Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Revolutionary War re: Princeton Ciclovia this Sunday afternoon

Montreal is considered the most bike-friendly city in North America nowadays.

One of their daily papers is The Gazette - founded by a former employee of Ben Franklin in 1778.

I was looking at their interactive "cycling trouble spots" survey/map, at this link, then
began wondering "what was Benjamin Franklin doing up there?" and found this article

I didn't realize that when the Continental Army invaded Quebec in 1775, they were
led by the Irish-born General Richard Montgomery, after whom our neighboring
township, and many other US places including the capital city of Alabama, are named.

The heroic Montgomery was killed later that year at Quebec City, where the non-
heroic Benedict Arnold was wounded.

When Montreal surrendered to General Montgomery in November 1775, a prominent
citizen involved in the negotiations was James McGill, founder of the university. During
the 1990's, the twin brothers Bernard and Harold Shapiro were presidents of McGill
and Princeton Universities, respectively.

So think about these historic/military/academic connections when you come to 
Quaker Road this Sunday to participate in (and enjoy) the first Princeton Ciclovia,
brought to you by many sponsors including the Historical Society of Princeton.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Princeton Cycle Facilities Part 6: Off-Road Cycle Trails

This post is part of a series reviewing the effectiveness of bicycle facilities in Princeton. In this post, we discuss off-road cycle trails. The previous entries in this series discussed regular roadssharrowspaved shoulders, on-street bike lanes and multi-use sidepaths.

The photograph above shows an off-road trail that leads from Elm Road in Princeton around the back of Johnson Park Elementary School. It is a designated bike route, and allows cyclists to get around without encountering car traffic. Whether somebody is cycling for transport or recreational purpose, a separated trail like this can be one of the most enjoyable and safest places to ride. Unlike with sidepaths, off-road trails are much less likely to encounter issues with vehicle conflicts at intersections, or with cars exiting from driveways.

In Princeton, we have relatively few separated cycle trails. There is a short segment of off-road trail along Guyot Stream, which connects Moore Street to Carnahan Place. Another connects Snowden Lane and Terhune Road to Barbara Smoyer Park. The D&R Canal Trail, which runs along the border of Princeton and Plainsboro/West Windsor, is probably the best example of a long piece of off-road trail. The D&R Canal Trail forms part of the East Coast Greenway, a network of bike trails running the entire east coast of the USA.  

Ideally, we would like to have a much wider-ranging network of off-road trails. Neighboring municipalities have had invested significantly in bike trails, most famously at the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, which runs close to the western town line of Princeton, near Province Line Road and the ETS site. The Lawrence Hopewell Trail now includes 11.8 miles of dedicated facilities, and is an excellent alternative to cycling on busy roads. Adding new trails in Princeton could substitute for, or complement, on-road cycling facilities. In some cases, new trails would be a great opportunity for encouraging cycling mobility. Notably, Princeton has huge tracts of open space, most of which are inaccessible to bicycles. Upgraded trails through our parks and open spaces could significantly improve access to these sites, and improve options for green transportation. 

In other cases, adding trails runs into significant challenges owing to existing land uses. Land in Princeton is generally used more intensively than in surrounding municipalities, and land owners may see little advantage in setting aside part of their property for a bicycle thoroughfare. Clearly, we need to examine possibilities for new off-road trails, but also be aware that on-road cycle facilities will sometimes be essential.

Off-road trails have a number of disadvantages. They are shared-use- for pedestrians and cyclists- and therefore there is a risk of pedestrian-cyclist conflicts. At low traffic volumes, pedestrians and cyclists can usually self-segregate on multi-use trails, but it is necessary for trails to be sufficiently wide so that pedestrians and cyclists can happily co-exist. At present, many of our trails are quite narrow, and are often narrowed further by encroachment from bushes and plant growth. Maintenance is important on trails, particularly in winter, when fallen trees and snow can block the trail or render it hazardous. Finally, lighting is often inadequate along our cycle trails for really safe night-time cycling. To encourage year-round use of off-road trails, some investment in lighting will be necessary. 

Where do you think Princeton should add cycle trails to improve bicycle mobility? Or should we just focus on getting more bike lanes? Please let us know- your feedback is essential to planning the next phases of Princeton's bicycle facility network.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Princeton Cycle Facilities Part 5: Multi-Use Sidepaths

This post is part of a series reviewing the effectiveness of bicycle facilities in Princeton. In this post, we discuss multi-use sidepaths. The previous entries in this series discussed regular roadssharrowspaved shoulders and on-street bike lanes.

Princeton doesn't have many bike lanes, but we have miles and miles of shared-use sidepaths intended for use by both pedestrians and cyclists (see the blue lines on this map). A sidepath is a path marked for bicycle use adjacent to a road (see photo above, of a sidepath at Mountain Avenue and Glen Drive in Princeton). In Princeton, sidepaths aren't necessarily marked with much signage, and can appear very similar to a regular sidewalk. One difference is that sidepaths are usually smooth, dark-colored asphalt; whereas sidewalks are usually light-colored concrete with regularly-spaced grooves.

Sidepaths mostly separate cyclists from motorized traffic. As such, many people assume that they are safer than on-street cycle facilities. This is not the case. Statistics show that sidewalk / sidepath cycling is significantly more dangerous than riding in the road (whether in a travel lane or dedicated cycle lane). Cross-streets are a big problem for sidepaths. Cyclists are supposed to dismount from their and walk across each crosswalk. This is definitely burdensome, where sidepaths are interrupted by many cross-streets, cyclists become less and less likely to dismount each time. Cycling across an intersection is very risky, however, and in the event of an accident, the cyclist will be found at fault. Sidepaths are therefore far from an optimal facility for safe and stress-free cycling.

Sidepaths suffer from three further disadvantages. The first is the risk of pedestrian-cyclist conflicts. This may not be as big a problem as it first appears. Until cyclist / pedestrian volumes become quite high, cyclists and pedestrians are usually able to self-segregate on sidepaths. In Princeton University, there are no dedicated cycle facilities- all the paths are designated as multi-use, and yet crashes between walkers and cyclists are not a major problem. A second issue is that experienced cyclists are likely to shun sidepaths. There is no way they are going to get off their bike every block; instead they will just cycle in the roadway. This makes the cycle facility appear superfluous, and may undermine public confidence in the investment. The third issue relates to cars exiting driveways. This is the biggest problem. If a car cuts across a sidepath while leaving a driveway, the potential for a serious accident is high. Consider this photo:

We see a car crossing a sidepath, this time on Princeton Pike, near the Battlefield site. Cyclists have to hope that drivers will be attentive and inch out slowly. The potential for serious vehicle-cyclist conflicts is high.

Considering their disadvantages, why are sidepaths so widespread around the former Princeton Township? One reason is the common, mistaken belief that they are a safer cycle facility than on-street bike lanes. A second reason is that placing cyclists onto what is effectively the sidewalk minimizes the amount of space required for the cycle facility. This allows more space to be dedicated to other road uses, notably wider travel lanes and on-street parking. Wide travel lanes and on-street parking bring advantages to some road users, but we have to question whether these advantages are worth the risk of serious injury to cyclists.

In other countries, which prioritize cycling, cyclists have their own, specialized cycle path, which is a proper travel lane, separate from the sidewalk and the roadway, but potentially marked by different-color surface material or by being slightly raised above the level of the roadway. Here is an example from Copenhagen, Denmark. Note how the sidepath is separated from the sidewalk, raised above the road surface with a small curb, and buffered from the car travel lane by on-street parking bays:

Copenhagen also has specialized intersection treatments to give cyclists their own priority phases. We might wish for these platinum-level cycle facilities, but the reality is that space and resource constraints make it unlikely that we will see anything as good as this in Princeton in the near future. In the meantime, we must ask whether it is worthwhile to expand the use of sidepath treatments around Princeton. There are several major bicycle travel routes, where, because of the primacy of on-street parking, we are forced to choose between a sidepath and sharrows. Both treatments have significant detrimental qualities: sidepaths are potentially risky, and sharrows do almost nothing to make people feel safe riding their bikes. What to do?

On balance, it may be pragmatic to use sidepath treatments in certain cases to encourage people to ride their bikes more. We may not recommend them as a first option, but adding a sidepath may also be better than doing nothing. The goal would be to make the sidepath as useful and safe as possible. The sidepaths that we have in the former Township currently are all too narrow. Cyclists can barely squeeze past pedestrians and dog-walkers. We must aim for a compliant 6-ft minimum width for single-direction sidepaths, and 8-ft for bi-directional sidepaths. We must get the details right about what signage best indicates that the sidepath is a designated cycle facility, that cyclists must yield to pedestrians, and dismount at intersections. We must monitor sidepath use, to see if they encourage more cycling, and make changes if they are not properly used. 

What is your opinion: is it worth expanding the use of sidepaths for cyclists in Princeton? Are they ever acceptable, or should we refuse to build more of them? Leave us a message to let us know.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Princeton Cycle Facilities Part 4: On-Street Bike Lanes

This post is part of a series reviewing the effectiveness of bicycle facilities in Princeton. In this post, we discuss on-street bike lanes. The previous entries in this series discussed regular roadssharrows and paved shoulders.

People often say that they wished Princeton had bike lanes. We do have bike lanes! Check out these bike lanes in the photo above, which can be found on Mercer Road (Princeton Pike). They extend all the way from the intersection of Princeton Pike and Gallup Road to the town line with Lawrence Township- that's a full 0.4 miles! And there's another example on a second Princeton street- can you think where? (see below to find out!)

On-street bike lanes, demarcated with a white painted or thermoplastic strip, and accompanied by specific signage or an in-lane bike symbol, are a true cycle facility. They give cyclists priority space on the roadway, which means they can ride out of the stream of traffic. This tends to make for a less-stressful experience for the cyclist, and it's good for car drivers too, because it means that slower-moving cyclists have a safe place to be, and are less likely to occupy the travel lane. Cycle lanes are much better than shoulders, because they are designated as travel lanes, which means cyclists have a right to cycle in them, and a right to expect the lane to be maintained.

Are cycle lanes safe? They offer no physical protection from cars swerving into them, or making careless turns across them. But the balance of statistical evidence strongly supports the idea that cycle lanes bring a safety benefit. They are safer for cyclists, and they even reduce the accident rate for car drivers. This is because motorists passing cyclists in a lane are found to move less far to the left when passing cyclists in a cycle lane, and therefore do not cross over into the opposing travel lane as much. This is a key advantage of a cycle lane: predictable cycle behavior. The cyclist has a predictable location on the road, and is likely to stay in the cycle lane. Predictable behavior makes circulation safer. 

Perhaps more surprisingly, on-street cycle lanes are associated with a lower accident rate than cycling on sidewalks / side paths. The sidewalk or sidepath provides physical separation from cars, but drivers do not expect cyclists to be on sidewalks. Sidewalk/sidepath treatments put cyclists at risk from cars exiting from driveways, and at intersections. In fact, in Princeton, it is mandatory for cyclists to dismount at cross streets when using sidepaths, and walk their bike across the crosswalk. This significantly reduces the fun and effectiveness of bicycle transportation, and the reality is that many cyclists risk cycling across crosswalks instead of dismounting and walking their bikes. On-street cycle lanes allow cyclists to remain on their bikes, and maintain a steady lane position past cross streets.

OK, did you already figure out where the other cycle lane in Princeton is? Here it is- on Quaker Road, between Princeton Pike and Route 206:

What do you mean you can hardly see it?! Yes, it is a bit faded, and it's also only about 100 yards long. Presumably the pole on the right hand side used to indicate that it was a designated bike lane- until it snapped in half and wasn't replaced! But this lane is clearly indicated on the municipal sidewalk and cycle facilities map (look for the magenta line). And it has some good features- observe the drainage grate, which, importantly, is a cycle-friendly design, which means your wheel won't fall between the rails of the grate. 

At some point this cycle lane was presumably the top of the line of Princeton's bicycle infrastructure. It's just one little section though, and without connecting to much of anything, it lay unused, and as time has gone on, it has been almost completely forgotten. Hopefully we can soon add more bike lanes. They aren't perfect, and they often conflict with on-street parking, but they are a proven form of cycle infrastructure, which has been demonstrated to make people feel safer when riding their bicycles.

What do you think of on-street bike lanes? What streets in Princeton do you think would be most appropriate for this treatment? Let us know!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Princeton Cycle Facilities Part 3: Paved Shoulders

This post is part of a series reviewing the effectiveness of bicycle facilities in Princeton. In this post, we discuss paved shoulders on roads. The previous entries in this series discussed regular roads and sharrows.

What looks like a bike lane but isn't one? The answer is a paved shoulder, as seen in the photograph above, taken at Elm Road in Princeton near the intersection with Hodge Road. On a busy road like this, with fast-moving traffic, a shoulder lane is a tempting place for a cyclist to ride. State DOT publications even describe paved shoulders as places for people to cycle. In many ways, a shoulder lane appears equivalent to a proper designated bicycle lane (which we will discuss in the next post). But shoulders differ in a couple of fundamental ways that make them much less useful for cyclists.

First, a shoulder is not considered a travel lane, and does not have to be maintained to the same standard. That means that rubble, broken glass and excessive potholes may be tolerated in a shoulder, which would not be acceptable in a travel lane. All of these represent obstacles to cyclists, which are at best a nuisance, and potentially hazardous. In the Polzo vs County of Essex case (2012), the New Jersey Supreme Court declared that a cyclist could not hold a public entity liable for accidents caused by failure to maintain a shoulder lane. In that case, a cyclist died because of injuries sustained after hitting a large pothole in a shoulder lane near Milburn Township. The Supreme Court further ruled that the 'roadway' does not include the shoulder lane. Cyclists should therefore use extreme caution while cycling in shoulder lanes.

Second, because a shoulder is not a travel lane, a cyclist in a shoulder lane is likely to be found liable for an accident in which a turning vehicle is in collision with the cyclist, because the driver of the motor vehicle can legitimately argue that the cyclist was operating outside a normal roadway position. Cyclists are also breaking the law if they pass slow-moving or standing traffic by cycling in a shoulderThis is not an intuitive rule, and cyclists commuting to work might think it is reasonable to use a wide shoulder lane like the one above to cycle past a line of traffic. We aim to provide facilities that are safe and helpful, and although they look like cycle lanes, paved shoulders are not nearly as good because they are fundamentally not legitimate cycle facilities. 

Another issue with shoulder lanes is that they tend to become seasonal dumping grounds for brush or snow. This is an issue that they share with on-street cycle lanes, which we will discuss next.

Question: on a road with a paved shoulder, where should a cyclist ride- on the shoulder or in the travel lane? Why?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Princeton Cycle Facilities Part 2: Shared Lane Markings

This post is part of a series reviewing the effectiveness of bicycle facilities in Princeton. In this post, we discuss 'shared lane markings', also known as 'sharrows'. The previous entry in this series, about regular roads, can be read here.

Princeton was an innovator in the local region when it rolled out a program of 'shared lane markings' on its streets in 2011 (see example from Nassau Street in photo above). The 'sharrows' were a recommendation of the Princeton Joint Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, which developed a policy paper on cycle facilities in 2010. (You can read the original documents at our online file archive.) 

Sharrows are intended to achieve several objectives. First, they are an additional reminder to cars that cyclists may be present and have the right to cycle in the road. Second, they suggest a safe position on the road for cyclists (cyclists are supposed to cycle right through the middle of the white thermoplastic arrow). In many cases, this position is much further out into the road than drivers or novice cyclists might assume. A mid-lane position is often safer, as it is easier for cars to see cyclists, and it also moves cyclists out of the 'door zone' where they might be struck by people exiting parked vehicles. As such, sharrows are a useful contribution to Princeton's support for cyclists. Sharrows were also recommended because they don't require extra street space, don't require significant investment to install, and are approved by the MUTCD.

On the other hand, sharrows do not provide any dedicated space for cyclists, and they are based on the idea that cyclists will be comfortable riding in mixed traffic. As discussed in yesterday's post about cycling on regular roads, some cyclists are happy in mixed traffic, riding in-between cars...but many others find it a terrifying prospect! In other communities, sharrows have been found to have a very limited effect in encouraging more people to take up cycling. In one study, 45% of cyclists rode on the sidewalk even when sharrows were present in the adjacent traffic lane.

The 'NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide', which is the most up-to-date, federally-endorsed guidebook for bicycle facilities in the USA, recommends very specific instances where sharrows are appropriate. Notably, the Design Guide recommends sharrows as part of a  'bicycle boulevard' concept. Berkeley, CA has an inter-connected network of bike boulevards, which are designated streets with low traffic speed and volumes, which are laid out to make it safe and stress-free to cycle between different parts of the town. Princeton Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee has been pursuing the boulevard concept, as part of the evolving Princeton Bicycle Masterplan.

On the other hand, the NACTO Design Guide specifically states that "Shared lane markings should not be considered a substitute for bike lanes, cycle tracks, or other separation treatments where these types of facilities are otherwise warranted or space permits." Bicycle boulevards, where sharrows are most helpful, are only appropriate where real vehicle average speed is a maximum of 25 mph, and where traffic volume is less than an absolute maximum of 3,000 vehicles per day. In Princeton, we have sharrows on many streets which do not match these criteria, including the example of Nassau Street, seen in the picture above. Going forward, we would aim to use sharrows where they are most appropriate, and not as a substitute for cycle facilities that are more appropriate for enabling safe and stress-free cycling.

As mentioned above, it would be really great to hear back from people about the type of cycle facilities that you would most like to see in Princeton. Do you like sharrows? Let us know!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Princeton Cycle Facilities Part 1: Regular Roads

At Princeton's Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, we are working to make it safe and fun for more people to cycle around town. In addition to our group events (remember: 'Ciclovia' - Quaker Road - May 4!) and training events (Wheels Rodeo - May 17), we are keen to improve the on-street experience for every cyclist.

At present, Princeton has a fairly basic range of bicycle facilities. But we definitely have some, and it's worth considering what are the most effective types of infrastructure for helping the largest range of people cycle more often. We would love to hear your feedback on the types of bicycle facility that you think makes cycling safe and fun. It would be much better to base our planning decisions on a cross-section of community opinions!

When it comes to on-road bike facilities, we have several different options. Today, I want to consider the regular road, as seen on the section of Mercer Street shown in the photo above. This is the default, that is, what we get when people don't make a specific plan for cyclists. It's just an ordinary road, with a travel lane in each direction, and in this case with some sidewalks. It's also the most common cycle provision in Princeton. I call it a cycle provision deliberately, because although there are no bike lanes or anything else, according to Title 39, the law that governs New Jersey's roads, cyclists have a right to cycle on essentially every road and street. Princeton also has a commitment to Complete Streets, and people will cycle here anyway. But is it safe or fun? Would you cycle along this street?

There is a group of cyclists, which we call 'the strong and the fearless', who will cycle everywhere. For them, cycling along a busy commuter road is not a problem - fast-moving vehicles rarely scare them, and they may even move out and 'take the lane' so that they can ride with the flow of traffic and easily be seen. These people make up about 0.5% of the population, but they are the cyclists you see most often around Princeton. 

The other 99.5% of people will feel some sense of concern about riding with traffic like this. There is clearly a risk of being hit by a car or truck. A lot of people will instead choose to ride on the sidewalk. This is not illegal in Princeton, but the sidewalk is not a good place for cycling. First, cyclists have to squeeze past pedestrians, which isn't good for anybody. Second, cyclists have to dismount at every cross-street, or be held liable for any accident occurring on a crosswalk. Many accidents occur in Princeton where sidewalk cyclists enter a crosswalk and are struck by cars or trucks. Third, people exiting their driveways in cars may not expect a cyclist on the sidewalk, and risk hitting them.

The vast majority of people have a common reaction to unsafe or marginal cycling facilities- they just choose not to cycle. That means they miss out on the health benefits of regular active transportation, the environmental benefits of a gasoline-free commute, and the opportunity to enjoy being outdoors surrounded by nature. It also adds to car traffic. Evidence from many other communities suggests that adding safe cycling facilities encourages more people to feel safe when cycling. In the coming posts we'll look at other types of cycle infrastructure in Princeton, starting with the 'shared lane marking' or 'sharrow'.

As mentioned above, it would be really great to hear back from people about the type of cycle facilities that you would most like to see in Princeton. We aim to make Princeton a town that is truly friendly to cyclists, and where people will feel at-ease on two wheels. We welcome all your thoughts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"a rough road leads to the stars" sounds better in Latin

Suddenly I want to be the first person on my block to own a glow-in-the-dark bike … although
this doesn't mean I want to ride around town with a pack of Blackberry Curve owners.

Builders include Pure Fix Bicycles (Burbank CA), Superb Bicycle (Boston), and Mission Bicycle
Co. (San Francisco). The latter is featured in this article which also points to a Dutch glow-in-the-dark
roadway experiment (see NPR story).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

foodie in the house

Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist for the New York Times - a longtime restaurant critic for the NYT
whose 2009 memoir, Born Round, was a bestseller - is teaching a writing seminar at Princeton
University this semester.

Here's a link to the 2011 op-ed piece Bruni wrote on bicycling in New York City, which ends thusly:

The Chicago transportation commissioner, Gabe Klein, noted that biking pushed back against
a range of modern ills. "There's the congestion problem," he said. "The pollution problem.
The obesity problem. The gas problem."  On top of all that, it makes an important statement
about our priorities — about our willingness to amend the reckless, impatient, gluttonous ways
that have created not only smog and clog in our cities but also a staggering federal debt.  

"Bikes are definitely a symbol of what your city stands for," said Klein.