On most bicycle rides my mind often wanders, especially when the route is familiar or I’m just randomly exploring. While there was a jumble of various thoughts and insights, on today’s ride I kept coming back to one theme. Three things that will move Austin on the path to being a great cycling city. These aren’t the only thing that makes a great bicycle environment. We need a lot of stuff, but these three things would show commitment and acceptance in a huge way.
The central business district is in good shape. Lots of public racks, most conveniently located. Some businesses have installed bike corrals, converting one or two car parking spaces into convenient parking right outside the door. CapMetro has done a decent job at installing bike racks at bus and rail stops. And they have committed to building state-of-the-art bike shelters. The first is nearing completion at the Kramer Metrorail station. Five more such shelters are planned.
But we need more and better. And we need participation by private business, especially grocery stores and those companies that run strip and shopping malls. They largely pay lip service to bicycle parking by providing a tiny number of rack spaces. Often these spaces are poorly located and offer little security. Many business and public agencies provide no bike parking what-so-ever. You have to hunt for a sign post or similar sturdy item.
We’ve got lots of bike lanes, with many more to come. Some of them are well designed; others not so much. What I’m talking about is commitment to the bike lane and it’s maintenance. Simply painting a white line on the side of the street is not all it takes. Bike lanes become the repository for debris. We use them to park cars or garbage bins. The pavement on many bike lanes is untenable and downright dangerous (especially at night). We need regular cleaning. We need aggressive enforcement of parking regulations. We need a little TLC.
The magnetic induction sensor placed in the pavement to detect presence of a waiting car and the control systems it interfaces with are a great invention for traffic management. Without them, we would depend on timed light sequences. Which are ok but not flexible to the changes of traffic flow. There is one small flaw. Many bicycles, especially carbon and aluminum frames, don’t have enough steel or other magnetic metals to trigger the induction. If you increase the sensitivity to accommodate these bicycles, then the sensors pick up the metal from cars in adjacent lanes or from traffic passing near the sensor.
So there sits the poor cyclist, waiting at a red light, hoping that either the light has a time sequence in addition to the demand sensors, or that a motor vehicle comes along to trip the sensor. The option is dismounting and walking over to the pedestrian button, if one is available. Imagine the outcry of motorists if they had to get out of their car to push a button to get a green light.
Other technology exists. We recently received one such example here in Austin. It works great. If we really want to take bicycle transportation seriously, then it will need the same convenience currently enjoyed by motor vehicles.
And One Wish
As I was winding my way downtown this morning, negotiating various stop lights and signs, making numerous turns to stay on relatively safe streets, I began to long for a bicycle highway. A completely segregated pathway, without at grade road crossings and without major detours. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one such facility. I wonder where we could put such a thing. I realize it would cost a lot of money to build bridges and tunnels so that bicycles can “stay out of the way” of the motorists. Imagine all the people who would then get out of their cars and join the “fearless 1% and confident 7%.”