12/05/11

Biking, Walking, & Blogging: "Advisory" Bike lane piloted in Minneapolis - first in Nation?Biking, Walking, & Blogging: "Advisory" Bike lane piloted in Minneapolis - first in Nation?

 

"Advisory" Bike lane piloted in Minneapolis - first in Nation?

 

 New bike lane markings in Minneapolis were recently featured on a national webinar viewed by hundreds of engineers, planners and advocates. What makes these bike lane markings unique? They've never been used in this country before!

On E. 14th Street at the edge of downtown (see photo below), the center line has been removed in order to have room to stripe "advisory" bike lanes.  The dashed lines (as opposed to solid) allow motor vehicles to occupy that space when a bicyclist is not using it.  Without the center line striping, motorists are encouraged to travel slower and move more to the left when overtaking bicyclists.

Advisory bike lanes are very common in Northern Europe, not only on urban streets, but on the lesser traveled rural roadways.  They are used when there are fewer than 6,000 cars a day (but more than say 1,000, when bike lanes are not really necessary) and when there is not enough width to stripe both the bike lanes and travel lanes (and parking lane, when that is desired).  Here is what the advisory bike lanes look like on East 14th Street:

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Since this photo was taken, bike symbols have been added to the bike lanes, and the response from the community has been extremely positive!

Interestingly, even though Minneapolis was the first to adopt this European design, the concept of dropping the centerline as a traffic calming measure, has been encouraged for some time. In fact, here is what a design manual for Los Angeles (of all places!) says about centerline removal:

On streets with one travel lane in each direction, removal of the centerline is recommended to facilitate passing of bicyclists by motor vehicles. Motorists may be unwilling to cross over a centerline to pass a cyclist, resulting in instances where motorists feel like they are stuck behind a slower moving cyclist and attempt to pass the cyclist too closely. Cyclists in these situations may feel pressured to ride to the extreme far right or in the gutter to allow motorists to pass. Removal of the centerline opens the entire traveled way for passing, and allows bicyclists to position themselves at a safe and comfortable distance from the curb. Lack of centerlines is also a traffic-calming technique, as drivers tend to drive slower without the visible separation from oncoming traffic.   

The Los Angeles manual (http://www.modelstreetdesignmanual.com ) also affirms what we've been telling our friends at Mn/DOT:  that the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) only requires centerline markings when traffic counts are greater than 6,000 cars a day. The MUTCD also gives guidance for dashed vs. solid lines when marking "preferential lanes," mandating solid when other users are to stay out for common traveling purposes, but dashed when they are allowed (after yielding the Right of Way to the preferred mode).  In other words, the treatment used in Minneapolis is consistent with standards that already exist (though they have not been combined in practice until now).

Another new treatment in Minneapolis that has received positive national attention is the priority shared lane markings now found on Bryant Avenue, south of Lake Street.  Like the advisory bike lanes on 14th Street, the priority markings help cyclists know where they can ride safely, when there is not room for both bike lanes and regular travel lanes.  But instead of removing the centerline on Bryant (too many cars to allow for this kind of treatment), green paint is used to reinforce shared lane markings (aka, "sharrows") to encourage cyclists to ride outside of the door zone. 

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The paint is placed in such a way that when a cyclist is not present, the wheels of a car will straddle this zone, reducing wear and tear on the painted surface.

Of course, not all cyclists are comfortable "taking the lane" which is what this kind of design is intended to encourage. Having signs that tell cyclists they "May Use Full Lane" like the ones placed on Marshall Ave on the descent to the Lake Street Bridge, might further increase awareness of this important right. Marshall Ave 6-29-2011 TH (5).jpg

 It is important to understand that such signs and markings do not provide exceptions to traffic law, but merely reinforce what the law already allows.  Cyclists can take the full lane whenever it is necessary for their safety, such as when the travel lane is not wide enough for motor vehicles to safely pass bicyclists without changing lanes.  This is generally true anytime a travel lane is less than 14' wide.  When there are parked cars, like in the case of Bryant, even more width is needed.

There has been some confusion as to the intermittent nature of the green painted zones.  Why the 100' gaps between segments?  The City wanted to see if having intermittent green paint, would still be effective, but save money and resources in terms of paint.  Other cities like Long Beach, California, and Salt Lake City, UT, have used green paint in the same way, but without the 100' gaps.  The jury is still out in terms of whether using less paint can achieve the same results in terms of awareness and attraction.  BWTC is working with the City of Minneapolis to evaluate the effectiveness of this treatment (as well as the new advisory bike lanes on 14th Street).  We are also looking forward to the new educational materials being developed by the City of Minneapolis to better explain to motorists and bicyclists what these new designs are all about.