Sunday, May 5, 2013

The CT DOT does Good. Sometimes.

The CT DOT held a public info and comment session this past Tuesday to present the planned road diet for Burnside Avenue (AKA Rt 44).  There was a healthy showing of residents, bike commuters, DOT staff, City of East Hartford folks, and transportation planners in attendance.  The explanation put forth for the current abominable configuration of Burnside with two lanes each way, down the crowded gauntlet of neighborhoods and flanking local businesses, is that the road layout hearkens to a time before I-84.  The lanes were needed to carry the higher traffic flow of that era.  Curiously in the new design, with dedicated left turn lanes at many intersections, the transportation planning models predict a higher carrying capacity than before.  A lane in each direction will be dropped, and replaced with a bike lane.  Most of the allowed street parking along the curb will be preserved.  In my experience the street parking on Burnside is intermittent, almost never a line of cars.  Just one-sy, two-sy.

Parking is an important consideration because for the length of Burnside the CT DOT is planning on a minimum of 7 foot wide parking with a 5 foot wide bike lane.  That puts much of the bike lane into the door zone.  7' & 5' is the bare minimum, and 8' & 6' is a much better configuration.  That said, projects like this can die on the table due to parking wars.  I wasn't going to push the issue.  The design will be a leaps and bounds improvement over the current arrangement.  Racing traffic will be calmed by the single lane, slightly narrower than before (11' instead of 12').  Pedestrians will have a shorter and therefore safer crossing distance.  Cyclists will have a designated lane for the full length of Burnside from Main Street all the way to the Manchester line, where a very wide berm will take its place.

This is really exciting!  The CT DOT and the City of East Hartford are hoping the Burnside design is contagious.  One can only hope that a Complete Streets design finds its way onto Main Street through downtown East Hartford.   That stretch can be harrowing during morning or evening rush hour.  East Hartford wants to have a livable, walkable,  bikable downtown and rightly understands that it has to do something productive with the wide and dangerous state highways that presently cut it to pieces.

How do we, as ordinary folks with day jobs, get more smart projects like this in the pipeline?  Some suggestions.   Become a member of your regional or state bicycle advocacy organization.  Infrastructure projects take 5's and 10's of years to get implemented.  You need to think and plan your action on a suitably long time scale.  Build relationships with your legislators and key folks at the DOT.  Increase the number of bike commuters and vocal advocates by supporting bike to work programs and commuter education programs.  Grow support in the community via bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees that work with the city council, mayor, and public works department.  Be consistent in your message and don't give up.  Not every project will fall the way of Complete Streets, but a growing and inherently beneficial message will stick enough times to make a difference.

Speaking of building on numbers of bike commuters, May is appropriately tagged as National Bike Month.  Bike Walk Connecticut is coordinating numerous Bike to Work breakfast events in cities across the state.  Most of the events are on Friday, May 17th, including downtown Hartford in front of the Old State House from 7AM to 9AM.  There are meetups coming into Hartford on the 17th from nearby East Hartford and far flung Cheshire and Willimantic.  You can pledge online to bike to work which will enter you into the raffle for some bike swag.  If you are obsessively competitive, you can bring that compulsion to your commute with the National Bike Challenge.  Most importantly, since I'm preaching to the converted, you can do the most good by spreading the word.  Invite your friends, co-workers, and send a note out to your cycling club.

On Thursday, May 23rd there is a stand alone Bike to Work breakfast in East Hartford from 6:30AM to 8:30AM at the corner of Main Street and Ensign.  Pay attention.  I'm organizing this one.  Show up and I'll feel better about myself and the bleak future of our car-centric world.  Pratt & Whitney has teamed up with Goodwin College and American Eagle Federal Credit Union to bring this event back to our near burb East of the River.  You don't have to work for P&W or be associated with Goodwin to attend.


Tony Guy said...

Bad plan, Bad engineering, Bad for cyclists.

Most of the bike lane will not be usable due to door zone created by parked cars. Cyclists would be foolish to operate in the door zone, where impact with just the very edge of the door with the end of a handlebar will cock the handlebars right, tipping the bike and rider left into the traffic lane.

Unable to use the full bike lane, the 11 ft lane and the 1-2 feet of bike lane create a lane which is too narrow to legally share "abreast". Knowledgeable cyclists should take the lane, which will not be well received with a painted bike lane on the road.

The bike lanes also continue thru the intersections suggesting that cyclists should not use the left edge of the travel lane to turn left, that right turning cars should not use the rightmost portion of the roadway to turn right, and encourgae cyclists to pass slowing or stopped cars on the right and risk getting right turned, hit by pedestrians, or hit by oncoming cars making a left turn into the numerous driveways and intersections.

The bike lane is not for the exclusive use of cyclists as every driveway, intersection, bus stop and delivery vehicle has the right to use it, cross it, and cyclists will not be visible operating on it.

Bike lanes such as this are being removed in the city of San Francisco (and being replaced with Sharrows) where accidents and deaths from riding in the door zone have exceeded other causes of accidents. New bike lanes established in San Francisco include a 5 foot buffer alongside parked vehicles.

The state has designated a space for cyclists to ride which motorists don't want because because of the open door / pedestrian risk. Foolish to think it is a benefit. Most accidents are from turning / crossing traffic, for which bike lanes offer no protection and even complicate intersections. The risk of being struck from behind is more imagined than real.

Tony C said...

Tony Guy - I don't entirely disagree with you. There is probably a better layout for Burnside. The door zone issue is a real issue.

That said, I think the design the CT DOT has proposed is still hugely improved over the current design. The door zone risk was already there and unfortunately wasn't addressed in the redesign.

Although you and I may be comfortable (and experienced) as purely vehicular cyclists, its important to remember that the large majority of bike commuters, and potential newbies, are not. They want bike lanes and appreciate the perceived safety. If we ever want to get more than 1% mode share we need those folks.

Baby steps.

Tony C said...

And sometimes the CT DOT sucks.