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Building Better Bikeways
Mar 1, 2014
Mark de la Vergne, Principal with Sam Schwartz Engi
Elevation - Illinois Chapter of ASLA
Pertains to Bloomingdale Trail, Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park
The movement to provide safer bikeways is exciting, but it must be stressed that the overall success of this infrastructure will depend on its design. These facilities must not only be safe, so that people will feel comfortable using them, they must be aesthetically pleasing as well.s

Over the last 20 years, numerous communities in Illinois have made a commitment to building safer streets for bicyclists through construction of on-street bicycle facilities such as bike lanes and marked shared lanes. The addition of this on-street infrastructure has encouraged thousands of people to bike to work, to the train, or just for fun. However, a number of studies have shown that these facilities only appeal to a small segment of the population that feel safe riding next to motor vehicles. While the majority of the population is interested in riding their bike more frequently, they are deterred due to concerns about their personal safety riding on the street, with traffic.

In response to these safety concerns, cities across the United States have taken cue from some of the best bike cities in Europe and built facilities that provide more protection from vehicles. The City of Chicago has been a local and national leader in building these “protected” bike lanes, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledging to construct 100 miles of protected bike lanes by 2015. Other Illinois cities, including Evanston and Oak Park, also have constructed pr planned new protected bike lanes to encourage more ridership. With the increase in bicycling across the state, it is likely that many more communities will join this list shortly.

The movement to provide safer bikeways is exciting, but it must be stressed that the overall success of this infrastructure will depend on its design. These facilities must not only be safe, so that people will feel comfortable using them, they must be aesthetically appealing to generate support among elected officials and people who aren’t going to ride on them. The following sections describe a number of different types of designs for these facilities.

Buffered Bike Lanes
A buffered bike lane is similar to a traditional bike lane, in that it is typically located between a travel lane and a parking lane. The difference is that a buffered bike lane has striping that provides separation between the bike lane and the travel lane and/or the parking lane. This design is permitted by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The main benefit of buffered bike lanes is that they increase the distance between a bicyclist and potential danger source, such as a car driving by or an open door from a parked car. Unlike some other designs, however, buffered bike lanes do not provide physical protection from traffic, which is seen as their main weakness in terms of appealing to concerned bicyclists.

Cycle Tracks
One of the most exciting innovations in bike facility design is cycle tracks. A cycle track is a bikeway that is located along a street and is physically separated from travel lanes, parking lanes, and sidewalks. Cycle tracks provide the feeling of a bike trail, but are located within the street. A survey of NYC bike riders showed that a majority of people feel much safer in cycle tracks, whether they are one-way or two-way.

There are a number of different ways to separate cycle tracks from travel lanes and vehicular lanes, including:

The quickest and most affordable way to build protection is through the use of bollards. Most cities use bollards as part of typical roadway projects, so they have them on hand and can install them quickly. However, bollards are not always and aesthetically pleasing design element, and can be damaged easily by vehicles. One of the most frequent complaints about cycle tracks is how the bollards look, from the time of installation to after months of wear and tear.

Separating a cycle track with planters can provide an increased level of protection and look considerably better than bollards. Many cycle tracks with planter look like an extension of a streets cape project. There is, however, a considerably higher cost to using planters, especially when accounting fro their ongoing maintenance requirements.

Some consider the ideal solution for separating cycle tracks to be curb separation, which prohibits motor vehicles from using the space. This has a much higher cost than some alternatives, due to the additional infrastructure required. Further, curb separation can present challenges with reconfiguring drainage along an existing street. Curbs are being proposed on a number of cycle tracks projects planned for Chicago, including the cycle track on State Street, between 26th Street and Garfield Boulevard/55th Street.

Raised Cycle Track
Raised cycle tracks are vertically separated from travel and parking lanes, and may be the same or a different elevation than the sidewalks, for both cyclist and pedestrian safety. Similar to curb separation, raised cycle tracks clearly define the space for bicyclists and prevent motor vehicle use. Drainage is often a challenge with raised cycle tracks, however, and there is a need to provide mountable curbs for access.

Urban Trail
While most shared use trails and paths are located in parks or forest preserves and are used for recreation, many cities are coming up with innovative ways to integrate these types of facilities into they urban core to encourage people to ride. For instance, the unique 8 mile long Indianapolis Cultural Trail was completed in 2013, and allows people to travel all over Downtown Indianapolis by bike. In Chicago, the Bloomingdale Trail will convert an abandoned rail line into a cutting edge multi-use facility that will connect neighborhoods on the Northwest side of the city.

The growing demand for bike facilities across Illinois is evident, and meeting that demand will require safe, high quality facilities that make bicyclists and non-riders both happy. There is a unique opportunity for landscape architects and urban designers to work closely with engineers to design and construct bike lanes that not only function safely, but serve as examples of great design. Combining the expertise of these disciplines will allow communities to design and build great streets not only for bicyclists, but for all of us.

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