UPDATED WITH NEW PHOTO: NYC Cyclist Calls Protected Bike Lanes ‘Death Traps;’ Reaction to Long Beach Bike-only Lanes Mixed


Bicyclists in downtown Long Beach take their first official spin in the city’s new protected bike paths on April 23, the day they were officially opened to the public. Photo by Richard Risemberg.

UPDATE Monday, April 25, 5:55pm |
Protected bicycle lanes similar to those that officially debuted in Long Beach over the weekend can be found in several other American cities, and while their design is aimed at boosting both the perceived and actual safety of biker riders, some East Coast cyclists say they accomplish the exact opposite.

The cycling community in New York City is reportedly divided on the issue of constructing bike paths that are sandwiched between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars in an effort to separate them from vehicle traffic. Some cyclists there say that while the lanes are well-intentioned, they effectively have the opposite effect, according to an April 23 Wall Street Journal report.

Dan Durller, a 29-year-old cyclist from Brooklyn, reportedly said that the separated bike lanes in New York City pose additional hazards for bike riders, who must dodge pedestrians and be wary of turning cars, slower cyclists and trucks loading and unloading through the cyclists’ right-of-way.

“They’re death traps and they’re very poorly designed,” Durller told the WSJ.

Still, many New Yorkers reportedly love the new lanes, and since their installation, statistics show that the number of commuters using bikes in the city of New York has risen considerably.

 
UPDATE Monday, April 25, 11:23am | Long Beach residents are expressing mixed feelings regarding the new bike-only lanes that have been installed downtown as part of a federal pilot program along Broadway and Third Street.

Reaction to the new cycle tracks, as they are often referred to, thus far appears to be close to equal parts love and hate.

Only time will tell as to the community’s long-term reaction to the new bike-only paths, which are separated from vehicle traffic by a curb, parking lane and, in some areas, the installation of a median island.

The 12-month-long demonstration project made possible through the Federal Highway Administration and the California Traffic Control Devices Committee, set the city back about $700,000, according to a set of
frequently asked questions on
a fact sheet posted on BikeLongBeach.org. It should be noted that this sum includes the cost of updating the city’s current traffic signal system, which was installed approximately three decades ago, according to City Hall.

No money from the city’s general fund was used for the project; rather, local transportation funds that were disbursed by the state originating from the federal government covered the construction and other, related costs. The funds came with a strict earmark delineating that they be used solely for improvements to the city’s transportation system. The city was not permitted to use the funds for street maintenance and repair projects, such as filling potholes or resurfacing roadways.

After 12 months, should the FHA and CTCDC determine the separated bike lanes to have been “unsuccessful” (no parameters as to what might be considered “success” as opposed to “failure” are given), they will be removed and the third vehicle traffic lane that was sacrificed on each street to create the new bike paths will be restored. 

Should the agencies determine them to have been “successful,” the FHA and the CTCDC may choose to adopt the design “as a standard application that can be used by all cities,” according to the fact sheet. In this case, the city would then decide whether to pursue more widespread installation of similar protected bike paths throughout Long Beach.

Friday, April 22, 11:45am | The city of Long Beach is about to join the ranks of a small handful of cities nationwide offering bicyclists what officials say is a safer way to ride amidst vehicle traffic.

The separated bike lanes, commonly referred to as “cycle tracks,” recently installed along Broadway and Third Street are set to be officially opened for use beginning Saturday following a city-sponsored ceremony slated to mark the occasion.

Similar “protected” bike paths have already opened in San Francisco, Davis, Portland, Ore., and New York City.

The federally funded installation of the tracks on the one-way throughfares that provide drivers access to and from the I-710 (Long Beach) Freeway has resulted in some controversy, as the new bike lanes have replaced one of each street’s three vehicle traffic lanes. 

Both Broadway and Third now feature two lanes for vehicle traffic, while the third has been transformed into a wide bike lane and parking lane separated by a painted median island and asphalt curb. Both the curb and the parking lane serve as a buffer between cyclists and cars in an effort to increase the safety of bicyclists who ride downtown.

While motorists have complained about the new lanes, which were installed under a federally-backed, yearlong pilot project, because they have slowed traffic by decreasing the number of lanes on the two test streets, traffic engineers and cycle proponents are cheering the decreased speeds at which cars are now forced to travel.
 
The two-mile-long sections of buffered bike lanes heading east on Broadway and west on Third run from Alamitos to Golden avenues. 

According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, cyclists who use cycle track lanes as opposed to riding their bikes in or along vehicle traffic lanes are less likely to be injured.

Published on Feb. 9 of this year, the study found that bicycle riders suffer fewer injuries when they ride on physically separated, bicycle-exclusive paths along roadways than they do when riding in the road. The study compared injury rates of cyclists on cycle tracks in Montreal, Canada, with injury rates of cyclists who ride on streets in that city.

Cyclists using bicycle-exclusive lanes are 28 percent less likely to suffer an injury, the study found.

Cycle tracks are popular and widely used in Montreal as well as in The Netherlands, where 27 percent of the population uses bikes as a primary mode of transportation. There, cyclists are at least 26 times less likely to suffer injuries than their counterparts in the United States, where cycle track construction has been “hampered,” according to the study. This, researchers say, correlates to the fact that a mere .5 percent of American commuters use bikes as their primary mode of transportation.

People are more likely to use bicycles as a primary mode of transportation when cycle tracks are available because they offer cyclists both a perceived and real sense of safety, researchers said. The study found that the chief obstacle to bicycling, especially for women, children and seniors, is the perceived danger of vehicular traffic, which the study suggests is a real threat based on corroboration by bike riders surveyed by the study’s research team.

Local critics, however, say that the study doesn’t apply to the new bike lanes in Long Beach, which they believe were poorly designed and therefore dangerous.

Long Beach resident Kirk Jordan is concerned about the lack of safety offered by the cycle tracks. He told the Long Beach Post that he continually sees cars driving in portions of the protected bike lanes (see photos at end of post), which are supposed to be closed to vehicle traffic.

“I just drove past the Post Office again today,and once more saw cars driving down the bike path after depositing mail in the drive-through mailbox,” Jordan said in an e-mail on Thursday. “The reason? They have to drive in the path because the new curb as constructed blocks cars from pulling back out onto Third Street.”

This is among a host of other issues he perceives as design flaws. Others include areas along the cycle tracks that lack a curb separating cyclists from cars. He also cites areas in which the bike lanes “cross dangerously” with vehicle lanes, which happen to be located at some of the city’s busiest intersections.

At the intersection of Long Beach Boulevard and Third, for example, cyclists must cut to the right to continue heading west on Third at the same point at which drivers on Third who are turning left to head south on Long Beach Boulevard must cut to the left.

While Jordan said he is “all for” protected bike paths, he believes the paths installed downtown fall far short of boosting safety for cyclists.

It appears that the questionable design features aren’t unique to the separated bike lanes in Long Beach. Cycle tracks in other U.S. cities are constructed similarly, and cyclists and motorists in at least one of those communities have complained about issues that are nearly identical to those raised by Jordan.

In the city of Portland, similar issues have cropped up with its experimental cycle track, which was installed in 2008. When it first opened, motorists often parked, stopped or drove in the protected lane, and while the frequency of that problem has lessened, it still exists, according to cyclists discussing the cycle track at BikePortland.org

Additional problems associated with the cycle track cited by Portland cyclists include their visibility to motorists being lessened; inattentive pedestrians crossing or standing in the middle of the track; and insufficient space to safely pass other cyclists or other obstructions without entering a door zone or parking area.

Whether similar issues will be identified by Long Beach cyclists remains to be seen.
 
The city of Long Beach will hold a grand-opening-style ceremony Saturday on The Promenade between Broadway and Third, where Mayor Bob Foster and several other elected and city officials will hop on bikes and take the “first ride” at the conclusion of a ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Octavio Orduño, a 103-year-old Long Beach man who has been dubbed “The World’s Oldest Cyclist,” is expected to join them.


The event begins at 11 a.m., and festivities will also include a bike safety rodeo for kids, bike decorating, bike tune-ups and a screening of Michael Baugh’s film, “Riding Bikes with the Dutch.”


Motorists apparently confused or indifferent about the city’s new bike-only lanes, including this one on Third Street that separates drivers from the drive-thru mailboxes on the curb, drive into the bike path to access the mailboxes. Photo courtesy of Kirk Jordan.


This shot, taken just a few seconds after the photo directly above, illustrates two vehicles illegally driving in the new bike-only lane on Third Street, posing a safety hazard to the bicyclist using the new cycle lane. Photo courtesy of Kirk Jordan.

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