An experiment in bike infrastructure

Cities would be better off if bikes replaced cars for short trips for most residents. Bikes need less space and less infrastructure, they don’t emit the combustion byproducts that create both health problems and smelly/gritty air, they save us cash on fuel, they save us even more on health care costs (a Portland study found that the city saves 5 dollars on avoided health care costs for every dollar it spends on bike infrastructure), they cut noise pollution, and as most people who experiment with bike commuting find out, they’re just pleasant. When bike to work I arrive more alert, happy, and relaxed than when I drive, which makes sense because you know, exercise.

Bike advocates see bikes lanes as key to getting us on our bikes, because the huge metal cockroaches of our cities (some people call them cars – is my bias showing?) are dangerous to bicyclists and bike lanes provide a critical buffer.

I’m not sure though. The way bike lanes are usually set up, they cause problems, because they leave cars and bikes in close proximity where they get in each other’s way, especially if there are a few drivers or bicyclists who don’t take care to respect each others’ space. A few morons can ruin everything.

So I have an idea: a way to experiment with an alternative way to accommodate bikes in cities. I emphasize experiment. It’s something that a city can try for a week or two and abandon at minimal cost if it doesn’t work out.

Here’s the idea in a few easy steps:

  1. City government identifies a two-way street that runs the length of the city and doesn’t have too much traffic.
  2. It places a temporary barrier down the middle of the street.
  3. One side of the street becomes a one-way street for cars.
  4. The other side becomes a bicycle highway.
  5. Caveat: the city has to put gaps in the barrier so that people who normally park their cars in parking garages or whatnot on the bike-side of the street can still get out. Choice of street is probably critical here. There also needs to be some traffic management so that the flow of bikes can be stopped when a car needs to get out. For the experiment, it could simply be volunteers who are interested in the experiment managing traffic manually. Maybe. I don’t know. Getting this part right is the trickiest part and I hope the good traffic engineers of the world will know what to do.

I’m not smart enough to know whether it’ll work, but it’s worth trying. If it fails, it won’t have cost much and city planners will probably learn stuff. If it works, then we have a new, validated method to accommodate bikes that keep cars and bikes more separate than our current system does. Low cost experimentation is the bomb (says this former scientist).

Notes on marketing

  1. When presenting the project to residents, cities should emphasize its experimental nature so that residents know that they can kill it if it sucks.
  2. Cities should also run “get out the bike” campaigns so that residents actually use the bike highway during the experiment.

Good idea? Terrible idea?

Alternative bonus idea: if Chicago can put a whole train on elevated tracks, it seems within the realm of possibility to make an elevated bike highway. Is it? I would give up my firstborn child for such a thing, and my mother (sorry mom).

From the Sea

Posted March 10, 2012 in Smashing Ideas | No Comments on An experiment in bike infrastructure


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