Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are We Building Too Many Bike Lanes?

First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, May 21, 2012

Sometimes I worry that we are building too many bike lanes.   We build them to encourage children, families, and novice cyclists to ride more.  But bike lanes can be misleading if they give a false sense of security to novices who need to learn when and how to get out of the bike lane safely.  They can also mislead motorists and parents into thinking that the only place for bicyclists is in the bike lane. 

Looking east on Lake Street on the Colorado State University campus.  I've seen east-bound cyclists use the left hand bike lane, riding the wrong way on this street because they were afraid to take the travel lane and felt that they should be in the bike lane.  As you can see, City and CSU authorities don't do a very good job of plowing this bike lane.  What's a cyclist to do?  What will it take to teach college educated students that they should just take the lane and avoid wrong way riding?

If we are going to become the safest bike town in the nation we’ve got to come to an understanding of where bicycles belong on our streets and the role of bike lanes in this.   Three principles govern the concept:  1) Colorado law; 2) common sense; and 3) best practices in bike safety.  Common courtesy also plays a role. 

Colorado law requires cyclists to ride in the right-hand lane if they are traveling at “less than the normal speed of traffic.”  In Fort Collins we’ve built 130 miles of bike lanes to encourage people to ride bicycles. But there are many conditions when bikes should not be in the bike lane and it is important that everyone understand those conditions. 

Cyclists should exit the bike lane if it is dangerous for them to be there because of debris, potholes, glass or the threat of opening car doors from parked cars.  Cyclists should also get out of the bike lane and merge into the travel lane to make a left turn, when overtaking a slower vehicle, and to avoid a right turn lane if they are continuing straight through an intersection.

Conflicts are often built into intersections where right turning cars must cross bike lanes.  How many motorists know that the law requires them to allow one hundred feet before turning right after passing a cyclist?  Not many, I fear. 

When there are no bike lanes cyclists can and should use the right-most regular travel lane in a position where they feel safe:  they should stay away from parked cars and occupy the entire lane if it is not wide enough to share side-by-side with motor vehicles.  Lanes less than fourteen feet wide cannot be safely shared so cyclists should position themselves in the center or the right third of that lane.

Roundabouts in south Fort Collins often have bike lanes leading into them.  In some cases the bike lane ends before the roundabout, requiring cyclists to merge with traffic, which is desirable, while other times the lanes end abruptly at the roundabout itself creating potential confusion for cyclists and motorists.   

Instead of more bike lanes we need an intensive education program to educate all road users of the rights of cyclists and best practices for everyone.  The City should take the lead in this.  Maybe when we conduct a national search for a new bike coordinator we can look for someone to help us move in this direction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Clear Up Confusion on Bicycling in Old Town Fort Collins

By Rick Price
First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan May 14, 2012

Last week a passenger in a car on College Avenue shouted at me to get off the street.  When the car stopped at a red light at College and Laporte Avenue I pulled up beside it and asked the occupants if they had spoken to me.  The young male passenger said, “yeah, get the [expletive] out of the road or at least keep to the right.”  
Photo compliments of Preston Tyree.
 I explained that College Avenue was too narrow to share and that diagonally parked cars constituted a hazard for bicyclists so I needed to stay at least six feet away from them, hence in the middle of the lane.  I also mentioned that his shouting at me constituted harassment and that I was going to report the license number of the car to the Colorado State Patrol.  The driver pleaded with me not to “put this on his license.”  I explained that since he was the driver he was responsible for the behavior of his passengers.  In reality you can shout anything you want at a bicyclist in Colorado as long as you don’t throw anything.  But I made my point.

There is still plenty of confusion about where we can ride our bicycles in Old Town Fort Collins.  Maybe it is time the City and the Downtown Business Association took steps to clear this up, especially for those who work in Old Town and who are in a position to help educate others.

When I mention the dismount zone to cyclists on the sidewalk in Old Town I’ve often had reasonable people ask me if I want them to “ride on College Avenue?”  When I say “yes,” they are incredulous and explain to me that it is illegal to ride on College.  We need to bust this myth once and for all:  it is illegal to ride on College Avenue only between Harmony Road and Laurel Street.  North of Laurel it is perfectly legal to ride on College and between Magnolia and Maple Streets it is actually safe since the speed limit is 25 miles per hour and College is, for all practical purposes, a parking lot.  You are safer pedaling College Avenue here than you are bicycling across the parking lot at Foothills Fashion Mall.  Admittedly you need to practice basic principles of vehicular cycling but you can learn these at www.BikeEd.org.

The City could help this situation in two ways: 1) publish a single panel flyer to explain where and how to bicycle in Old Town; 2) pass an ordinance, similar to ordinances in Los Angeles and Independence, Missouri, where it is illegal to harass “any person riding a bicycle, walking, running, or operating a wheelchair” by shouting or otherwise directing “loud or unusual sounds toward such person.”

Yes, it would be difficult to enforce such an ordinance.  But the publicity alone would go far to make Old Town a safer place to ride a bicycle.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Why You Should Wear a Helmet

I use this video to get the attention of Middle School students and to point out that you never know when a crash might come out of nowhere.  It grabs their attention and I ask how many are afraid of such a hazard coming out of the blue.  Of course, few fear this.  But then I tell of the friend at Colorado State University who hit a deer while coming down Rist Canyon one day.  He broke a leg but his head was fine.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bicycle Advisory Committee Seeks Two Members

The City has announced that they will fill two vacant "at large" citizen's positions on the Bicycle Advisory Committee. This committee advises Council on bicycle policies and issues through the Transportation Board.   I have been on this committee since the beginning and chaired it for two years.  I'll be quitting at the end of May since I'll be away for several months.

My view on this committee and your possible involvement is:   gather peace of mind and patience and go for it if you are inclined.  I've been quite frustrated with the unwillingness of staff to actually allow this committee to function as a citizen's advisory group.  Staff exercises very strict control over the agenda and manipulates most of the work of the committee.  Am I frustrated?  Yup.  But maybe you can be more effective. . . . 

City Seeking Residents to Fill Vacancies on Bicycle Advisory Committee

The City of Fort Collins seeks interested residents to fill two vacancies on the Bicycle Advisory Committee, which reports to the Transportation Board. Fort Collins’ excellence as a community is due in large part to citizen participation in government and community affairs. Residents can serve as volunteers on the committee which reviews bicycle plans for capital improvements and provides recommendations to the Transportation Board regarding bicycle policies, and prioritizes bicycle plan recommendations.

If you are interested in serving on the Bicycle Advisory Committee, we encourage you to fill out an application which can be found at fcgov.com/bicycling. Applications are due Thursday, May 31, 2012.

Members are appointed by the City Manager as vacancies occur, and applications will be kept on file for consideration when an opening occurs.

For more information, visit fcgov.com/bicycling or call 970-224-6112.