Navigating the Nuances

Al Brody

Bike Routes when designated correctly, are low traffic, low speed (Often 25 mph but not more than 30 mph) streets where many cyclists should feel comfortable sharing the street with motorized vehicles.   Bike routes are often on residential streets with many driveways and many trees.   Driveways don’t have stop or yield signs, they can also have severely limited sight distances due to trees, walls, fences, and shrubs which means driveway users may enter the street blindly and sometimes mindlessly - often expecting or hoping that there is nothing near them when they enter their low traffic street.
Because of the low traffic and low speed, these streets are often neglected when it comes to surface maintenance.  Expect potholes, uneven seams often in the very space where cyclists ride, and chip seal - a surface treatment used to extend the life of the road surface.  Unfortunately chip seal can work like a meat grinder should you fall on it.   Debris, leaves, snow, ice, and chemical spills such as motor oil can add to the challenge.   Residential streets are often crowned (higher in the center than the sides) to facilitate storm water drainage.  Riding on a crowned street is similar to riding on an off camber turn which can severely reduce traction and cause the bike to slide to the curb while the rider is steering straight.   Sometimes it is safer to ride closer to or in the center of these streets.  The best bike facilities intentionally eliminate the crown.  Bike Blvds. limit cyclist’s lane position choices.  It is ALWAYS your prerogative as a road user to move to a safer location on the road but be aware that other road users may question your choice and may express their dissatisfaction.   

Bike Lanes when designated correctly highlight a 4 - 5+ foot wide portion of the road where it is safe to operate your bicycle.   Sometimes they are less than 4 feet wide and sometimes they are adjacent to a parallel parking lane.  It is NEVER safe to ride in the door zone.   This means, and you heard it here, that you should exercise your prerogative and not ride in the designated bike lane if it is in the door zone.   Seams from utility work and pothole patches can also add to the danger in a bike lane.   The westbound bike lane on Cache la Poudre from Weber to Nevada provides a good example of these seams.  Sharrows are intended to communicate where a cyclist should ride when there is no bike lane.  Ex-city council member Tim Leigh bastardized about 100 of Colorado Springs first Sharrows in an attempt to create a “Shareway” from Memorial Park to Old Colorado City.   Some of these Sharrows are in the door zone.
Multi-use paths, also known as Tier 1 Trails, such as the Pikes Peak Greenway, offer blissful cycling opportunities most of the time.  On these non-motorized trails cyclists must beware of fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, utility vehicles, security vehicles, rogue motorcyclists, mini-bikes, and ATV users, fallen tree limbs, homeless people’s shopping carts and household items, and the challenge that I am most concerned with, design dangers.   As a way of slowing cyclists down, trail designers install (near) 90 degree turns at the approaches to trail bridges.   In theory this works well to prevent head on collisions on the bridges.  In reality, some cyclists enter the bridges too fast and crash.   Add in a wet or icy surface or silt/sand/gravel deposited from storm-water runoff and even cyclists not going fast end up crashing at the curved bridge entrance.   Slow down and get to know the often changing trail surface.   Storm-water drainage can also create gutters adjacent to the path surface such as the Greenway Trail just south of Pikeview Reservoir.   Leaving the concrete path and dropping a few inches into a narrow gutter will almost certainly lead to a crash.  Avoid the edge, avoid a crash.
Well, that was the easy part, the travel sections of our non-motorized transportation network.   The real challenge often happens in the transitions between the bike routes, bike lanes, and multi-use paths.   As we improve sections of each of our non-motorized network, we either alter the transitions or we create new transitions.  To prevent cyclists from executing higher speed transitions, street and trail designers build in 90 degree entrances and exits.  Again, in theory, this works to avoid head on collisions on the trails.   But, it also complicates the way cyclists make these transitions.   This type of design would never be used on interstate highways as it would end up killing motorists.   Cyclists move slower and have to be smarter (that’s why I wrote this article) when transitioning from one type of infrastructure to another.   Beware of new transitions.  If you see something new, slow down and absorb the nuances.   Observe what was changed and what you need to do differently.   Our system is improving but there will be changes which do not have to be growing pains. 
The more I ride, the more polarized I get.   I will go out of my way to ride a trail rather than ride on the street.  But, when I need to get to my destination, I will ride on any street no matter how it is configured to accommodate cyclists.  I do strongly believe cyclists fair best when they behave and are treated as vehicles.   I also know that there are more than 6,000,000 vehicle crashes each year in the U.S. and more than 8,000 per year in Colorado Springs.  If those were the odds for the lottery, I would buy lottery tickets.  But these numbers don’t represent the odds for the lottery; they are the odds for all of us using the roads.   Be smart, hopefully a bit smarter after reading this article, and pedal on - safely.
Volume 7, Issue 5 - October 2014

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