Why I can’t be arsed to support a cycletrack on SW 12th

True to my blogging history, let’s start with a linguistics digression: “can’t be arsed” is my favorite British phrase. It means “can’t be bothered”, but is somewhat less polite.

I can’t be arsed to support a cycletrack on SW 12th. I can’t really be arsed to oppose it, either, because who wants to oppose bike infrastructure? So I’ve been keeping quiet. But it looks like this debate is heating up and may be worth weighing in on.

Here’s the thing:

Cycletracks are a good facility type for improving cycling safety and comfort when used to protect cycle traffic from heavy or fast-moving motor vehicle traffic and create more space for cycling. But downtown traffic doesn’t move quickly, thanks to signal timing that has a progression speed of 12-16mph.  A person riding downhill can easily keep up with traffic downtown (I’ve ridden from Jefferson to Alder on 6th without even turning a pedal when I hit the lights right), and relatively fit cyclists can keep up on the flats as well. And SW 12th apparently doesn’t have heavy motor vehicle traffic (note the line in the document mentioning “underutilized capacity”), which is one reason this cycletrack is considered a good “demonstration” candidate. Put another way, it’s a good cycletrack candidate because it’s not really necessary.

But if it’s not necessary, why spend money, time, and effort on it? And why is it that one of our criteria for a good cycletrack opportunity — that it not necessitate removal of currently “needed” motor vehicle capacity — almost entails that the facility not be necessary? That implies that we’ll never install cycletracks where they’re most needed, like Broadway between NE 21st and SW Clay. That’s a cycletrack I’d be all over supporting, because the current bike lane is a complete death trap of dooring hazards, right-hooks, regular parking, valet parking, deliveries, taxis, school buses, potholes, and jaywalking pedestrians. Anything for actual dedicated space on Broadway, I would do. You want me to demonstrate outside City Hall at 3pm on a rainy Tuesday for that? I’m there. You want me to wear a clown hat and do a headstand in the mayor’s office? Ask and ye shall receive.* But ask me to support a cycletrack on SW 12th, and I’m all, eh, whatever.

I can think of a few reasons why it’s less silly than it seems:

  • In the future, traffic (both car and bicycle) is expected to increase. At some point, there may be heavier traffic on SW 12th (the PBA apparently thinks that’ll be soon), and people will then appreciate the separated space.
  • Despite the fact that it’s easy to keep up with cars when cycling downtown and so it’s a good place for a shared space model, there is still a population of people who find cycling downtown uncomfortable or scary. These people might be attracted to 12th by a new cycletrack, and feel more comfortable riding downtown. Peter Furth and Roger Geller discussed this at PSU last Friday when Roger asked what level of traffic stress Furth would consider downtown streets to be. The answer (based on the muttering around the room) was unclear, but I would say most of them are LTS 3 (appropriate for the enthused and confident) due to width, occasionally heavy volume (including lots of trucks), and complexity of driving behavior, even though they should be only LTS 2 (appropriate for most adults) based on speeds. Adding a cycletrack would make a downtown street LTS 1 or 2.
  • PBOT needs practice installing cycletracks where turns are allowed before they do a badly-needed project such as a cycletrack on Broadway that’s important to get right. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a reasonable idea.

I can also think of a few reasons why it’s more silly than it seems:

  • On the other hand of the first argument, if bike traffic increases more than expected, then confining it to a cycletrack could be negative (this is a known issue in places like Copenhagen). Shared space allows bikes to be wherever they need to be.
  • SW 12th isn’t a great through-routing choice, in my opinion (although Ian and the BTA disagree). SW 14th is only two blocks over and has a bike lane that goes all the way through NW. 12th rather peters out around Davis where it becomes a two-way street with lots of stop signs. It also has exposed old trolley tracks in that area, which are hazardous.
  • SW 12th is downhill, which means it’s one of the easier streets for people to keep up with cars on. Installing a cycletrack on an uphill street would provide greater value.
  • It’s time to move past demonstration projects and get serious about installing cycletracks where we need them — on streets like Burnside, Sandy, and Broadway. Or how about MLK and Grand, or 11th and 12th? Amsterdam and Copenhagen have done it, NYC has done it, DC has done it, and Chicago has done it. Are we really going to screw it up so badly we need to practice first, even with all those lovely examples?

There are also genuine issues worth considering with regard to process and implementation. For example, cycletracks limit mid-block turning movements in ways that neither shared space nor (buffered) bike lane separation would. Mid-block turns are important for business accessibility, especially in areas where riding on the sidewalk is not permitted. This is an area where I think PBA’s concerns could be legitimate, although in my opinion they are probably concerned for the wrong reasons. We know a lot about whether bikes are good for business (yes) but not a lot about how cycletracks affect that, as there aren’t as many businesses along Broadway in the PSU cycletrack segment. N Williams will be using a buffered bike lane treatment, so that won’t help us learn about cycletracks and business accessibility issues either. Or general accessibility issues; at least one advocate I respect has raised questions about this in the past.

PBA also raises questions about evaluation that I think are legitimate if we consider this a demonstration project. The cycletrack and buffered bike lanes were evaluated by researchers at PSU, who came up with some suggested changes to the implementation. But I’m not aware of any changes made as a result of the evaluation, or whether there was a specific set of criteria that, if not met, would trigger changes (either improvement or removal). The buffered lanes have some issues, as Jonathan has documented, and if I were inclined to be opposed to this project (as the PBA apparently is) then I would definitely want to know how to avoid that happening here. As I’m not inclined to oppose it, it still leaves me where I started out: shrugging and saying “Eh, whatever.”

* But all I ever hear is that all that capacity on Broadway is needed, so it’s impossible to do anything. What ever happened to induced demand and disappearing traffic?

3 thoughts on “Why I can’t be arsed to support a cycletrack on SW 12th

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    May 24, 2012 at 7:43pm

    Why not? Seriously, I’d do almost anything for improvements on SW Broadway.

Leave a Reply

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required.