PROS AND CONS OF BIKE LANES – 15 years ago

Just found this encapsulated in one of Michael Bluejay’s constellation of web pages and thought I should copy it back here since I wrote it… and it holds true today just as much as in the early aughts. I sure did like numbered lists back then, huh?

Source: https://bicycleuniverse.info/bicycle-lanes-no-brainer/

PROS AND CONS OF BIKE LANES

There are no good studies proving that bike lanes or wide curb lanes are better than the other. ALL theories you hear on which one is better are resting on somebody’s opinion. [Updated, Feb. 2007: A few months ago, a study did come out which claimed to show a non-trivial safety enhancement for marked bike lanes vs. wide curb lanes.]

then some more text by me:

I’m one of the people who thinks we overprescribe bike lanes, but it bugs me that so many Forsterites are so hostile to them in general. Both bike lanes and wide curb lanes have their place.

I’m operating under the assumption that we’re comparing bike lanes to wide curb lanes; not narrow curb lanes. The theory that we can reengineer the 98% of Austin that needs it to a grid pattern like Hyde Park where we don’t need EITHER facility is just ludicrous.

My general feeling on when bike lanes are appropriate:

  1. Where there are lots of inexperienced bicyclists
  2. Where speed differential is fairly high
  3. Where volume of bicyclists is very high

My general feeling on when wide curb lanes are appropriate:

  1. Where speed differential is lower
  2. Where bicycle volume (all types) is moderate to low

Where not to put bike lanes:

  1. Low-speed or congested roadways where turning volume is very high
  2. Residential streets (NOTE: DESPITE NEIGHBORHOOD MISREPRESENTATIONS, “RESIDENTIAL STREET” IS A CATEGORY OF ROADWAY SEVERAL LEVELS BELOW SHOAL CREEK BOULEVARD).
  3. Where they can’t be swept or otherwise maintained
  4. Where you can’t commit to “no parking”.

Things I believe that are PROs for bike lanes:

  1. Bike lanes attract new cyclists; wide curb lanes do not. I think this is self-evident. Patrick agreed, and so do most people who actually work in the field (not the people who commute and criticize; but the people who are paid to try to increase cycling in their particular city).
  2. No amount of education so far has been able to match up against the bike lane stripe as a way to get people out on their bikes. Of course, this may be a good thing if you think we don’t need more uneducated cyclists out there.
  3. You can’t attract new cyclists to a road like Jollyville without a bike lane stripe. Period. The automobile traffic moves too fast. A wide curb lane simply doesn’t provide the space that new cyclists think they need in a way which makes sense to them, coming from the world of the automobile. (We don’t make the right-hand lane up a hill twice as wide so trucks can pull to the side; we stripe another lane).
  4. If you accept riding on shoulders on 360, you should accept riding in bike lanes on Jollyville. The argumentative convulsions some Forsterites go through to defend shoulders from the same logic they use against bike lanes are breathtaking. (They do this, I think, because they know that even most Forsterites don’t want to share a lane at 65; the same anti-bike-lane reasoning with a few exceptions would logically apply to shoulder-riding).
  5. Most cyclists for whom bike facilities are built are not the expert cyclists that you and I might be. They are instead the novice cyclist that I used to be (and presumably you used to be).
  6. Even on low-speed roadways, utility for the population AS A WHOLE sometimes demands the channelization of low-speed traffic. For instance, Speedway and Duval north of UT – car speeds are 25-30; bike speeds are 10; this isn’t normally enough speed differential to justify separation, but the volumes of cars and bikes are both high, and the corridor’s thoroughput for both cars AND bikes is thus improved by partial separation of the modes.
  7. (this is from the link I gave a few days ago) – it is possible to have a better average passing distance on a roadway with a wide curb lane, but still have a better overall level of safety in passing distance with a bike lane. Whether this happens in practice is debatable – but it is a fact that you shouldn’t use “average passing distance” to compare the facilities.
  8. The idea (stolen from a semi-Forsterite) that we can easily get roads restriped with wide curb lanes is in reality not true. If you want space for bikes to be taken from car lanes, it generally has to be a bike lane. (I don’t know why this is, but it seems to be true, although Austin has an exception or two here).

CONS for bike lanes

  1. Car drivers do tend to think you need to stay in the bike lane (even when obstructed, unsafe, whatever – they usually can’t see the obstruction). Also, car drivers often think you should only ride on roads that have bike lanes. This problem exists with wide curb lanes too, by the way.
  2. Bike lanes are theoretically more obstructed than wide curb lanes. I don’t believe this to be true, but most people do, so I’m listing it here. For instance, Bull Creek doesn’t seem any less obstructed north of 45th where there are wide curb lanes. In Austin, at least, BOTH facilities need vast amounts of sweeping which they’re just not getting.
  3. Sometimes cyclists will stay in a bike lane when they need to leave it due to an obstruction or intersection approach. This is a sign of bad bike lane design in most cases and can be overcome, but is hard to get right, judging from how often it’s done wrong.
  4. Sometimes cyclists will stay in a bike lane when they should be leaving it to turn (the “turn left out of the far right lane” phenomenon). The problem here is that I see this happen on wide curb lanes fairly often as well. The only solution here is heavy enforcement.
  5. Bike lanes supposedly encourage wrong-way cycling. (Whatever happened to painting arrows, by the way? Jollyville didn’t get them…) – again, I see this often with wide curb lanes too. Heavy enforcement and more arrows.

Letter to Chronicle about FC

Just sent this:


Many well-intentioned people, including most of the staff of the Chronicle, advised Central Austinites to hold their nose and vote "yes" on the All Systems Go commuter rail plan, despite the fact that it goes nowhere near existing and proposed residential density, and nowhere near minor employment centers like the University of Texas or the Capitol Complex (to say nothing of most of downtown). In fact, the pro-rail-transit but anti-stupid-rail position fell all the way down to me, whose sole qualification was serving on the UTC for a few years. I was attacked quite viciously for daring to suggest that perhaps the right response was to vote No, as in "No, this isn't the right rail plan; come back with something like the 2000 plan, scaled back to get us over the top".

Well, now, the other shoe has dropped. The "Future Connections Study", on which those credulous folks based their hopes for adding back rail for central Austin, has released their draft technology review, which has now ruled out any mode requiring a reserved guideway. Meaning: no light rail; no bus rapid transit. You get either a shuttle bus or a streetcar; but either way you're going to be stuck in the same traffic you would be if you just drove.

More on my blog at: (blog link)

The majority of the pro-transit establishment owes Austin an immediate apology for being part of this snowjob.

More Future Connections Stuff Is Up

The “Library” has a bunch of documents up from the most recent set of meetings for the Future Connections study, i.e., the “let’s pretend like we considered rail to get central Austin off our back for screwing them with a commuter rail plan that doesn’t go anywhere near them or minor destinations like UT and the Capitol Complex” exercise.

I’m only partway through and don’t have time for full analysis now, but I will note that it is disappointing (but not surprising) that NONE of the objectives for this service include the simple one:
make it MORE ATTRACTIVE to ride transit than it is today, i.e., close at least some of the gap between the private automobile and public transportation in one or more of the following: (reliability, speed, comfort).

These guys still don’t get it – you can’t just rest your hopes on build it and they’ll come; you also have to make sure that what you build is GOOD. And shuttle buses operating in mixed traffic aren’t “good” unless you’re somebody who can’t afford their own car. Capital Metro already owns all of THAT market.
Update: One thing I notice is that in the Draft Technologies Report, they have already eliminated light rail and any other technology which uses a reserved guideway. I have to admit I’m not surprised at this decision (which I believe was made before this study even started), but AM surprised at the speed at which they’ve come to admit it semi-publically.

Can YOU spot the right corridor for rail?

A photographic exercise by M1EK. All pictures obtained from the 9/24/05 Future Connections steering committee presentation.




This is a bit misleading since it makes it look like Hyde Park and the neighborhoods around Airport Blvd are equally suitable for rail transit – the problem is that you can’t walk to stations along Airport from any residential developments of consequence; the area is fairly pedestrian-hostile.
Note that all of the existing and future high-density residential and employment centers are going to be served by “high-frequency circulators”, i.e., shuttle buses stuck in traffic. While the incredibly important Airport Boulevard corridor gets rail. Here’s one example of a circulator movement they envision; this one is planted right on Speedway near my house. Note: there’s already high-frequency bus service to campus and downtown on this street, so it’s doubtful they’ll be doing anything here other than publicity:

Now, for comparison’s sake, I took the two 2017 maps, and using my awesome drawing skills, drew the 2000 light rail proposal, in blue. The jog from the Guadalupe corridor over to Congress Avenue might have happened as far north as 11th; I chose 9th as a compromise. Some versions even had it running around the Capitol on both sides — but this is a simpler drawing that still hits all the same major spots. A short distance north of this map, the 2000 light rail line would have converged with the red “All Systems Go” line and continued northwest on existing rail right-of-way towards Howard Lane, so this picture captures most of the “difference” between the proposals.



Gosh, which one would have a better chance at delivering ridership? I really can’t tell the difference. I guess Lyndon IS right – this commuter rail plan IS just as good as light rail!

You don’t get TOD with buses (or commuter rail)

I still have the RealVideo from the City Council Meeting up (was following the Shoal Creek debacle) and there’s a well-meaning guy from Oak Hill trying to get the Council to approve a TOD out there on a Rapid Bus line. Time to dispel a few illusions:

  1. You don’t get TOD without the perception of permanence. Rapid Bus ain’t it. Even BRT ain’t it. Only rail works. People don’t buy into a development where getting to their cars is expensive or inconvenient UNLESS the transit alternative is clearly going to be there for the long-haul. Buses’ infamous “flexibility” works against them here.
  2. You don’t get TOD with commuter rail. You need frequent headways (which this line won’t have) and one-stop rides to some major destinations (which this line won’t have). So even on our commuter rail line, TOD ain’t gonna happen.

What CAN you put on the ground to stimulate TOD? Something like our 2000 light rail plan (which would have been a one-stop ride from northwest Austin through the center-city to UT, the Capitol, and downtown) works, in city after city after city after city after city. Subways and monorails would work too – there’s no chance those rails are going away next year. Buses don’t. Not even fancy buses with nice signs at their stops which tell you how much delayed your next bus is since it’s stuck in traffic behind everybody else’s car.

It’s Not Light Rail

Many people, including Lyndon Henry (who of all people ought to know better) are continuing the misleading practice of calling Capital Metro’s All Systems Go plan “light rail” or “light rail like” or “light ‘commuter’ rail”, etc. This has done its job – most laypeople continue to call what ASG’s building “light rail” even though it couldn’t be further from the truth.

So a couple of days ago, a story showed up in Kansas City extolling the virtues of what turns out to be a similar “Rapid Bus” plan to the one being foisted on Central Austin as our reward for rolling over for Mike Krusee. The lightrailnow.org site which is at least somewhat affiliated with Lyndon has often published vigorous attacks on efforts to sell “rapid bus” schemes as “as good as rail” to the public. Lyndon was angry at this Kansas City effort, and I replied with a reminder that the politicking of himself and Dave Dobbs helped get the same exact thing for central Austin by his support of the ASG plan. Lyndon replied with his typical ASG cheerleading, and I just sent this in response:

— In LightRail_Now@yahoogroups.com, Nawdry wrote:
>Instead, it passed, and we have a rail project under way and
planning for additional rail transit installations now under way.
What we have underway is a commuter rail line which doesn’t and will NEVER go near the major activity centers of the region, doesn’t and will NEVER go near the major concentrations of residential density in the region, and doesn’t and will NEVER get enough choice commuters out of their cars to provide enough public support for expansions of the system.
What we have underway are some lukewarm half-hearted plans for expanding that rail network if Union Pacific can be convinced to leave their freight line behind, but, of course, it will all be moot, since the original line will be such a debacle that we’ll never get to the expansions.
This is a “one and done” line.
It skips the Triangle. It skips West Campus. It skips Hyde Park. It skips North University. It skips the Capitol. It skips the University. It skips most of downtown. It does not provide any service to the neighborhoods in Austin that most WANTED rail in 2000, nor will it EVER do so (even if the entire ASG plan is built).
It is NOT ANYTHING LIKE LIGHT RAIL. I don’t know how you can sit there and claim that it is. I know you’re not stupid, and had hoped you weren’t a liar.
_HOUSTON_ built light rail. _DALLAS_ built light rail. _PORTLAND_ and _DENVER_ and _SALT LAKE_ and _MINNEAPOLIS_ built light rail.
This plan is NOTHING like what they built. For you and Dave Dobbs to continue to call it light rail is dishonest, bordering on maliciously false.
What DOES it do? It goes past suburban park-and-rides (as the light rail plan would have). It allows fairly easy access to stations for the far suburbanites who LEAST wanted rail. It requires that all of those passengers, who are the MOST SKEPTICAL about transit, to transfer to SHUTTLE BUSES at the end of their journey if they want to go anywhere worth going.
There is zero chance that this line will garner substantial ridership, and thus, voting for this plan doomed Austin to no additional rail for a very long time, since it will have been ‘proven’ that rail ‘doesn’t work’.
As for your claims that Rapid Bus isn’t being sold here, bull. It was featured in the paper just a week or two ago, and is the ONLY service improvement being provided to the parts of Austin that want, and in any other city, would have gotten rail.
Mike Dahmus
Disgusted At Lyndon’s Dishonesty

Lessons from the Shoal Creek debacle

Michael Bluejay, who runs the largest and most comprehensive site on bicycling in Austin, wrote a letter which appears in this week’s Chronicle. The letter refers to the infamous Shoal Creek debacle.

Lessons can be learned here.

Lesson 1: Don’t bet against Mike Dahmus. He’ll lose, but he’ll be right. :+) This comment comes from an anonymous contributor whose missive is stored for posterity on Michael’s site on the Shoal Creek debacle:

I am dismayed that Mike Dahmus was so damned right about this whole debacle from the very beginning. Although originally, I was very hopeful that a community consensus could be reached that could benefit everyone (and possibly even improve relations amongst the diverse users of SCB), I see now that I was completely naive. What we have now is little better than what we had originally: parking in bike lanes. I’m still hopeful that traffic will be a little calmer, but I doubt that drivers will remain in their lanes, and cyclists riding near the stripe will be at risk of being struck.
Any possibility that a mutually beneficial result could emerge from a consensus-based process — however slight — was completely dashed when the whole process was hijacked by Paul Nagy. There was a point where Gandy had hood-winked everyone into thinking a panacea solution existed, when he should have known better that his “solution” would never make it past city engineers. (I actually don’t feel bad at being deceived by this snake oil, as so many others — except Dahmus — were also taken in, including many from the bike community.) I place full blame for that on Gandy for playing politics by trying to please everyone when it’s clear that that is impossible. We hired him as an “expert,” and clearly he is not.

Lesson 2: Don’t negotiate away your core positions. On Shoal Creek, car-free bike lanes should have been non-negotiable. (They were, for me).

Lesson 3: Don’t dig yourself in a hole. The Shoal Creek neighbors successfully (against my vote) got Shoal Creek downgraded to a residential collector (from a minor arterial) which then made it easier for them to make misleading claims like “this is a residential street so we have to have on-street parking on both sides of the street”. (“residential collector” is not the same thing as “residential street” in technical terms – the former is expected to maintain traffic flow and access over parking). Shoal Creek is, by objective measures, a minor arterial (it’s almost 5 miles from 38th st to Foster, the length which was downgraded; and has no intersections where cross-traffic does not stop or have a light). So in an effort to be nice, the UTC supported the downgrade, which made it easier later on to mislead some people into thinking that restricting parking on the road was an unreasonable imposition.

Applications to the current commuter rail situation:

1. Obvious. :+)

2. Non-negotiable positions should be that at least one and preferrably two major employment attractors should be reached within walking distance without a transfer. IE, no change to shuttle-bus; no change to streetcars. Center-city folks should have fought Capital Metro when it came to running rail down corridors where people wanted it in ’00 rather than where Mike Krusee wants it in ’04. This is the most critical error in my estimation – people who really want rail to succeed in Austin got snookered into thinking that they could negotiate it with Capital Metro when Capital Metro already had its own non-negotiable position (i.e. do what Mike Krusee wants). The result was: no rail to Mueller; no rail to Seaholm; transfers to all major attractors; no service in the center-city residential areas.

3. Mike Krusee won here, big-time. Capital Metro’s allies should have fought the early election he forced in 2000 (making CM go to the polls with a rail plan they weren’t really ready to discuss – they hadn’t even figured out what streets it would run on downtown yet; they were clearly shooting for a timeframe of May 2001 or so until Krusee wrote the infamous bill).

Now, for the big finish:

What damage was done?

This isn’t a silly question. There are those who think that the Shoal Creek debacle didn’t do any harm, since we started out wth parked cars in bike lanes and are ending up with parked cars in marked shoulders.

Damage in the Shoal Creek case: Precedent was set that car-free bike lanes can be vetoed by neighborhoods. The previous bike coordinator had already made it city policy not to build new (or support existing) bike lanes on residential streets; and it was commonly understood BEFORE this debacle that any city changes to collectors and arterials would, while soliciting neighborhood INPUT, NOT be subject to an implicit VETO. IE, collectors and especially arterials serve the needs of far more than the immediate residents.

Now, not so much. Notice that Michael correctly points out that the media now thinks the SCB process was a model of new consensus-based charette-including everybody-holding-hands everybody-won neighborhoods-centric bike-friendly delicious-candy-flavored planning that resulted in sunshine and butterflies for all.

In addition, at the city level, because so many smart people in the bicycle community were part of this process (snookered by it, you might say), the city thinks that the end-result was what the cyclists and the neighbors wanted. Basically, the cycling community (except yours truly) is now implicitly linked to this plan, in the minds of the people who matter.

In short: their names are on this piece of garbage.

As for commuter rail – the same lesson holds. The groups who lobbied so hard to work WITH Capital Metro before the final ballot proposal was set were fighting very hard for some minor improvements to the ASG plan, but made it clear from the beginning that they’d support it anyways. Now, these center-city groups are linked to this plan irrevocably – if I’m right, and it doesn’t attract riders, then they’ll have been on the record as supporting a plan which will have been found to be a stupid failure. Do you think that’ll affect their future credibility?

Don’t sign on to something you can’t support. The end.

First pro-rail lie of the campaign

I had hoped the pro-rail guys wouldn’t sink to the depths of the ROAD wingnuts from the ’00 election, but am rapidly being disabused of that notion.

From the news page of New Ways To Connect, the pro-commuter-rail PAC:

Q. What does the Urban Commuter Rail Line do for the Central City?
Transit supports pedestrian-friendly communities. Eight of the nine stops are in the City of Austin ; five of these are in the Central City. It provides the backbone of a system that includes nine stations where commuters can connect to fast shuttle service to get to popular destinations around Austin . In addition, Capital Metro’s All System’s Go proposal calls for more bus and express bus routes, as well as the introduction of 133 miles of new rapid bus technology to help get people to popular destinations quickly. There are advantages for the entire community.

Rebuttal:

NONE of the stops are near high-density residential areas commonly referred to as the central city (NO, AIRPORT BOULEVARD IS NOT CENTER-CITY AUSTIN). NONE of the stops are in pedestrian-oriented areas. NONE of the stops are in areas which have indicated through neighborhood planning that they are willing to accept additional infill (in fact, the stations in what passes for dense areas in this plan are in neighborhoods which are vigorously fighting infill). NONE of the stops are within walking distance of the biggest pockets of transit-oriented development in this city both present and future (Mueller, West Campus, Triangle, Hyde Park, 38th corridor).

Rapid Bus is nothing more than modest improvements to existing Limited service on the true urban corridor (Guadalupe/Congress). It’s not what ANYBODY asked for. Shuttles aren’t “quick”; they’re stuck in traffic just like existing buses. And requiring people to transfer in order to get anywhere useful (which this system does) does not attract people who can choose whether or not to drive.

This is almost, but not quite, as bad as the ’00 ads run by Skaggs and Company which misled voters into thinking that Capital Metro was still under a cloud with the Feds (by putting up old Statesman articles while not making it clear how old they were).