How Marin could make the most of its bike dollars

How Marin could make the most of its bike dollars

As the historic home of mountain biking the California Wheelmen, and Safe Routes to School, Marin has a unique place in America’s cycling history. Despite that, the number of Marinites biking to work remains quite low and its roads are hardly bike-friendly. What does the research say makes biking more attractive? And how could Marin translate this research into its projects, policies, and priorities?

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A case for the comprehensive bike network

A couple of weeks ago, commenters were largely negative to the idea of protected bicycle lanes on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard for safety reasons and for the reason that the Corte Madera path already existed. But why should we build protected bicycle lanes along high-speed corridors at all? The weight of evidence says it would be of great benefit to cycling in the county generally and to our high-speed corridors specifically.

Network effects

In the Kentfield-Greenbrae corridor, the cycling network is incomplete. The Corte Madera Creek path is a wonderful segment of that network, but it only works for some people. For anyone living north of Sir Francis Drake – yes, there are plenty of flat, bike-friendly streets – that path is useless for getting around the neighborhood. Often, staying off Sir Francis Drake doubles trip times, something no driver would be willing to do.

This holds true for other corridors, and it’s not surprising. Since the rise of the car, arterial roads have become the backbone of our commercial economy. Quiet streets are saved for our showpiece downtowns and residential neighborhoods while high-speed roads serve our everyday shops, like supermarkets, banks, retailers, doctor’s offices, post offices, coffee shops, and the like. By pushing bikes off the high-speed streets, we effectively take biking off the list of acceptable ways to get around for everyday errands.

And there are the benefits of network effects. Though each individual project might not add much to bike ridership, building a complete network will mean every completed segment will add to the usefulness of every other segment. One fax machine is a paperweight. A fax machine in every office, however, makes that one machine very useful. A new safe bike lane on Sir Francis Drake is useful to those living near it. Another one on Corte Madera’s Tamalpais Avenue is useful to those living near that street.

Add a link to Redwood Highway and suddenly you have a network, making both Tamalpais Avenue, Redwood Highway, and Sir Francis Drake useful to anyone along any of those routes while also adding value to the Corte Madera Creek path and the Sandra Marker trail. Any other links – like Bon Air Road or San Anselmo’s Red Hill Avenue – expand the capabilities of the formerly isolated segments even further.

This is backed up by research. Jessica Schoner and David Levinson of the University of Minnesota found that “connectivity and directness are important factors in predicting bicycle commuting after controlling for demographic variables and the size of the city” (Schoner & Levinson, 2014) Since commuting is a minority of trips, and these high-speed roads are also lined with shops and services, the effect on overall trips by bicycle will be larger than expected.

As well, Schoner and Levinson didn’t differentiate between the quality of the bike link, whether it’s a painted bike lane, an off-road path, or a protected lane like what I propose. Other studies (Heinen, Maat, & van Wee, 2011; Tilahun, Levinson, & Krizek, 2007; Wardman, Tight, & Page, 2007) have found that the quality of the bike lane has a meaningful impact on bike-to-work rates; Heinan, Maat & van Wee found this was especially true for short trips. These strongly imply that safer lanes will have a meaningful impact on non-work trips, especially on short trips.

The safety problem

The principal objection to having a protected bicycle lane on a high-speed road was one of safety. Commenter Ann Becker remarked, “A heavily traveled street with traffic going at speeds of up to 40 mph is simply not safe for bike riders, either school age or older.”

Research does not bear out Becker’s assertion. New York City’s Department of Transportation released research indicating traffic collision injuries dropped by an average of 20 percent following the installation of protected bike lanes along major avenues (Miller, 2014), which are often just as unfriendly to people on bikes as Sir Francis Drake. Other studies (Harris et al., 2013; Lusk et al., 2011; Teschke et al., 2012) have found even more significant drops in injury crashes to all road users, including drivers, after the installation of protected bicycle lanes. This holds true even on fast streets like Sir Francis Drake.

All this assumes we agree that bicycling is good for the environment, good for physical and mental health, and good for the economy (Maus, 2012), and it is indeed all those things. Given that a strong network encourages bicycling while also improving road safety, there is no reason to keep protected bicycle lanes off the road, even high-speed roads. As I laid out two weeks ago, we can add protected bicycle lanes to Sir Francis Drake without sacrificing any eastbound lanes. With the heavy weight of evidence, we can further add that this would be of huge benefit to anyone who lives, works, shops, or drives along that boulevard.

Works Cited

In keeping with my university's standards, future blog posts will use in-text citations and a works cited. Often, these will be behind a paywall; please email me at thegreatermarin@gmail.com if you would like the full text.

Harris, M. A., Reynolds, C. C. O., Winters, M., Cripton, P. A., Shen, H., Chipman, M. L., … Teschke, K. (2013). Comparing the effects of infrastructure on bicycling injury at intersections and non-intersections using a case–crossover design. Injury Prevention, 19(5), 303–310. http://doi.org/10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040561

Heinen, E., Maat, K., & van Wee, B. (2011). The role of attitudes toward characteristics of bicycle commuting on the choice to cycle to work over various distances. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 16(2), 102–109. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.trd.2010.08.010

Lusk, A. C., Furth, P. G., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2011). Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street. Injury Prevention, ip.2010.028696. http://doi.org/10.1136/ip.2010.028696

Maus, J. (2012, July 6). Study shows biking customers spend more. Retrieved from http://bikeportland.org/2012/07/06/study-shows-biking-customers-spend-more-74357

Miller, S. (2014, September 5). New DOT Report: Protected Bike Lanes Improve Safety for Everyone. Retrieved from http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/09/05/new-dot-report-shows-protected-bike-lanes-improve-safety-for-everybody/

Schoner, J. E., & Levinson, D. M. (2014). The missing link: bicycle infrastructure networks and ridership in 74 US cities. Transportation, 41(6), 1187–1204. http://dx.doi.org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1007/s11116-014-9538-1

Teschke, K., Harris, M. A., Reynolds, C. C. O., Winters, M., Babul, S., Chipman, M., … Cripton, P. A. (2012). Route infrastructure and the risk of injuries to bicyclists: a case-crossover study. American Journal of Public Health, 102(12), 2336–2343. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300762

Tilahun, N. Y., Levinson, D. M., & Krizek, K. J. (2007). Trails, lanes, or traffic: Valuing bicycle facilities with an adaptive stated preference survey. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 41(4), 287–301. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2006.09.007

Wardman, M., Tight, M., & Page, M. (2007). Factors influencing the propensity to cycle to work. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 41(4), 339–350. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.tra.2006.09.011

Build something better on South Sir Francis Drake

Tonight, the county will hold a hearing on rebuilding and enhancing Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from the Ross border to Highway 101. (Details: 7pm, College of Marin, Kentfield Campus, Fusselman Hall 120, project site here.) This provides a golden opportunity for Marinites to transform and improve one of Central Marin’s most important streets to better serve people in cars, on bikes, on buses, and on foot.

Congestion sucks

From a workshop survey in late October, people called traffic congestion the worst problem along the corridor, and it’s not hard to see why. Drivers have to deal with stop-and-go traffic all along Bon Air Shopping Center to 101 in the morning, and a number of intersections are overloaded at the same time. This, of course, sucks for drivers and bus riders alike, as well as anyone living, working, or shopping along the corridor.

Walking and biking along Drake is also a pain. As a 35-mph roadway with narrow and sometimes nonexistent sidewalks, it is impossible to feel welcome either on foot or on bike, a major problem for kids and their parents, as well as those who don’t have their own car.

But Sir Francis Drake isn’t just a traffic sewer. North of Bon Air, Drake serves as a main street for Kentfield and College of Marin, and a vital access to Bacich Elementary and Marin Catholic High schools. How to connect these uses together with the high-capacity roadway to the south is a quite challenging question.

Design advice

Though it’s important to lay out priorities before tackling a planning problem, along this corridor the traffic concern is overriding. So, instead of laying out priorities, let’s lay out the tools in our toolbox:

  • Intersection Design
  • Segmenting travel modes
  • Adding car lanes

Each of these will relieve some stress on the roadway, either by improving volume (the second two) or easing traffic flow generally (the first one). We also want to make sure that any additional lanes are consistent – it’s a bad idea to start a lane and then end it.

The presentation in October split up Drake into 4 segments: Ross Limits to Broadway; Broadway to Wolfe Grade; Wolfe Grade to El Portal; and El Portal to 101. Each segment’s right-of-way (property line to property line) is a different width, which makes planning consistently difficult.

Nevertheless, I’m unimpressed by the solutions presented. Unprotected bicycle lanes on a 35mph road will simply never be used. This might be excusable if there weren’t space for buffers, but a huge amount of space is dedicated to a center turning lane and median. As well, 11-foot lane widths, though a huge improvement to the 15-21-foot lanes, are wider than a city street ought to be. Lanes of 10 feet should be standard. For comparison, freeway lanes are generally 12 feet wide.

Here are current conditions, the county’s ideas, and my own ideas. Note that despite having protected bike lanes, there are no proposed eastbound traffic lanes cut, meaning the roadway's throughput will remain enhanced where it is most under pressure.

Segment 1: Ross Limits to Broadway

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 2: Broadway to Wolfe Grade

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 3a: Marin Catholic

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 3b: Bon Air Road to El Portal

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Segment 4: El Portal to Highway 101

Hover over each of the following to see commentary.

Protected bike lanes drive bicycling use

The reason I have added protected bicycle lanes to each segment is because they push for a relatively fantastic increase in cycling use. At the moment, just 1 percent of users along Drake are on bike, probably in part because of how difficult it is to bike along the route. Boosting that percentage even a bit - to 5 percent - could do a lot to cut down on traffic, especially around school times.

Congestion is the result of a tipping point, where the traffic levels rise just a bit too much, causing speeds to fall off a cliff. Taking just a few trips off the road can have an outsize effect on congestion levels. When paired with a wider road, as both the county and I propose, it should do wonders to cut down on traffic. The lanes may also soak up some of the induced demand from driving that occurs whenever a road's capacity is increased, prolonging the usefulness of this improvement.

Intersection Design

For each of the proposals I generated, intersections should be redesigned to allow the easy flow of people in all modes. Check out the full presentation for info on the proposed intersections, which do a great job for pedestrians, but they are insufficient for protected bicycle lanes. I've uploaded some options from the NACTO bicycle guide below.

If you're going to go to the meeting at this last minute - I myself only found out about it today - then get yourself to College of Marin at 7pm, Fusselman Hall 120. 


Golden Gate Bridge bike/ped toll moves forward

As the Marin IJ reported, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) has decided to push forward with studying the cycling and walking toll on the bridge. The vote was very close, 10-9 in favor. All but one of San Francisco’s representatives, John Moylan (who represents San Francisco’s mayor), voted against studying the toll. All but one of the northern representatives, Marin supervisor Kate Sears, voted for studying the toll. This includes Marin supervisor Judy Arnold and Tiburon mayor Alice Fredericks.

Most of the arguments for the toll, as relayed by people covering the meeting on Twitter, were more that it was important to examine it regardless of whether it’s a good idea, not that the toll itself would yield any non-financial benefits.

One observer on Twitter, John Murphy of Healdsburg, made the point that the toll could have a number of unintended consequences, mostly around trailheads. By email, he argued that recreational cyclists consider the ride from San Francisco to West Marin “junk miles.” A toll would be just one more reason to drive to Marin on weekends, exacerbating tourist traffic on Shoreline Highway and parking around trailheads.

He further made the point that tourist cyclists already often pay into GGBHTD’s pot by taking the Sausalito Ferry back to the City after riding across the bridge. Without Clipper cards, these riders pay the full cash price.

What the old studies said

According to commentary from MCBC on the 2005 proposal (the report itself isn’t available online), the proposed toll would raise somewhere between $600,000 and $1.8 million in 2014 dollars, or roughly between 9 and 27 percent of the five-year shortfall.

Unfortunately, the 1998 report indicated there would be no way to charge the toll except with in-person toll-takers, which would cut significantly into the revenue and cause huge lines to enter the bridge. Murphy, the Healdsburg commentator, pointed out that this would force people to spend more time parked, exacerbating the significant parking crunch.

One more alternative

There is another way to target tourist traffic, of course, one that would target tourists exclusively. Rather than charge people for the opportunity to walk across the bridge, GGBHTD should charge for the opportunity to park at either parking lot, and allow tour bus companies to reserve bus parking spaces for a flat fee. This is part of the strategic financial plan, under item 21.

Already, tourist traffic at the lots can cause backups onto the bridge; charging an appropriate amount for parking would reduce that congestion problem and raise money simultaneously. It would target tourists exclusively and wouldn’t require much more infrastructure than parking meters. It’s an idea that deserves study, rather than one more look at a bike/ped toll.

For now, the toll is not a done deal; it is only being studied. To ensure it doesn’t, write to your representatives who voted for the toll. Let them know there are better ways to raise money.

Yay

Del Norte

Board of Supervisors appointee Gerald D. Cochran

Marin

Supervisor Judy Arnold Marin cities’ appointee Tiburon Mayor Alice Fredericks Board of Supervisors appointee J. Dietrich Stroeh, GGBHTD Second Vice President

Mendocino

Board of Supervisors appointee James C. Eddie, GGBHTD Board President

Napa

Board of Supervisors appointee Barbara L. Pahre

San Francisco

Mayor’s appointee John J. Moylan

Sonoma

Sonoma cities’ appointee Rohnert Park Councilmember Gina Belforte Supervisor David A. Rabbitt Board of Supervisors appointee Brian M. Sobel

Nay

Marin

Supervisor Kate Sears

San Francisco

Supervisor London Breed Supervisor David Campos Board of Supervisors appointee Dick Grosboll Board of Supervisors appointee Janet Reilly Board of Supervisors appointee Dave Snyder Board of Supervisors appointee Michael Therieault Supervisor Scott Weiner Supervisor Norman Yee