Last summer I took a trip to Minneapolis, Portland, OR and Vancouver BC, all unique dynamic livable cities who are investing in some great urban placemaking. Although the takeaways were many and varied, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how these places are investing in making biking truly a safe alternative mode of transportation.
The relationship between the motorist, pedestrian and bicyclist has always been tenuous at best. For the past 50 plus years, we have cleared the land for cars, not people. But there are many outstanding examples around the country (including Michigan) and the world that are making headway in changing the culture from “get out of my way” to let’s share the road”.
I had never been to Vancouver BC, but it was definitely on my list to visit – since everyone I have ever spoken to who has been there, loved it. It did not disappoint, although I could pass on the dreary weather and endless sea of glass skyscrappers. But if you keep your eyes and camera focused on the streets, it is an urbanist’s dream.
My two companions and I stayed at the Burrard Motel, right downtown (a great and reasonably priced place to stay, by the way), and set out by foot to discover the city. The first thing that I came across was a two way bike lane, with a low concrete barrier covered by plants that separates the bicyclist from the motorists. (See Photo) Cyclists are protected and the flow of traffic is unhindered. The first words out of my mouth were “I wish that we would do that in Michigan.”
According to a website page, the impetus for the separated bike lanes (which were constructed in 2009) was to attract people of all ages and abilities to feel safe biking downtown. The results were persuasive. A report that came out just 2 years after the separated lanes inauguration, showed the number of vehicle crashes of all types were down 18%; 36% increase in ridership; and female ridership up 4%. There are plans to build more.
So back to my question: Why not in Michigan? Many of Michigan’s communities big and small are bisected and dissected by state highways, with more lanes and concrete to serve an army. Not only do these roads make a community less walkable, but they rob people of opportunities for social interaction, take away their sense of safety and challenge businesses to stay open. There are many opportunities around the state to create a two-way bike lane with a concrete barrier to provide safety as well as traffic calming. This could literally transform the dynamics of a community.
“You can always paint it” is a common, easy enough solution to many problems, and it is no exception when it comes to defining bike lanes. Here is a creative way to alert the bicyclist to intersections and driveways in Vancouver. (See photo) Minneapolis and Portland also do a great job utilizing paint. In Minneapolis, green bike lanes are pavement markings used to highlight locations where motorists merge or turn across a bike lane. To draw attention and increase safety at these locations, green bike lanes alert motorists that they must yield to thru bicyclists.
Something else that really struck me in Minneapolis, were bike lanes located on the right side of parked cars on one way streets!
The hazard of opening car doors seems greatly reduced, providing considerably more safety for the bicyclist, unless of course, a passenger is getting out.
Maybe I’m being a little over zealous here, but I think Michigan is headed towards creating a bike culture that will someday become as steeply embedded in our culture as the automobile. The number of communities actively building bike trails and lanes and the passage of the Complete Streets legislation last year (policies that ensure that engineers and planners design roadways to accommodate all users, not just motorists), illustrates a rosy picture and gives me hope.
In future blogs, I look forward to writing more on this topic. Meanwhile, I would love to hear what steps your community has done or is doing to pave the way for a friendlier bike culture. We would like to highlight them! Email here: