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January 30, 2008

Transporation And Parking Commission Chairman David Narkewicz: Committee To Discuss Buffered Bike Lanes In Northampton

Northamptonist recently commented on and raised questions about the issues of bike lanes and bike safety in the City of Northampton, prompted by a discussion of a recent accident a resident was involved while riding her bicycle. Afterwards, I sent an email to Ward 4 City Councilor and Chair of the Transportation and Parking Commission David Narkewicz, directing him to the post and comments, asking,

...when is N'ton going to get buffered bike lanes on main roads, or at least more creative, safe, and equitable bike lanes, or improvements on the ones we currently have? For instance, what are your thoughts on moving the bike lanes on South St to the curb, and placing parked cars to the left of them? And what about buffered bike lanes in Northampton?
David responded,
I was closely involved in the 2006 redesign and extension of the South Street bike lanes. They were laid out using local and state bike lane design guidelines (see attached), which are both derived from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities. Here’s what the AASHTO Guide says about the placement of bike lanes near parking lanes:

"Bike lanes should never be placed between the parking lane and curb lane. Bike lanes between the curb and parking lane can create obstacles for bicyclists from opening car doors and poor visibility at intersections and driveways and they prohibit bicyclists from making left turns." (p. 23)

Transposing the bike lanes and parking lanes on South Street or Elm Street would not comply with the design guidelines as currently written and I’m not sure that it would it make biking safer on those particular roadways. Both are filled with driveways and intersecting side streets, which are the major conflict/crash points in all traffic scenarios (cars vs. cars, cars vs. bikes, cars vs. pedestrians, etc.). While having bike lanes to the right of the parked cars would provide a buffer from vehicles (give or take a few unexpected passenger doors) in the mid-block stretches of South or Elm, safety could actually be more diminished as cyclists emerged from behind the row of parked cars at/near the intersections and driveways.

This mid-block vs. intersection safety conundrum of separated cycle paths has been documented in a number of European studies you can find online, including ones from Sweden, Germany, and Denmark that show a net increase in path collisions compared to on-street cycling:

...I also like the work NYC has been doing with colored pavement treatments for its traditional on-street bike lanes, which conform to the same AASHTO standards as ours. I think Northampton needs to examine these treatments for its current and future bike lanes, particularly as some of these new colored materials are more visible and durable than our existing system of painted lines. We should also be open to exploring possibilities for creating buffered lanes like New York where and if feasible. I haven’t looked at it in a while, but I think the 2003 King Street Corridor Study may have included an option for a separate, shared bike/pedestrian path.

I will ask the TPC’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee to discuss these issues at one its next meetings – including the issue of buffering our existing bike lanes on South Street and Elm Street. I’ve already forwarded your post to James Lowenthal and Keith Wilson who sit on that ad-hoc subcommittee with Wayne Feiden.
Related Documents:
Northampton Bike Lane Design Guidelines
MA Bike Lane Design Guide

Relevant Municipal Committees:
Northampton's Bicycle & Pedestrian Subcommittee
Transportation and Parking Commission
Committee on Public Safety

LABELS: biking, city government, infrastructure, public space