Monday, August 29, 2016

Linn County's first bicycle boulevard

Sign as you enter Geode Street going north from Boyson Road
Bicycle boulevards are a new form of biking infrastructure, intended to improve connectivity for cyclists by designing streets in ways that discourage through automobile traffic. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) defines bicycle boulevards as:
streets with low motorized traffic volumes and speeds, designated and designed to give bicycle travel priority. Bicycle boulevards use signs, pavement markings, and speed and volume management measures to discourage through trips by motor vehicles and create safe, convenient bicycle crossings of busy arterial streets (NACTO 2012).
NACTO's 2012 guide lists 16 American cities with bicycle boulevards, with seven more in planning stages. More have certainly joined the group since then. Bicycle boulevards come with a variety of design elements, including (1) signs and pavement markings, for visibility and publicity; (2) speed management to keep average auto speed below 25 mph (<20 mph is better); (3) volume management to keep average daily load below 3000 (<1500 is better); (4) facilitating bike travel through minor street crossings; (5) assisting bike travel through major street crossings; and (6) offset treatments at intersections to make clear where the route changes.

Two Streetfilms videos present the heroic possibilities of bicycle boulevards. "Berkeley's Bike Boulevards" (2007, 8:51) describes the concept as illustrated by the California city's network of routes that parallel major auto thoroughfares--"a system of bicycle-priority streets," says the planner for Bay Area Rapid Transit. There are pinch points in the network where bicycles can go forward while cars must divert left or right. "Portland's Bike Boulevards Become Neighborhood Greenways"(2010, 6:55) describe that city's extensive use of traffic calming treatments to facilitate a strong network of boulevards, including speed bumps, traffic barriers, and changing the orientation of stop signs. "A slower, more trail-like speed" for all vehicles, including motor vehicles going 20 mph or less, says Greg Raisman of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, "will increase the comfort and safety of pedestrians."

The first street in Linn County designated as a bicycle boulevard is in Marion, known as 3rd Street north of 29th Avenue and Geode Street south of it. It's in a residential subdivision, so mainly serves as a connector between Tower Terrace Road...
Tower Terrace Road looking west from 3rd Street
...and Boyson Road, both major auto thoroughfares with wide sidewalks for ped-bike infrastructure.

3rd/Geode is marked with signs (see above) and street markings...
Pavement marking as you enter 3rd Street going south from Tower Terrace Road
...but in no other way differs from a sharrow. There are no traffic calming devices or pedestrian treatments typical of bicycle boulevards elsewhere, even where the street crosses busy 29th Avenue (ADT=5700) by Novak Elementary School.
Novak School, seen across the intersection of 3rd/Geode and 29th Avenue
Note there's not even a crosswalk by the school.

Another thing the bicycle boulevard lacked was way-finding signs. Gill Park is two blocks to the west; it should have a sign on 3rd at Broderick. Continuing south on Geode Street across Boyson, it's a winding but short route to Donnelly Park and the Boyson (formerly Marion Parks) Trail, an established route that crosses the town. Those could have used a sign, too.

Do auto drivers on 3rd/Geode know that it is a bicycle boulevard? There were only two motor vehicles going in our direction as we rode; both drivers seemed glad to get around us, and neither slowed down. I should have, for science, ridden mid-lane to see what would happen, but I lack the nerve. We were the only bike riders on the street when we rode, on a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon.

The core goal of bicycle boulevards is to create a cycle-friendly network of streets around town, and indeed there are other bicycle boulevards planned in more central parts of Marion, including a 2.37 mile-long north-south route as well as 3rd and Grand Avenues going east-west. (See pages 61 and 67 of their master trails plan, cited below. Updates since 2014 are shown here.) I wonder if those designs will be any more ambitious?

Marion's first bicycle boulevard is a very small "first phase" step, amounting to a way of communicating that if you want to get from Boyson to Tower Terrace, this is the one side street in the subdivision that will go all the way through. How will the treatment of this street affect expectations for, support for, and tolerance of future treatments? Because how the network develops will determine how meaningful the "bicycle boulevard" designation becomes.
Garden design adjacent to Gill Park. I took this before I saw the whole yard,
which deserves a photo essay of its own
SOURCES
Marion Master Trails Plan (2014)
National Association of City Transportation Officials, Urban Bikeway Design Guide (Island, 2nd ed, 2012)

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