Clearly, I am not someone who shies away from a good car vs bike fight … when it makes sense. But so often, they are unnecessary and distract from other surrounding issues, such as pedestrian safety. The pedestrian safety issues alone are enough to make the Nickerson changes (construction starts today) a valuable and important project. The addition of bike lanes on Nickerson are important for bicycle safety, but it is ridiculous to phrase the project as simply a bikes vs cars project.
Josh Cohen at Publicola has a good breakdown:
[The changes] will allow the agency to reinstall three marked pedestrian crosswalks (which were removed a few years ago to comply with federal guidelines), a westbound traditional bike lane, and eastbound sharrows. In addition to adding pedestrian and bicycling facilities, one of the major aims of the project is to slow down cars.
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However, you wouldn’t get any of that from watching KING-5′s report, “Nickerson Street bike lane construction gets under way.” Starting with the title, King 5 frames the Nickerson road diet [or, according to KING, “diet road”] solely as bikes vs cars (and implies that bikes are getting special treatment at the expense of cars). There isn’t a single mention of pedestrians and crosswalks or of the project’s speed-reduction goals. They only use quotes from self-identified “drivers” (no bicyclists, no SDOT experts, nobody who supports the project) who are convinced the project will cause serious congestion. Nor does KING-5 discuss SDOT’s study of the similar Stone Way road diet, which found little to no increase in congestion.
The idea that lanes are being taken away from cars and given to bikers is oversimplified and disingenuous. As I’ve argued before about these so-called road diets, many roads in our city are simply overbuilt for the traffic they carry. An overbuilt road is dangerous for everyone. Speeding is prevalent, which increases the likelihood that a pedestrian, bike or, indeed, another car will be struck. A reconfiguration with two general traffic lanes and a turn lane can carry very similar capacity to a four-lane road in many urban settings, as SDOT has shown with roads like Stone Way.
So yes, clearly there is an increase in bicycle road space and a decrease in car space. But Nickerson is not a highway. New vehicle speeds will be closer to the speed limit, cars will still be able to queue up at the bridges, and people will get to where they need to go. You just won’t be able to speed there. This is not about taking away car space, it’s about making our roads safe and usable by everyone who uses them and undoing some poor petroleum-infused street design from the past.