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Buffered bike lanes a much better fit for Dexter

Just south of the Nickerson/Westlake/Fremont/Dexter intersection

Dexter is going to be pretty nice once the new plans are paved. First, look at the image above. For those who ride across the Fremont bridge to Dexter, you know this spot pretty well. Usually there are no cars from Nickerson turning right onto Dexter. But when there is one, you never know if they are going to yield or not. You want to believe they will, but every once in a while, someone just kinda blows through and you have to do your best to avoid it (or take the lane through the intersection).

But not after SDOT’s changes. Now, there will be a green lane crossing the entrance from Nickerson to Dexter, and cars will have to wait until all traffic has cleared before turning onto Dexter and going up the hill. The bike lane will turn into sharrows near the bus stop before turning back into a bike lane, so you will still have one bus conflict spot.

Basically, from then on, there is a bike lane. There is a buffered lane whenever there is no turn lane, and a 6′ lane for segments where there is one.

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The only parts I am having trouble envisioning are the bus islands, probably because I’m not used to them. Here’s how it works. Whenever there is a bus stop, you have sidewalk, bike lane, then bus island. The buses will stop in the traffic lane to load passengers, allowing them to run more smoothly because they do not have to merge back into traffic after each stop and do not get caught leapfrogging a biker up the whole hill.

I’ve been tossing the plans around in my head for a few days now, and I think the changes will work well. On the uphills, there is absolutely no issue. But for the downhills, my first thought was, Oh man, if a biker is going down the hill at 25 mph as a bus unloads passengers, someone might get hit. But I think that is probably not true. After all, if a bus is stopped and people are moving around, I think bikers will slow down and be cautious.

Brian Dougherty, SDOT Outreach Coordinator for the project, said they are planning to paint a bike symbol in the lane next to the bus stops so that people are aware it is a bike lane. People have to look for cars every time they cross a street, and the bikes and people will behave accordingly. There is a crosswalk painted in the bike lane, so bikes will slow down, people will cross, and everything will be OK. We deal with much more complicated traffic situations all the time.

The Cycle Track

To catch up anyone who missed this whole debate, the original proposal for Dexter had parking-separated cycle tracks in each direction. While I am not necessarily against cycle tracks, Dexter seemed a little dangerous to me and some other bikers. It has a big hill, so bikes would be going pretty fast, obscured from the view of moving motor vehicles by parked cars, past driveways, parking lot entrances and some streets.

Cycle track safety is largely dependent on how intersections are handled. One drastic (and very expensive) idea for mediating the danger is to have the cycle track at a raised level and painted a bright color so that cars actually have to drive up and over the track. This forces them to be aware of potential bikes. But this would be outrageously expensive, and I am not sure there is even enough car traffic on Dexter to warrant such a big effort to separate cars and bikes (however, let’s talk about a cycle track on Westlake…)

I think the buffered lanes offer the right balance of both actual and perceived safety. Bikes will have fewer battles with buses, and there will be fewer stopped cars and trucks completely blocking the bike lanes (hopefully). Meanwhile, bike will still maintain good visibility to turning motor vehicle traffic. And I think the painted buffers do a lot to make the space more inviting to new riders who may have been scared to use the beat-to-death, often obscured bike lanes that exist on the road today.

Download the Dexter plans (large PDF)

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5 responses to “Buffered bike lanes a much better fit for Dexter”

  1. Gordon Werner

    Luckily the bus stops on the hill down to the Fremont bridge aren’t heavily used … of course bicyclists have to yield to pedestrians … but I would imagine that problems will be few and far between. A greater problem will be from people who back out of their driveways on the east side of Dexter. But, since they do this today I would hope drivers and bicyclists are already cognizant of that issue.

  2. Ben

    So, the bike lanes are still in the door zone of parked cars with this proposal? If so, that is really lame, and is the one issue that I was hoping they would address with the changes to Dexter.

  3. I have to address this whole “door zone bike lane” issue as it is repeatedly raised. Not only are mid-block collisions the least likely type of bicycle crash, but the entire argument that bike lanes contribute to doorings is absolutely false.

    First, no at-grade solution will protect cyclists from illegal behavior. At intersections, we trust that crossing traffic will observe traffic controls. Though we don’t call them t-bone intersections, there is nothing that actually prevents a driver from proceeding straight through. The same applies to drivers and passengers who open vehicle doors into traffic. It’s a prohibited activity.

    Second, all of the peer-reviewed research on the subject demonstrates that, per-bicyclist, rates of doorings are lower of streets with bicycle lanes than those without. This is due, as the Seiderman, Van Houten study of pavement markings and bicyclist position withing the roadway suggests, to the fact that bicyclists ride further from parked cars when there are bicycle lanes present than they do when there are no bicycle lanes.

    Finally, the proposed Dexter configuration provides 8-feet of lateral separation (6ft lane, 2ft painted buffer), which is sufficient to navigate around any open door without swerving into overtaking traffic.

    I hope this puts the argument to rest.

    1. mike archambault

      Good points, thanks. That still doesn’t mean we should forget about the risk of dooring when designing bike facilities. With the wider bike lanes and buffers, I know I’ll feel tons safer from getting doored than I do in today’s skimpy bike lanes.

  4. Clark in Vancouver

    My experience here in Vancouver, BC is that having the bike lane to the right of the car parking is much better than on the left.
    The idea of “being confined” to a separated bike lane is preposterous. At any point you can dismount and get off it. It should be made wide enough to be able to pass anyone going slower than you. Two here are two-way lanes (on one way streets) and the other direction works as a passing lane.
    There is a bus stop island just like this proposed one on Dunsmuir street in Vancouver. The bike lane rises there to the level of the sidewalk, helping cyclists know that it’s a shared area (along with signs, and coloured pavement). It works very well without problems.
    Here’s a picture of it I found:
    It’s hard to see in the picture but on the left is the bus shelter. I don’t know but since the bike lane is still in a trial period they might move it out to the bus island after things are permanent.
    You can see the paving rise so people crossing to get to the bus island don’t need to step down. In the foreground is the coloured pavement where the bike lane crosses and intersection. It’s very important where the bike lane crosses another street, to have it coloured so it’s clear that it’s different than the rest of the road. (They use vibrant green in Vancouver, red in the Netherlands, blue in Germany.)

    At any intersection in any mode, one has to look both ways and not blindly assume that anyone else will stop. It’s a normal part of getting around.

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