Photos: How Boulder bicycle plan is turning city into living cycling laboratory
With that in mind, Boulder has launched "Living Laboratory," a plan to experiment with innovative treatments and pilot programs in order to come up with ways to improve car-bicycle interactions. Here, senior transportation planner Marni Ratzel, aided by Boulder Complete Streets graphics, takes us through seven new approaches coming soon to Boulder -- and, perhaps, to your hometown.
Back-in angled parking on University Avenue from Broadway to 17th Street
-- Installation scheduled for August 2013
Ratzel: "Currently there's angled parking on the south side of the street; the north side has parallel parking, and it will remain the same. But the reason we're testing this is because the bike lane on University is adjacent to the angled parking, and there's some conflict between cyclists traveling in the bike lane and the angled parking. Essentially, it's that people are backing out blindly and have another vehicle next to them, so they might not be able to see the cyclist, and vice versa.
"The idea is to see if we can address some of the safety issues between cyclists and cars by having the cars back in. That way, they'll be able to see if there are any bikes coming by looking in the rear-view mirror. And then, when they're leaving, they'll already be facing out, so they'll have a better view; it should reduce some of the sight obstruction if there's a cyclist coming.
"Another thing interesting about backing into the spaces is that there are some efficiencies for occupants of the vehicles, and safety improvements for them. Somebody opening a car door can go straight back from their car to the sidewalk, and that can be especially important if you have kids. Parents can open their car door and tell kids to go straight to the sidewalk."
-- Installations scheduled for August 2013 and September 2013, respectively
Ratzel: "Buffers are hash marks. There's no physical treatment that would preclude a car from moving into the bike lane with a buffer, and people traveling in motor vehicles still need to access parking. But buffers provide better social cues for drivers as well as people entering and exiting the vehicles, reminding them that they need to be more conscious of cyclists in the lane. And they also make cyclists more aware that a driver might be opening their car door. We're trying to reduce the potential of cyclists being doored: That's what we call it.
"Spruce is a little narrower than University, so we're testing buffered bike lanes in two different types of treatments. From 15th to 20th, we're going to test a buffer between the motor vehicle travel lane and the bike lane, but there won't be a buffer between the bike lane and parking. Then, from 20th to Folsom, we will provide a striped buffer between the parking lane and the bike lane, as well as the travel lane and the bike lane. That gives cyclists a more narrow bike lane; with the whole buffer, it will be about eight feet, but the actual lane width will only be four feet. But when you include the buffer, there's ample width -- and we want to see if providing that striped buffer enhances safety....
"There are two different corridors along University, and bike lanes already exist on University all the way from Broadway to 6th. So we're going to add a buffer from Broadway to 9th and keep the treatment that's there today from 9th to 6th. So this will allow us to evaluate effectiveness of the buffer.
"Part of what we're trying to do is provide a real-world test environment where somebody can be riding a facility and experiencing it, and then transition into another facility to see how it feels different from the previous one. We think that if people feel safe or not safe, that can translate into actual safety."
-- Installations scheduled for August 2013 and spring/summer 2014, respectively
Ratzel: "On Baseline from 30th Street east to about 37th, there are buffered lanes there today. But we want to take that a step further -- so for a portion of that, we'll provide a physical barrier to separate the bike lane from the vehicular travel lane.
"Cycle tracks are gaining popularity in the U.S. They've been in existence for many years in Europe, and we're figuring out a design that works here. Most often, the treatment utilizes parked cars as the barrier. But on Baseline, we don't have parking. So we're going to put out parking blocks a flexible delineators. That way, if for some reason a driver in a motor vehicle begins to veer over into the bike lane, they'll have a physical obstacle they'll hit before they enter the bike lane. In turn, cyclists will hopefully feel a better sense of safety.
"University Avenue is phase two of the Living Laboratory. The idea would be to swap the existing bike land and the parking lane -- and there's a reason we're phasing it in. There's an existing ordinance that needs to be changed in order to allow parking that much further from the curb, and we need time to consider that ordinance change. If there's an agreement to do that, we could look to test that protected bike lane using parked cars as a physical barrier in the spring of 2014, or maybe the summer."
-- Installation scheduled for September 2013
Ratzel: "Advisory bike lanes are another innovative treatment for the U.S. that's been used in Europe for a while; I just saw some in Germany. They're a variation on a traditional bike lane, but it's installed on a lower-volume, usually residential street, where there isn't enough width in the roadway to strike the bike lane and still maintain a ten-foot travel lane in either direction, which is the national standard.
"This stripes a five foot bike lane in each direction and provides a space for bikes in their own lane -- but it narrows down the effective width of motor vehicle lanes to about eighteen feet. The idea is that the volume is so light on those streets that the likelihood there'll be two cars oncoming and trying to pass each other is very low, very infrequent -- but if that happens, the motor vehicles can encroach into the adjacent bike lanes as long as they continue to yield the right of way to cyclists.
"For this treatment, we had to request experimentation status from the Federal Highway Administration. We're in the process of applying for that status. So even though the installation is scheduled for September, it might be moved out until October. It all depends on getting the approval to experiment with this."
-- Installation scheduled for September 2013
Ratzel: "On Folsom, there are a lot of cyclists traveling to and from the university. So there's a high volume, and when you get to a red light, you sometimes have several cyclists who are cued and wanting to travel forward straight through the intersection, and in the adjacent lane, you could have a number of motor vehicles that want to turn right. So this provides a cue jump for cyclists to be able to clear the intersection all at once so the right turning vehicle doesn't have to wait one by one for them to go through the intersection. They can make their right turn pretty much right away.
"Portland, Oregon and a number of other communities have bike boxes now -- and I think that's a key element of the treatments we're trying in the Living Laboratory. These aren't treatments we dreamed up. They're treatments that have been tested in other communities. We're just trying to introduce them into Boulder to see if they can be a part of the tipping point of getting more people to have confidence in biking."
-- Installation scheduled for September 2013
Ratzel: "Bike boulevards are usually designated on low-volume residential streets. The idea is to prioritize that street for cycling and walking as well -- and one way to do that is to facilitate those modes while limiting the speed or the volume of vehicular traffic.
"There's a four-way stop on Cedar -- so this would test the removal of stop signs on 13th, so the bikes could just continue through, and the cross streets of Cedar would continue to have stop signs. This, paired with other improvements along the 13th Street corridor would hopefully brand the corridor as a good route for cycling. For us in Boulder, 13th is an alternative to riding on Broadway, so what we're trying to test here is whether signs, makings and other treatments can help encourage people to use it rather than using Broadway along this stretch."
-- Council will consider the pilot ordinance in October
Ratzel: "Electric-assist bicycles are basically the same vehicle as a bicycle, but they're equipped with an electric motor that helps to propel the rider. The motors are generally between 250 and 1,000 watts; they're low-speed, which is what differentiates them from a moped or something like that.
"What we're getting input on is whether we should consider this demonstration project, which would allow e-bikes to use sidewalks designated as multi-use paths and the greenway system, like the Boulder Creek path, the Broadway path, the Goose Creek path.
"E-bikes would still be prohibited from operating on any open space and mountain-trail park, including open space trails that currently allow bicycles. So this is more of a policy issue. The city council has directed staff to bring a proposal forward in October. If it's decided to move forward with the project, it would likely commence in November and last for a year."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Dan Peterson, R.I.P.: Remembering hit-and-run victim who elevated bike-safety concerns."