Back-Seat Driver

Here’s Sacramento’s unconventional plan to stop bicyclists and cars from clashing

The city of Sacramento this week will try out an unconventional way to make downtown streets safer for cyclists. It’s called “parking-protected bike lanes,” and basically it separates two transportation styles that frankly often don’t play well together.

It’s done by moving the parking lane out into the street, and putting the bike lane next to the curb. That turns the parking lane into a buffer zone between cyclists and moving vehicles.

The city will introduce the concept as a demonstration project for three days this week on two blocks of P Street to give motorists and cyclists a sense of how it works, and to get their feedback.

City officials say they then will install permanent parking-protected lanes next spring on three major streets, 20 blocks in total, in hopes of making downtown less dangerous and more welcoming for cyclists of all abilities.

“For years, bike advocates and drivers have been asking for better infrastructure to separate bikes from cars,” City Councilman Steve Hansen said. “I think it is going to be a an important step in the right direction.”

This week’s tryout will take place Wednesday through Friday on the south side of P Street between 13th and 15th streets. The city will put in removable striping and will add orange plastic marking poles.

To make room for the lane, though, those two blocks of P Street will be reduced from three lanes to two. City officials say the reduction will slow traffic, but not dramatically. P Street currently is two lanes to the east of 15th Street and three lanes to the west.

The city will also install a 3-foot-wide diagonally striped zone between the parked cars and the bike lane. That allows space for drivers to open their doors without running the risk of hitting a cyclist. Parkers will step across the bike lane to the curb to feed the meters.

The concept is relatively new, but has been tried in several cities nationally, including Oakland and San Francisco. Jennifer Donlon Wyant, the city’s active transportation manager, said early indications are that the new configuration reduces crashes and encourages more people to cycle.

The city will hold a meeting Monday, Oct. 9, at 5 p.m. in the City Hall lobby to get reactions to the test and to show its plans for expansion next spring. “We want feedback on how to do these successfully in the future,” Hansen said.

The city plans to add the lanes permanently on P and Q streets next spring between Ninth and 15th streets, and on 10th Street between I and Q streets. The lane on 10th Street will be set up differently to allow chartered buses to pull up and park at their normal curb spots in front of the state Capitol. Wyant said all of those changes will cost $500,000.

City officials say they hope the protected bike lanes also will encourage more bicyclists to ride on the street instead of the sidewalk, where they are in conflict with pedestrians.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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