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.

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