Monday, August 3, 2015

Cedar Rapids' protected bike lanes experiment

Cedar Rapids multimodal transportation planner Brandon G. Whyte led a demonstration Sunday afternoon of the protected cycle lane that will be part of the reconstruction of 3rd Avenue when it is completed in October. The lane will run from 6th Street SW to 3rd Street SE, at which point it will connect to the traditional-style bike lane that continues to 10th Street SE.

The temporary striping was completed with the help of what Red Green would call the Multimodal Transportation Planner's Secret Weapon:

A protected bike lane is one that is separated from car traffic by some sort of physical barrier, such as a curb, bollards, or, as in this case, parked cars.

Sunday's demonstration took place in the 200 block of 3rd Avenue SE. Whyte explained the protected-lane concept as well as the city's plans, and volunteers illustrated by riding through the demo section and around the block.

3rd Avenue and 3rd Street SE
A key feature is the left turn box at the end of the block, which is where the riders are stationed in the picture above. In the presence of traffic, as there would be on a typical weekday downtown, a rider intending to turn left would be (from the perspective of auto drivers) suddenly emerging from behind parked cars. The left turn box... located across the street onto which the rider plans to turn (in this case, 3rd Street). One scoots across with the green light to the box, then waits for the light for 3rd Street to turn green.

I can see the advantage over the current difficulty of making a left turn in traffic while riding on the right side of the road...
3rd Street SE approaching 2nd Avenue, no left-turn box
...but fear it will tax the patience of riders (see below), while auto drivers lose the ability to turn right on red onto 3rd Avenue, currently a popular maneuver.

The protected lanes on 3rd Avenue will be Iowa's first when they are completed in October. They will be followed in 2016 by a pair of protected lanes on 1st Street SW. After that... we'll see. The promise is that the city's considerable effort to improve cycling infrastructure will encourage more people to cycle, particularly those who currently find riding in car traffic off-putting. That means more people getting exercise, fewer cars using the streets and gasoline, and more activity supporting a vibrant downtown, not to mention a critical presence of cyclists that will in itself make cycling safer.

In a post today on the Strong Towns blog, activist Daniel Herriges suggests another positive outcome. Even if protected bike lanes remain rare and weird in our state, the creation of even these few shifts the center of conversational gravity on this issue--what he calls the "Overton window"--making other types of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure more politically possible.

Finally, I hope that, by incorporating cyclists into traffic design, the city has created a structure into which cyclists can comfortably fit. You don't have to be a die-hard bike hater to notice the crazy things some people will do on bicycles. Lori Hasselbeck of Brownsburg, Indiana asked on the CBS2 website:
Will these wonderful new bike lanes keep people from riding on the sidewalks? Going the wrong way on one-way streets? Riding through stop signs and stop lights? Weaving in and out of traffic?
As we spent time hanging out Sunday in the 200 block, I was astounded at the number of cyclists who came down the sidewalk, ignoring the demo lane, us standing there (there was at least one near-collision), and these handsome signs:

I attribute this behavior to long-standing practice in traffic design that has favored cars to the exclusion of bikes, leading to a sort of outlaw behavior--not among BikeCR folk, of course, but among a lot of other people. In the case of sidewalk riding, it's also due to the streets that resulted from this design practice being (or at least feeling) unsafe for cyclists. Bike lanes on heavily-trafficked streets, particularly lanes that are protected or buffered, give cyclists space to behave as part of a community instead of being radical individualists. I hope they will. It won't help our cause if they don't.

NEWS VIDEO: Steffi Lee, "Cedar Rapids Unveils Protected Bike Lanes," CBS2 Iowa, 2 August 2015,

Your faithful blogger rides the demo lane; photo by Ben Kaplan

1 comment:


    "A key feature is the left turn box at the end of the block"

    This is generally referred to as a "Copenhagen Left." Also shown in the "bike lanes and turns" photo is something referred to as a "mixing zone" - when you "mix" cyclists and automobiles you get dead people who used to cycle.

    Right on Red should be restricted in most city intersections anyway, but if the junction is designed correctly it can be kept.

    "..not to mention a critical presence of cyclists that will in itself make cycling safer..."
    People always have this concept backward - it is correctly stated as: "There are numbers in safety" - give people a safe place to cycle and they will show up, but the network has to be comprehensive, and it has to go to the places that people want to go.

    The woman's complaints/concerns:
    1. Will these wonderful new bike lanes keep people from riding on the sidewalks?
    - If designed correctly, yes - this includes the intersections.
    2. Going the wrong way on one-way streets?
    - In the Netherlands it's common to see streets with one-way traffic for cars and two-way traffic for bicycles - so this is something that can be designed in correctly and safely.
    3. Riding through stop signs and stop lights?
    - Probably not, though this can be designed so that it's more predictable, or if done well so that it's rare that cyclists feel the need to. There are actually states which allow the cyclists to treat stop lights as stop signs.
    4. Weaving in and out of traffic?
    - If designed correctly, yes - there will be no need to interact with traffic.


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