Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The case for the Fell/Oak bike lanes

There has been some angst over the bike lane additions/improvements to Fell and Oak Street

Here is why I think this project's implementation is very important

On various blogs when this topic would come up, some cyclist would inevitably chime in and say that they prefer to use Page and Hayes to Fell and Oak. Some debate would get stirred up as to the fact that Fell and Oak are flatter than Page/Hayes, Page and Hayes would be great if we could bollard them up and make them local traffic only, but that won't happen, etc...

An interesting artifact of this discussion is that some community members who are virulently anti-cyclist and have probably not ridden a bike in decades, have suddenly become experts in the field and would posit that Page/Hayes are a better route for cyclists and thus the Fell/Oak project should be scrapped. This isn't because they actually know that it's better, they've just translated some comment from someone who prefers Page/Hayes for some reason and decided that this person is clearly an expert. Not based on the merits, but because it fits their narrative of keeping Fell/Oak the way it is.

Here's the problem with that. Cyclists DO in fact take Fell/Oak, already. Killing the Fell/Oak project is not going to chase them away from Fell/Oak. Some comment on a blog is not going to move them to Page. Should we remove the bike lane on Fell completely, and widen the primary travel lanes? Cyclists would still use Fell but without a bike lane and amongst even faster traffic - at speeds that do not belong on what is still a residential street.

Consider this. Foothill Road is a road that runs from Pleasanton California to Sunol California, parallel to the 680 Freeway. It goes through a relatively undeveloped section of the foothills on the East side of the mountains between Contra Costa Valley and the Bay. I rode this road on my bike 12 years ago and found it to be a very peaceful road along horse farms and not much else.

At some point over the last decade, Dublin and Pleasanton had some nominal development at the North end of Foothill. Traffic on the 680 in that corridor gets backed up a commute hours. From those subdivisions there is a direct connector to 580/680 to get onto 680 South. But the residents of this area discovered that they could take Foothill south and then cut over to 680, bypassing a chunk of traffic.

Those cars are *supposed* to take the freeway, not the rural road parallel to the freeway. But they started using Foothill anyway. So what did Contra Costa County do? Did they start a campaign to stop people from driving on Foothill? Make the road narrower and put in speed bumps to slow traffic? No - they repaved and widened the road to make for wider, quicker travel lanes, put in guardrails, installed a bike lane that has sections that go away because they could not fit the bike lane *and* a wider travel lane.

Similarly on 680 North there is a sign that says "SACRAMENTO USE 680N" to discourage people from using 84E as a shortcut around traffic on 680 and cut directly through Livermore onto 580. This sign was summarily ignored by motorists who figured out that they could shave a few miles and bypass traffic jams on 680 by using 84E, a narrow winding road to Livermore. What did the county do? Improved 84E to deal with the traffic they think should not be going that way.

Why is it that it that we will upend a country road to carry volumes of traffic that we already installed a freeway to carry, but when cyclists vote with their pedals to take a specific road, it is considered a reasonable argument to try to get the cyclists to not use that route? This project must happen or we are setting a bad precedent that cyclists should be pushed around only to certain roads we deem they are worthy to ride upon.


Mikesonn said...

Keeping Fell/Oak parking vs protected bike lane serves .1% vs >4% of road users.

blobree said...

I feel like there is an application to 16th street somewhere in here. As a cyclist and driver, I still don't understand why people bike up 16th. 17th and 15th are way better. Is it habit? Where are these riders going that the other two are not better options? thoughts?

Yoyo said...

Bret: I don't bike up 17th anymore after having gone to the hospital on account of its streetcar rails. 16th is 2 lanes uphill and doesn't carry that much traffic in my experience, so one can take the lane. 18th and 15th are still preferable though.

Yoyo said...

Fell will be great as long as drivers aren't entering and exiting the gas station at Divisadero. Oak is even more important. For the longest time I couldn't figure out how to get back toward Bernal from GGP -- going uphill on Baker to Page never occurred to me, and the traffic on Oak still makes me feel like I'm tempting fate.

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