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Policy and Urban Design: How to Complete Bicycle Supportive Cities

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[This is the final of four-part expert blog post by Mike Lydon, the founding Principal of The Street Plans Collaborative. Lydon's posts  are part of a series of expert blogs on TOD highlighting work and research that experts are doing in the field.]

The three previous articles explained how developing a well-articulated bikeway network with high quality end-of-trip facilities is crucial to multimodal transportation.  However, without overcoming some additional policy and fundamental urban design barriers, the full integration of bicycling with other modes of transit will remain stunted.

While most bicyclists prefer to ride, some distances are too great to travel entirely by bicycle, and in most places, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. Thus, being allowed to bring a bicycle onboard the bus or train is vitally important, as it provides additional mobility choices when you need it most.

King County employs bus racks to provide options for urban commuters

Nowadays, it is increasingly common to see bicycles on the front of buses and inside trains. However, this was not always the case, as the right to do so required lengthy and hard fought battles that typically put transit officials and bicycle advocates at odds.  But even with the steady increase in bicycle access, many government agencies still impose peak hour restrictions on their transit systems. Likewise, some bus systems, like New York City’s, still do not provide bus racks for bicyclists.

Fortunately, some enlightened transportation agencies don’t see bicyclists as peak hour spacehogs, but as additional revenue. Indeed, Portland, Oregon’s TriMet revamped its policies in 1996 to reflect the growing demand for bicycle/transit services. They also specifically use low-floor boarding designs to meet the needs of specific user groups, including bicyclists. Their message: “ When you can’t bike the whole way, take TriMet.”

Portland, OR clearly marks where bicyclists should store their wheels

For those trains that do allow bicycles on board, it is always nice to visibly welcome their presence and provide a well-marked place for temporary storage. Some agencies restrict bicyclists to certain train cars, but use large bicycle stencils to indicate which cars are appropriate for bicyclists.

Copenhagen’s commuter trains boldly advertise space for bicyclists

Station Access

While access onto the train is critical, so too is station access to the train. Stairs, platforms, turnstyles etc. are not only physical barriers for bicyclists, but mental barriers as well. Quite simply, nobody wants to publicly struggle with a bicycle in a crowded transit station. Thus, all stairways leading to and from transit platforms and farboxes should be designed (and retrofitted) to include accommodations for bicyclists, such as bicycle-specific ramps.

Bike-friendly stairs make

Additionally, turnstyles should be widened and automated not only for bicyclists, but for those carrying luggage and other oversized packages on the train. Such provisions make multimodal travel more practical, especially for the young and old who may not be as nimble or physically capable.

Students were tasked with re-envisioning Chicago’s CTA stations with a more bicycle-friendly design

Beyond the Station

While not immediately obvious, the placement and design of rail infrastructure is essential to maintaining bicyclist safety, as bicycle wheels are easily caught in the flange gap between the rails, which causes crashes. While investigating this all too common problem, Alta Planning + Design developed Bicycle Interactions And Streetcars: Lessons Learned and Recommendations, which provides ways to best integrate rail infrastructure with bicycle facilities so that both are mutually supportive.  Additionally, StreetFilms recently illuminated the proper way to navigate inlaid train tracks, demonstrating that bikeway design can further alleviate the risk of crashing.

When designed poorly, train tracks can lead to additional risks for bicyclists

Land Use Patterns and Built Form – Getting the Land Use Right

Finally, Norman Garrick’s research reveals that urban form plays a critical role in encouraging bicycling.  In short, more people bicycle, and bicycle safely as density and land use intensity increases. Indeed interconnected street grids—common to dense places—place more destinations within bicycling distance, provide opportunities for safe alternative routes, and help make bicycling the most efficient mode of urban transport. While somewhat obvious, this helps explain why cities attract more bicyclists than suburban or rural areas.

Conclusion

Here in New York City, where the transit coverage is unrivaled in the United States, the city would not only benefit from the implementation of a more robust TOD policy, but also from strategies to retrofit the street network to optimize bicycle travel to and from MTA stations and bus stops. Indeed, as much value as such infrastructure provides, it is not being optimized. Fortunately, a recent report from the Department of City Planning outlines a strategy for better integrating bicycle travel into the citywide transit system. If wise, your city and region will take many of the extra steps outlined here to do the same.

 

Part 1: The Role of the Bicycle In Transit Oriented-Development
Part 2: The Bikeway Network
Part 3: At the Station - Bicycle Parking
Part 4: Policy and Urban Design: How to Complete Bicycle Supportive Cities


With Andres Duany and Jeff Speck, Mike Lydon is the co-author of The Smart Growth Manual.