How to Get the "Interested, But Concerned" on a Bike. On the Street.

With respect to biking on city streets, studies have indicated that about 12% of people are “strong and fearless” or “enthused and confident cyclists”, 37% have no interest or ability to bike (“no way, no how”) and 51% are “interested, but concerned.” Concerned about what? Safety! See an updated national study here. Full disclosure: I fall in the “enthused and confident” category and I am an “older adult,” aka “senior.”

Until relatively recently, the common wisdom among transportation gurus was that biking facilities (bike-specific lanes and markings) were needed simply to help position cyclists in the travel lanes to avoid conflicts with motor vehicles. Although it was noted that only a relatively small percent of the population was participating in “vehicular cycling,” it was assumed that with proper training anyone could adhere to the basic principle that “Cyclists fare best when  they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” This notion is also the basis for most of our traffic laws for cyclists -- i.e. do what the motorists do. Never mind that a utility bicycle weighs 20 - 40 pounds and a car weighs more than a ton. It takes about 8.5 feet to stop a bike going 15 mph and 85 feet to stop a car going 25 mph (typical speeds in urban conditions).

Who are we missing with this approach? A whole lot of folks. Children, seniors, women, people of color, people with disabilities, people moving goods or cargo. The National Association of City Traffic Officials (NACTO) has recently issued a new guide Designing for All Ages and Abilities/Contextual Guidance for High-Comfort Bicycle Facilities (2017) that does the following:

  • Defines the goals -- safe, comfortable, equitable -- for the users of all ages and abilities

  • Provides a handy chart showing types of biking facilities suitable for various types of roadway contexts

  • Gives descriptions of the five most common designs in the toolbox (with pix!)

  • Discusses (at some length) the interaction of speed and volume on traffic stress

  • Describes three strategies -- design, operation and network -- to change the street (with diagrams!)

All that in just 15 pages and written in plain English. You can find it here.

Or if you prefer sound and visuals to reading, try this overview webinar (one hour).

Homework (optional):  

  1. Read the 15-page pdf and linger over that little chart.

  2. Listen to the webinar -- especially the presentation by Atlanta’s Chief Bicycle Officer.

  3. Think about a street or streets in Evanston that might be suitable for one of the five most common treatments and that could be part of a network that actually gets you somewhere.

  4. Let us know your choices at [email protected].

For the truly geeky among us, way more detail can be found in NACTO’s groundbreaking Urban Street Design Guide (2013), which runs 192 pages.  Descriptions of all their guides can be found here and are available for purchase.

Who are these NACTO people?

The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) was formed in 1997 among departments of transportation in major North American cities to share data and ideas for improving street design to increase safety and reduce congestion. There are 60 members. Cities with populations greater than 300,000 may be full members; cities with populations less than 300,000 may be affiliate members. Several cities that Evanston might reasonably benchmark against are affiliate members -- Palo Alto, Cambridge, Somerville, Boulder, San Luis Obispo, Burlington; all have major universities nearby. Evanston is not a member.

Posted by Barbara Miller