California Forum

A solution for bikes and pedestrians

As Americans walk and bike more, there’s a war for space on our nation’s sidewalks. A simple solution exists.

Protected bike lanes sharply reduce sidewalk biking, resulting in fewer clashes, recent city studies shows.

Some people bike recklessly on sidewalks, just as some people drive recklessly on streets. But the truth is that even reckless bikers wouldn’t be on the sidewalk without a reason.

Nobody prefers to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk next to people on foot, who are inherently unpredictable: they may suddenly stop to tie a shoelace or turn to look in a storefront window.

People bike on sidewalks for two main reasons: because they’re looking for a space that’s physically separated from cars and trucks, or they’re traveling against traffic on a one-way street.

Well-designed, protected bike lanes, which use posts, curbs or parked cars to divide bike and auto traffic, create a safer solution to both of these needs. In project after project, adding a protected bike lane to a street has sharply cut sidewalk biking even as it greatly increased bike traffic.

On L Street in Washington, D.C., bike traffic jumped 41 percent with a new protected lane, and the number of bikes on sidewalks fell 27 percent. With a protected lane project on Columbus Avenue in New York City, bike traffic jumped 56 percent; the number on sidewalks fell 46 percent. On Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West, biking soared 190 percent; sidewalk riding plummeted 81 percent.

Even on Denver’s 15th Street, where a slightly less protective buffered bike lane was installed last year, bike traffic rose 12 percent and the number of bikes on sidewalks dropped 61 percent.

Protected lanes have become the toast of the bike world because they make biking safe and comfortable to more people. In June, the first major national study found that the average such project boosts bike traffic 75 percent in its first year. Conventional painted bike lanes are fine, but they don’t have that sort of impact, because they don’t make people feel as safe.

These aren’t expensive fixes. A simple protected bike lane like these, using plastic posts or parked cars to separate bike and car traffic, costs just $8,000 to $30,000 per mile.

Sacramento’s capital improvement plan calls for spending $5 million each of the next three years to build new streets and widen old ones. Diverting just $1 million of that to create 35 miles of protected bike lanes each year (that’s at $30,000 per mile) would increase the long-term capacity of Sacramento’s street system by making biking a safe and comfortable alternative to the car – while also making walking on sidewalks safer and more pleasant.

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