complying with his orders, that can have potentially deadly results, even though the officer is wrong..."
I'm not going to get in a discussion about police brutality here. But it's worth noting that when a physical confrontation erupts, a rush of adrenaline will follow, often leading to dreadful results. There typically follows finger pointing at the officer, while few ever question the training that proceeded the event. And that training goes hand-in-hand with knowing the law. Again, if you don't know the law, you can't properly enforce it. And if you don't have adequate training, knowing the law does not guarantee a proper outcome.
Now for the realization I mentioned at the outset. When I first saw the highway patrol video, I realized the progress that has been made in civil rights.
In the old days, any confrontation between cyclist and cop was a simple matter of the policeman's word against the cyclist. With the widespread use of video, the civilian or cyclist is no longer instantly classified as the second class citizen.
And the legal use of such video has become common knowledge, though there are countless online videos depicting law enforcement officers trying to convince people to turn off their cameras or audio. Apparently for some officers, equal footing is not comfortable ground.
So, stand up for your rights when you ride, if you choose. Be knowledgeable and mount a camera or two on your bike. For you may be the next rider that helps to educate law enforcement officers that oversee our roadways. This is an important process. But understand that it is not without risk.
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Where Do Bicycles Belong?
By Matthew Stanfield - 4/18/13
[The following is a cross-post by permission from the author's website, "Field 9: architecture."]
This post is a bit of a departure from what i normally post. In an effort to be less detached and put more of a personal face to my Architecture practice, i have decided to include some non-architecture related posts. Of which this will be the first. For, in truth, in addition to being an Architect, i am a Father of seven, a cyclist / advocate, and gardner among other things.
I attended a Community Tune-Up event on Saturday, April 13 being hosted at a local Armory that is being repurposed as a community center. The event was wonderful, and we had a great turn out. There were several groups present including representatives of community gardens and the Armory Project. I was attending as part of Richland Moves, a bicycle / alternative transportation advocacy group, to help with the bike tune-up event. We had somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 bikes come through to get checked and adjusted by volunteer bike mechanics. The riders also received bike helmets and bike lights while supplies lasted. It was a very successful event all in all.
Naturally, i rode my bike the 1.75 miles from my home to the event with two of my children. As the law allows and even mandates, i was riding in the street. Herein lies the irony. As i was helping get ready for the event, a police officer came up and asked if he could have a word with me. So he took me aside and proceeded to reprimand me for not pulling off to the side of the road and waiting for the car to pass me. The law does not require that, as a vehicle on the road, i remove myself from the flow of traffic to allow faster moving vehicles to pass. Clearly this is a courtesy i could afford to motorists. In fact i often do, when it is appropriate, but i am not required too. I certainly will not put myself, or my children in danger to do so. When the lane is not wide enough for both the car and the cyclist, i am going to exercise my right to take the lane. Putting myself in a position such that the operator of the motor vehicle must consciously reckon with my presence and creating a buffer for myself as well as my children who were riding with me.
Apparently the driver of a car had called the police because i was exercising my rights with respect to the law and the driver did not like that. As i was riding in downtown on Fourth Street towards the Armory, this car rolled up behind me and started laying on their horn before they even had to slow down. The driver proceeded to follow me the remaining .75 miles or so to the Armory refusing to pass me and periodically laying on their horn. At one point, they apparently were yelling at me to get onto the sidewalk, though i could not hear exactly what they were saying (my son asked me if someone was telling us to get on the sidewalk). I can only conjecture what exactly happened, but it seems this driver followed me into the parking lot of the Armory, called the Police, and then waited around for the police to arrive so they could point out this dastardly law abider to the officer.
To be perfectly fair, the officer was rather pleasant about the whole thing despite what was likely my evident agitation, but he should never have even approached me. The conversation should have ended with him telling the driver of the car that i was perfectly within my rights as a vehicle on the road and warning the driver about harassing other vehicles on the road.
The definition of vehicle in Title 45 Ohio Revised Code includes bicycles so long as they have a wheel larger than 14? in diameter. It is true that local jurisdictions can regulate traffic (which includes bicycles). But according to 4511.07 of the Ohio Revised Code the local jurisdictions only have the right to regulate bicycles in such a way that it is consistent with regulations for other vehicles and such that bicycles are not prohibited on public streets or highways. So clearly the roads of Ohio are intended for use by bicycles. While there are many more laws that could be cited here, the final point i want to make is about impeding traffic. The police officer that pulled me aside had two main concerns. The first was for my safety. In which case he should have warned the driver of the car about harassing me. His second concern was that, as a user of the road, i am not allowed to impede traffic. Which is true. The problem is that i was not impeding traffic. Firstly the car could easily have passed me in the left lane had they so chosen to do. Secondly 4511.22 of the Ohio Revised Code, while prohibiting the operation of a vehicle at "unreasonably slow speeds", requires that the capabilities of the vehicle and its operator are considered in determining what constitutes an unreasonably slow speed.
I was not riding particularly slow. Maintaining a speed between 12 and 17 mph with two children is a reasonable speed for cycling.
If you would like to get involved with bicycle / pedestrian / alternate transport advocacy in Richland County, connect with Richland Moves on facebook.
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How NOT To Spoil A Great Trail Ride
By Pete Medek - 9/25/11
My visit to the Alum Creek Trail rekindled a pet peeve of mine: inadequate trail signage. While the Alum Creek Bikeway may be the whipping boy in today's blog, bear in mind that many Ohio trails typically fail in this regard at the present time.
[Update: 11/10/16 There are finally reports of new pavement markings being installed to properly mark the main bikeway.]
The efforts to clarify navigation along the Alum Creek Trail are both encouraging and disappointing. The existing signs show destinations and distances. The proverbial 'You Are Here!' maps give a larger perspective for mapless riders. This is worthwhile and done very well.
But the ball gets dropped for riders on the main bikeway. The signage doesn't allow new visitors to cruise by spurs and connectors fully confident of their direction of travel. And that's unfortunate, especially when you consider the money already spent on clarifying navigation.
The current signs may provide enough clues to figure out these confusing junctions. Perhaps all I needed to do was stop at every spur and look at the signs that were welcoming users from different directions. Signs that were facing away from me! But I had no interest in that. I wanted the information presented as I rode along, not as a puzzle to solve at each connector or spur.
I'll admit that I'm spoiled. I'm used to highway exit signs telling me everything I need to know about turn off options. Even residential roads that branch off or intersect with the lane I'm traveling on reveal different names, clearly distinguishing themselves. Is it so hard to sign a trail to accomplish the same thing?
No. We can fix this... quite easily, in fact. The trail already has most of the needed signs in place. Now it's a just a matter of adding the missing element.
A Simple Fix
Trails offer the opportunity for elegant, simple solutions. Like this one: Why not distinguish the main trail with an identifier? Paint a bold "ACT" (Alum Creek Trail) or "ACB" (Alum Creek Bikeway) onto the main trail surface near any spur junction. The paint grabs your attention, as signs do, and should be equally effective.
Or, existing markings could be used instead. As I was riding north from Three Creeks Park, I began searching for clues that would keep me on the main trail. I noticed that initially, directional arrows were painted on the main trail near spur junctions. Thinking this may have been done deliberately to distinguish the main trail, I began following them. Unfortunately, the pattern was later broken.
It's understandable that most locals have no navigation woes on trails on or near their home turf. They know the area well and have no need for signs. As a result, many bikeways leave them out because they miss the obvious, the visitors' perspective.
However, paying someone to design signs (and workers to install them) should produce acceptable results for all users. Theoretically they're paid to do a proper job, so some thought should go into the process, no?
Today more people are beginning to view Ohio bikeways as the alternative transportation routes for which they were intended. Isn't it high time we signed them accordingly?
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