Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why are bike lanes controversial?

I'm honestly befuddled, so if you've either been privy to the arguments against the lanes or are yourself against them, consider me all ears here:

The Madison Plan Commission Monday night approved the Northport-Warner Park-Sherman Neighborhood Plan but did not confront the most controversial piece of it.

Bicycle advocates have long envisioned turning four-lane Sherman Avenue into a two-lane road with dedicated bike lanes. One option discussed is a two-lane road with turn lanes, know in planning parlance as a "TWTL."

Several commission members proposed including that language in the plan to help slow traffic on the busy thoroughfare and make it safer for non-motorists.

But Northside Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway urged the commission not to mention "TWTL" in the final document. She said it was the most divisive issue in the entire area and would jeopardize what otherwise was a good plan.

And apparently she was right. But I honestly don't understand why, of everything else that could possibly be contentious when discussing a major redevelopment plan for a neighborhood, bike lanes were what drew the most ire.

Sherman Avenue could certainly use some bike and pedestrian friendly revamping. As it stands, there isn't nearly as much bicycle infrastructure on the North side as their ought to be, and I know several residents who would benefit from a change to that fact. Heck, I travel to that part of town pretty frequently, and being able to ride safely would be a major boon.

My guess is this has to do with car commuters not wanting to share the roads at all with people on bikes. Which, if that is the case, is all kinds of ridiculous...but not surprising. In the move to make cities more alternative transportation friendly, the bikes vs. car battle rages on - with both sides harboring their fair share of irrational jerks. There is middle ground to be had here, though, if only both bikers and drivers were willing to make some concessions.

But then, backing down from an extreme position isn't something we Americans have proven to be very good at lately. It's long past time we learned how, though.

UPDATE: There's an interesting little discussion about this issue over at The Daily Page forums (minus the random outburst from the first commenter). Check it out.

(photo by BikePortland.org on Flickr)


Karl said...

as i scribbled in FB madisons a great place where we bike all over,some road lanes are okay but sherman ave is scary, car traffic has no respect out there. a common sense approach for ped-bike use would be great for getting straight out sherman though as opposed to the route along the lake through the bluff or risking sidewalk/street on sherman av.
did that fill an ear..?

Michael said...

If I had to guess, I'd say there are two things behind this: the perception that traffic will get much worse if through motor vehicle lanes go from four lanes to two, and a certain degree of resentment/unhappiness with cyclists. I bike everywhere in Madison (and I own a car), and I often sense from non-cyclsts some anger that cyclists are all about themselves: we don't stop at stop signs or lights, we ride on sidewalks when it suits us, and we frequently bike the wrong way down one-way streets. I do none of those things myself (99 percent of the time, anyway), but motorists see it and can't figure out why the city doesn't do anything.

I'd love to see this road re-striped for bike lanes,and I understand why some people in that part of town oppose it.

mbigmistake said...

There is a long and nasty history about bike lanes on Sherman. A former alder fought them tooth and nail. I believe that, yes, the argument was that traffic would back up if there were only one through lane in each direction, hurting businesses along the street. Ironically, a TWLTL would seem to HELP people turn into driveways and assist in smooth traffic flow. In general, though removing travel lanes is controversial no matter where you do it. If there were enough ROW to add the lanes without removing a car travel lane(s), I suspect no one would fight it. So I don't think it is anti-bike so much as it is pro-car...and maybe some lack of understanding about traffic engineering principals.

All that said, I ride on Sherman and it doesn't bother me that much. So I think people let their fear take control. I do not believe it is actually dangerous to ride on Sherman. Unpleasant maybe, but not dangerous.

Emily said...

That's sort of what I assumed TWLTL would do (help people turn into driveways from the road, ease back-ups), but I'm not a traffic engineer.

I'm curious, too: I've been hearing some word about a proposed bike path on the North side that's been in the works for some years now. Speculation has it that some folks worry bike lanes on Sherman would just eat into the push to get the path finished. No clue if there's any validity to that or not.

mbigmistake said...

The bike path proposed for the north side will likely happen whether or not bike lanes go on to Sherman. In Madison, at least, these things don't tend to be mutually exclusive. Lanes and paths serve different types of users and different destinations. The main issue with the path is dealing with the rail road. Rail road companies are notorious for being super hard to deal with (and then there is the matter of funding the path). The main issue with the lanes is dealing with the residents/business owners (funding isn't much of an issue for the lanes). Both have been daunting...but for very different reasons. Both can happen...but it will take advocacy and diplomacy. I believe the city wants both to happen.

mbigmistake said...

Oh...from what I hear the test of the TWLTL they did a few years ago was really poorly executed. I don't think it truly tested the concept because it wasn't true to life. So people who say "we tried it and it didn't work"...well...we didn't REALLY try it. We tried something that didn't work. We didn't actually try what is being proposed.

The Lost Albatross