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Protected Bike Lane on Summit Just the Beginning, Says City and Cycling Advocates

Brent Warren Brent Warren Protected Bike Lane on Summit Just the Beginning, Says City and Cycling AdvocatesVisual by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).
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A protected bike lane is planned for a 1.4-mile portion of Summit Street in the University District. The new lane will be ten feet wide and will run from Hudson Street to 11th Avenue, providing both north- and south-bound travel lanes that are separated from car traffic by a two-foot buffer and an eight-foot parking lane.

South of 11th, a single, unprotected bike lane will continue through Weinland Park, Italian Village, and Downtown (on Third Street). A similar, unprotected, bike lane would be added to Fourth Street, from Hudson to the southern edge of Downtown.

Other new bike infrastructure – “bus bulbs” that provide bus boarding areas that don’t conflict with bike-lane traffic, “queue boxes” that make it easier for cyclists to turn left on busy streets, and a new strategy for getting cyclists safely past cars merging onto freeway ramps – will also be part of the project. These additions, like the protected lanes on Summit, will all be firsts for Columbus – they’ll be installed when Fourth Street and Third/Summit Streets are repaved this summer and fall.

Representatives from the city’s Department of Public Service, along with Catherine Girves from advocacy group Yay Bikes, sat down with Columbus Underground late last week to talk about how the the project came about, explain the details, and provide some thoughts on what other bike-friendly projects might be in Columbus’s future. Below are excerpts from that conversation.

CU: How did this project evolve and when was the decision made to include a protected lane?

Richard Ortman, Engineer: In early September we had a public meeting, and at that point we were just doing bike lanes on Third and Fourth and Fourth and Summit – it was probably in November that we challenged ourselves to put in a protected bikeway, and we tried to find the best limits to do it within, and we determined that to be 11th to Hudson on Summit.

It’s been a goal of the mayor’s to get in a protected lane, and in talking with our consultant, we determined that it would work really well on this project, and really well in the campus area since it’s such a high bike-use community.

Catherine Girves, Yay Bikes: We’ve got the most densely populated area of the city, with already a high number of people who are utilizing cycling as a form of transportation. It’s also right up against Weinland Park, which has the highest concentration of Section 8 housing in the county, so placement-wise, I could not think of a more ideal place to start with a protected corridor. It was very well-chosen.”

Rick Tilton, Assistant Director: This is about realizing the vision that Mayor Coleman has for making Columbus one of the best cycling cities in the nation. The important thing about this, though – this is an ODOT resurfacing project – was the interactions between the department and Yay Bikes – this is not engineers in a hermetically sealed room designing a project. Catherine and the folks at Yay Bikes were instrumental in making this what it is.

Ortman: I will say this, I like to ride my bike but I’ve always ridden on the trail system – I had never ridden on the street – and Yay Bikes invited us to go out on a couple of different occasions and actually ride on the street with them.

And, before the ride, I thought it was going to be really scary, but it turned out that drivers were very courteous, and it wasn’t frightening at all – you want to pay attention to what you’re doing – but it was just like you were in any other vehicle.

At the time of Yay Bikes ride on Summit and Fourth, the protected lane was not a done deal… we were thinking about it, but it was still in the planning stages.

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CU: I know there are some advantages to having two-way traffic in the bike lane – the wider lane can be plowed during the winter, and it provides better connectivity for cyclists in the neighborhood – but are you worried about the potential for accidents?

Orton: We realize that there are some conflict zones because it isn’t what people are normally looking for – they may just look one-way – so we’re trying to improve the safety as much as we can. We are modifying all of the signals in the protected bike lane zone, to put up bike heads for north- and south-facing bicycle traffic. On cross intersections, where traffic was originally allowed to go straight through the intersection, in order to reduce that conflict, we’re making it a left turn only, so we’re not going to allow traffic to go through anymore, they’ll have to turn and go down the next side street.

Moorehead: It’s something that we were aware of when the idea of a protected lane came up, and throughout the whole process we’ve been making sure the design we put out there is as safe as it can be. And we’re going to evaluate it once it’s out there, and see what the impact is, if there any tweaks we can make.

Girves: The other thing that I like in the protected bike lane area, is the parking lane to the left and the bus stop to the left of the bike lane, so we are not going to have buses parked in the bike lane.

Ortman: We’re calling them bus bulbs, it provides access for pedestrians. It’s something that is new to COTA also, so luckily they were willing to work with us.

Moorehead: Normally the bus stops in the bike lane, and bikes have to go around – this design eliminates that bike-bus conflict.

CU: Can you explain the queue boxes, which will be at different intersections throughout the two corridors?

Daniel Moorhead, Engineer: The idea is when you have bike lanes, the bikes are all the way on the right side, and if you want to turn left, you’re normally stuck with having to merge into traffic, cross over several lanes, especially in the case of Third and Fourth. But with a queue box you take advantage of space at intersections that isn’t being used…to come across, wait for the cross-signal to turn green, and to turn left.

Girves:  A confident cyclist would leave the bike lane, merge, and make the turn, but the bike lane will invite people who are less confident onto the road. And those people are less inclined to do that – so cyclists, after these are installed, will have the ability to do what they’ve done, or to stay in the bike lane, continue to the green area, and when the light turns green, they are up in front, they are able to move, and they are visible to motorists.

We’ve found that when cyclists are visible and predictable, there’s more peace on the road… motorists don’t have to make decisions about what the cyclist is going to do, the cyclists are sending clear signals.

Tilton: What Catherine’s talking about is just essential to changing the culture – this project is about changing the culture. Columbus has to make a transition… we’ve been so wedded to automobiles for such a long time. This is something that the mayor talks about a lot, that we need to be looking at alternatives to automobiles – for a number of reasons, from congestion to the environment – so this cuts to the core of changing the culture, cyclists being visible, being predictable, is a big step forward, so what Yay Bikes is doing you can’t put a price on.

CU: Can you explain the changes planned for the bike lanes on Third and Fourth at the access points for I-670?

Moorhead: The way it is right now, as you’re going north of Goodale Street in the bike lane on Fourth, you’re to the left of the turn lane for vehicles turning left onto the I-670 ramp, That bike lane ends with a dashed line, then bikes merge with oncoming traffic, then the bike lane starts up again on the right side of the left-turn lane. It’s not preferred, but at the time, it was the best guidance that we had.

So what we want to do now, is to keep the bike lane on the left side of the turn lane, then widen out the pavement on the approach to the onramp and move the sidewalk back, so then bikes will be able to turn out and then turn back in so that you’re facing the traffic at a perpendicular angle, so you can actually see the traffic.

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And because of the traffic light, there’s a platooning effect, so you’ll get a break in traffic even at the busiest time of day. It’s a modification of guidance for incoming ramps, which we’ll be using on the Third Street bridge. You can see something similar today at Westerville Road and I-270.

Girves: Again, experienced cyclists can still continue on through traffic, but for the less experienced riders, who we’re trying to get onto the road, this creates a solution that is really doable for a variety of experience-levels. Here’s where it feels funky, what can have it, have experienced professionals say.

CU: Do you see more projects like this coming to other parts of the city?

RT: Our Director, Tracie Davies, and of course the mayor want to look at a lot of options and Yay Bikes is going to be crucial because when we look at roadways, we want to be looking places where we can accommodate bike lanes. Director Davies is right in line with the Mayor – we need to be looking at other locations where we can do similar projects, where the right of way that exists can accommodate it. When we can, we will.

CG: We’re going to advocate for the best solution given the context of the environment, and for fiscal responsibility. I’m never going to have protected bike lanes from my front door to everywhere I travel, it’s just not fiscally responsible or practical for every type of environment. Of course, while projects like this are about accommodating cyclists, it’s also an economic justice issue, a health issue, an environmental issue.

For more information on this project, including details of a public meeting being planned for early March, see www.columbus.gov. 

For more updates and discussion on bike lanes in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

Featured visual by www.nacto.org.

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