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Friday, November 23, 2018

Protected Bike Lanes Make Their Debut in Emeryville

Bike Boulevards Out, Protected Bike Lanes In

Bike/Ped Plan to be Amended, Writing out Boulevards
Cars & Trucks to Flood Previous Boulevards

News Analysis
Prompted by a rash of vehicles parking in bike lanes and unwanted interactions between cars and bikes, City Hall has embarked on a program to investigate replacing the City's bike boulevard network with 'protected' bike lanes, the first such segment having been recently completed for a part of Horton Street.  The temporary order of business seeks to test physically separating bikes and cars with rubber bollards or concrete 'K rail' in select areas in town as part of a pilot program with an eye towards making the improvements permanent if the City Council and the public finds them acceptable.
New protected bike lanes are being tried on Horton Street
north of 53rd Street.
Difficult to park a vehicle blocking the lane...
The use of protected bike lanes represents a major shift in bike transportation policy for Emeryville that since 1998 has embraced an integrationist policy, the idea that bikers are safest when they intermingle with slow moving cars on bike boulevards versus a segregationist policy, also claiming biker safety, that would separate them (in this case with barriers).  Vice Mayor Ally Medina, the City Council's Bike/Pedestrian Committee liaison and champion of the new segregationist policy says protected bike lanes are likely the best option and the Bike/Ped Plan is in need of an update to reflect the new way of thinking.
Bike boulevards may become a thing of the past, written out of the Bike Plan, if a segregational philosophy becomes the mode of the day in Emeryville.
...except at intersections where desperate drivers
will make bikers swerve out of the protected
lanes into traffic...
difficult with bollards, impossible with K rail. 
The scene of a delivery truck on
Horton Street yesterday.
Arguably more dangerous than
bike boulvards. 

City Hall has not been willing or able to implement bike boulevard provisions in the 20 year old Bike Plan despite its liberal use of purple signs and stencils applied to asphalt declaring specified streets to be bike boulevards.  Any change in the Bike Plan to remove them would be historic.  The required lowering of vehicle traffic volume that's part and parcel of these boulevards have been a sticking point for City Hall.  Regardless that the guiding philosophy of bike boulevards being cars allowed but bikes preferred, Emeryville has encouraged more car traffic on these bike corridors by default, arguing that the extra traffic loading on non-bike boulevard streets in such a case would be unacceptable.  Developers worried that lack of easy car access to their projects would lower their value, have added their voices to this chorus.  Protected bike lanes inversely, allow as many cars as streets can carry, ensuring maximum developer profits while giving politicians cover; enabling them to claim they are working to increase biker safety by removing bike boulevards.

Rush to Protected Bike Lanes
Protected bike lanes are the hottest trend in bike advocacy circles and progressive cities are rushing to install them nationwide, sometimes tripping over themselves to jump on the bandwagon.  It's a trend not seen since the rush for bike boulevards by municipalities 20 years ago when they were the hottest trend.
The Tattler interviewed this biker avoiding the
new protected bike lane: "There's too much debris
in the bike lane.  It's dangerous and you're sort of
trapped in there." he said.
The City will need to invest in a bike lane
cleaning vehicle.
Protagonists point to studies that show how protected bike lanes are safer for urban bikers than either unprotected bike lanes or even bike boulevards.  Studies are generally in agreement on the issue of bike safety, at least for travel between intersections.  Intersections however remain problematic from a safety perspective and some of the studies reveal that intersections are actually more dangerous for a protected bike lane corridor, owing to higher vehicle speeds and higher vehicle volumes generally associated with protected bike lanes over bike boulevards.  The infamous 'right hook' move, that being vehicles turning right at an intersection crossing over the biker's line of travel, is particularly dangerous in a protected bike lane regime over that of a bike boulevard.  The problem stems from the tendency of drivers, not needing to be aware of bikes mid block, suddenly entering into conflict with them at the intersections.  Studies show drivers are much more aware of bikers around them on bike boulevards and they tend to drive accordingly, particularly if the bike boulevard vehicle speed and volume are properly attenuated.
But that has been the problem in Emeryville; there's been a lack of political will to implement the traffic calming measures for our bike boulevards that would make biking safer.  Regardless of the fact that bike boulevards are the law of the land in Emeryville for the last 20 years, City Hall has yet to actually try one.  Even still, the City Council is poised to remove them en masse in favor of the new paradigm.  Vice Mayor Medina put it bluntly; she told the Tattler she is ready to amend the Bike/Ped Plan to get rid of the boulevards in favor of the protected bike lanes if the pilot program shows public support.  That would represent a dramatic break from her colleagues who have steered clear of the controversial move of so amending the Plan, choosing instead over the years, to simply ignore it.
The infamous bike lane 'right hook'.
Not an issue on bike boulevards.

Developers will likely give support to the protected bike lane idea, especially the Sherwin Williams project that will dump thousands of car trips per day on our streets.  New renters will likely balk on high rents if it's too difficult for the car drivers to get to and from their homes that would be the case if the bike boulevards concept were to be implemented.  Protected bike lanes are agnostic on the issue of vehicle speed and volume and traffic could therefore be more atomized throughout our town rather than it bunching up on the arterial streets as it would in a bike boulevard scenario.

Left out of the new equation conspicuously however are pedestrians and people who value 'low and slow' quiet streets.  Removing bike boulevards in favor of protected bike lanes fails to accommodate their interests.  The higher vehicle speeds and heavier traffic on former bike boulevards morphed into protected bike lane streets are more dangerous to pedestrians at intersections and less aesthetic to lovers of quiet places.   Emeryville being Emeryville, even in the age of our new progressive City Council, it is possible these non-developer interests may ultimately not make the cut.

The Rise of Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S. from PlacesForBikes on Vimeo.
Protected Bike Lanes: The hippest thing since sliced bread.  Bike boulevards apparently are yesterday's news.
The video shows how popular protected bike lanes have become but makes a fatuous claim that vehicle speeds go down on streets with protected bike lanes.  Compared with streets with regular bike lanes, vehicle speeds are shown to be higher and compared with bike boulevards, even more so.  Bike boulevards are shown to bring down vehicle speeds the most of all bike corridor infrastructure solutions. 


  1. This is great news for our motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Motorists won't have to deal with bikes in their lane, cyclists won't have to deal with cars in their lane, and pedestrians will find that protected bike lanes lure many cyclists off the sidewalks. Many of the Tattler's misgivings, though worth airing, are addressed in this fact-based report:

    The "right hook" is deadly, for sure--even with our current bike lanes, which are unprotected. It would help if at intersections drivers merged with the current bike lane and turned from the curb, as required by CVC 21717. Striping and protected lanes would actually make clearer to all where bike and cars are supposed to be at an intersection.

    Adding protected bike lines leads to a narrowing of automobile lanes--a huge plus for safety, because it reduces speeds. Those who prefer to drive fast may gripe, but in a town that can't afford to patrol traffic effectively, this is a clever, effective way to reduce speeding.

    1. Thanks for commenting Will-
      There seems to be a mad rush to embrace these protected bike lanes and you have to ask, why? If they're so great today, then why weren't they great a few years ago? It's not like they're some new invention.
      It's the nature of overheated faddish thinking I suppose. I remember Councilman John Fricke trying to get protected bike lanes in Emeryville many years ago and he was laughed at before slammed for his outlandish suggestion. Even the East Bay Bike Coalition (now called Bike East Bay) thought protected bike lanes were dangerous. Dangerous for motorists AND bikers they said. Anyway, now we seem to be on the verge of extolling to the rooftops in Emeryville that protected bike lanes are fantastic and bike boulevards are unsafe....ah well...such is life in the big city.

      I read a study that showed an inflection point at 11 foot wide vehicle travel lanes. Less than 11 foot wide lanes slowed vehicles (to a point) but no slowing was displayed when lanes are narrowed down but remain greater than 11 feet. In other words, no benefit of vehicle slowing is to be had by narrowing a travel lane from say, 14 feet to 12 feet. Bike boulevards are shown to reduce vehicle speeds more than streets with bike lanes, protected or not. Some studies have shown protected bike lanes actually increase vehicle speeds (over uncontrolled streets). That's sort of intuitive owing to the speedway feeling of bollards alongside the road....a feeling for drivers they won't place bikers in danger and they can safely increase their speed.
      Bike boulevards don't place bikers in danger of the right hook because the bikes take the vehicle lane and cars don't pass in front of them to turn right. Of course this only works when the bike boulevard has proper traffic calming measures on it....something Emeryville doesn't have the stomach for.

      The studies conducted by the protected bike lane advocacy group you cite, people for, are fantastic and everyone should check it out. That group has done a great job convincing cities to install protected bike lanes however, the evidence they have compiled compares against uncontrolled streets. They're not weighing in on bike boulevards versus streets with protected bike lanes.
      I agree with their findings; it is far better to have protected bike lanes than unprotected bike lanes or of course better than streets without provisions for bikes at all.

  2. I've tried these protected bike lanes on horton twice already. Both times there were obstructions and garbage so I had to veer out into the cars. For this to work they are going to have to keep the lanes clear. I doubt they can make this work.

  3. I agree with you Brian about how Emeryville has not fully tried a bike boulevard yet. What people aren't fully grasping I think is that some bike boulevards would have diverters and that would truly make a "low and slow" street. If people saw one in Emeryville, they'd like it. I think protected bike lanes are not popular because they're popular as you say but more because people haven't realized the potential of bike boulevards.
    - A former BPAC member

  4. Now if we could only get the cyclists to stop for stop signs and red lights, or follow any of the laws, or for the police to actually enforce the laws when the cyclists break them.