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Proposed Bikeway in Long Beach – Letter to CTCDC

September 21st, 2009

September 21, 2009

Devinder Singh, Secretary
California Traffic Control Devices Committee – MS36
P.O. Box 942874, Sacramento, CA-94274-0001

Subject: Item 09-21 on 9/24/09 CTCDC agenda
Request by the City of Long Beach for Permission to Experiment with Separated/Protected Bikeway on the Left Side of Two-Way Streets (Rte 9-112E)

by email to (address deleted)

Dear Mr. Singh:

The California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO) has reviewed the subject Request to Experiment (RTE) and notes that it fails to acknowledge previous trials in California of separated bikeways, particularly in the City of Davis and the City of Palo Alto, both of which were abandoned in favor of the standard bikeways now defined in the California Streets and Highways Code, the Caltrans Highway Design Manual, and the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. In light of this previous negative experience with separated bikeways and the potential problems of traffic safety, traffic operations, and the status of bicyclists as legitimate highway users, CABO hereby requests that CTCDC reject the subject RTE or, if the CTCDC feels that the RTE may still have merit, refer it to the California Bicycle Advisory Committee for a recommendation on action by the CTCDC. The reasons for this request are detailed below.

First, according to Section 1A.10 of the CA MUTCD, an RTE should include, “(a)ny supporting data explaining how the traffic control device was developed, if it has been tried, in what ways it was found to be adequate or inadequate, and how this choice of device or application was derived.” CABO is aware of at least two times when separated bikeways have been tried, once in Davis in 1967 and once in Palo Alto in about 1970. Both times, the trials were terminated. The first trial is documented in a 2007 thesis by Theodore J. Buehler titled, “Fifty Years of Bicycle Policy in Davis, CA” and available at <http://www.davisbicycles.org/BuehlerThesisFinalDraft.pdf>. Mr. Buehler writes:

Lane location relative to motorized traffic
The early experiments included three different types of bike facilities:
1) bike lanes between car lanes [sic] and the parking lane (Third St.),
2) bike lanes between the parking lane and the curb (Sycamore Lane), and
3) bike paths adjacent to the street, between the curb and the sidewalk (Villanova Ave.).
The first bike lanes included all of these types, to test them in real life to see how effective they were. The on-road lanes worked best, the behind-parking lanes were the worst, and the adjacent paths were found to work in certain circumstances.
This is an example of the wide level of experimentation that occurred during this period. Had the city tried to do extensive research without construction, it might have settled on an inferior design. And not having tried all three designs, it might not have recognized it as inferior, and the entire experiment could have been declared a failure.
Uniform design standards for bike lanes and paths
By 1972, Davis had established a uniform code for building bicycle facilities. These included all of the standard design guidelines found in conventional street templates, including cross-sections, longitudinal sections, intersection treatments, recommendations for special circumstances, etc. These, developed through no small effort by city staff, allowed the policy to be enforced with precision when new developments were being proposed in the city.
Adoption of Davis bikeway standards as state and federal standards
Not only were the standards established, but they were soon replicated at the state and federal level, and used as templates for all subsequent bikeway construction in the United States.

Second, the Streets and Highways Code prescribes the following process for establishing design criteria for bikeways:

SHC 890.6 The department, in cooperation with county and city governments, shall establish minimum safety design criteria for the planning and construction of bikeways and roadways where bicycle travel is permitted. The criteria shall include, but not be limited to, the design speed of the facility, minimum widths and clearances, grade, radius of curvature, pavement surface, actuation of automatic traffic control devices, drainage, and general safety. The criteria shall be updated biennially, or more often, as needed.

Although Long Beach is only requesting permission of the CTCDC to experiment with traffic control devices, the design shown in the RTE is inconsistent with the bikeway design criteria in the HDM (see below). The CTCDC, of course, is not the appropriate body for considering changes to the Caltrans bikeway design criteria.

Third, the Streets and Highways Code requires local agencies, without exception, to comply with the minimum safety design criteria for bikeways as established by Caltrans:

SHC 891 All city, county, regional, and other local agencies responsible for the development or operation of bikeways or roadways where bicycle travel is permitted shall utilize all minimum safety design criteria and uniform specifications and symbols for signs, markers, and traffic control devices established pursuant to Sections 890.6 and 890.8.

The Caltrans bikeway design criteria are contained in Chapter 1000 of the Highway Design Manual. The proposed project deviates from the HDM bikeway design criteria in several ways, so its implementation would not comply with SHC 891. In particular, Topic 1003.1(5) of the HDM recommends against bike paths adjacent to a street:

HDM Topic 1003.1(5) Bike paths immediately adjacent to streets and highways are not recommended. They should not be considered a substitute for the street, because many bicyclists will find it less convenient to ride on these types of facilities as compared with the streets, particularly for utility trips.

Furthermore, the HDM has no design criteria for separated bikeways, so the RTE is breaking new ground. In particular, the proposed separated bikeway places through bicyclists to the left of left-turning motorists, and right-turning bicyclists to the left of through motorists. This design is not analogous to a bike lane on the right side of the road, where bicyclists can leave the bike lane to avoid right-turn conflicts or to position themselves for a left turn, and right-turning motorists can (and by CVC 21717 must) merge into the bike lane. The Long Beach proposal prevents these movements and obstructs sight lines with parked cars, chevrons, and delineators.

Also, the proposed separated bikeway is not analogous to turning across a sidewalk. Bicyclists travel much faster than pedestrians, and the signals and green pavement markings will tell them that they have right-of-way over turning vehicles, at least at signalized intersections. At unsignalized intersections and driveways, bicyclists will be subject to left hook and drive-out collisions. Notice that the separated bikeway in New York City has no driveways. The Long Beach RTE mentions “a few driveways” on Broadway and 3rd Street, but as shown on the  annotated drawings of the proposed separated bikeways on the next page, there are more than a few.

Traffic turning left into or out of these driveways will conflict with bicyclists. The conflicts may be less severe than those at intersections because vehicle speeds will be lower, but there is also the possibility that a car turning into a driveway and being unable to enter it fully, or leaving a driveway and stopping at the line of parked cars to wait for a gap in traffic, will suddenly block the separated facility, trapping bicyclists who have no escape route. This is a direct result of the attempt to make these “protected bikeways”. The RTE does address these conflicts. In fact, it would likely take a local ordinance to give bicyclists the right-of-way over vehicles entering and leaving driveways.

Also, because the bikeways would be separated from the roadway, drivers and passengers of parked cars will be crossing the bikeways to access the sidewalk, creating a new conflict for bicyclists that did not exist when they rode on the street. Again, it would take a local ordinance to regulate the crossing of the separated bikeway by pedestrians.

In several places, the RTE uses the term “protected bikeway”. This terminology may be ill-advised. While the proposed separated bikeway may protect against certain hazards and may have certain advantages compared to street or sidewalk travel (it would be one-way, wider than a sidewalk, have no pedestrians walking along it and lack street furniture found on sidewalks), higher bicycle speeds and a feeling by bicyclists that they have the right-of-way may exacerbate other hazards. Therefore a representation that it provides protection could expose the city to liability.

Fourth, the RTE proposes bicycle signals at all signalized intersections, but the California Vehicle Code only allows such signals where warrants in the CA MUTCD are met:

CVC 21456.3(e) A bicycle signal may be used only at those locations that meet geometric standards or traffic volume standards, or both, as adopted by the Department of Transportation.

The RTE argues that the current warrants are not relevant to the proposed separated bikeways, but this does not appear to sufficient justification to violate CVC 21456.3(e). Even if the CTCDC decided that it wanted to grant an exception to the bicycle signal warrant, CVC 21456.3 gives that authority to Caltrans, not the CTCDC.

Also the RTE does address the issue of which signals that bicyclists using the roadway are to obey. The Vehicle Code requires bicyclists to observe bicycle signal indications, if present:

CVC 21456.2 (a) Unless otherwise directed by a bicycle signal as provided in Section 21456.3, an operator of a bicycle shall obey the provisions of this article applicable to the driver of a vehicle.
(b) Whenever an official traffic control signal exhibiting different colored bicycle symbols is shown concurrently with official traffic control signals exhibiting different colored lights or arrows, an operator of a bicycle facing those traffic control signals shall obey the bicycle signals as provided in Section 21456.3.

This provision presents a quandary for bicyclists who are lawfully riding in the travel lanes. It would seem obvious that such bicyclists should obey the vehicular signals, but if they do, they would be in violation of CVC 21456.2.

Fifth, CABO is concerned that providing separated facilities on Broadway and 3rd Street in the City of Long Beach will influence both bicyclist and motorist acceptance of bicyclists as legitimate users of the road elsewhere in Long Beach and indeed in California. The Streets and Highways Code says that bicyclists are legitimate road users:

SHC 885.2 The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
,,,
(f) The bicycle is a legitimate transportation mode on public roads and highways.

Also, the California Vehicle Code says that every bicyclist on a highway (or street) has all the rights and duties of drivers of vehicles:

CVC 21200 (a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division, including, but not limited to, provisions concerning driving under the influence of alcoholic beverages or drugs, and by Division 10 (commencing with Section 20000), Section 27400, Division 16.7 (commencing with Section 39000), Division 17 (commencing with Section 40000.1), and Division 18 (commencing with Section 42000), except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.

The RTE fails to explain how the proposed separated bikeways are consistent with legislative intent concerning the status of bicyclists.

Sixth, the RTE fails to discuss what rules would govern bicyclists and pedestrians on the separated bikeway. Aside from requiring pedestrians to walk on the sidewalk instead of the separated bikeway (see CVC 21966), the California Vehicle Code would leave regulation of bicyclists on the separated bikeway to the City of Long Beach:

CVC 21206. This chapter does not prevent local authorities, by ordinance, from regulating the registration of bicycles and the parking and operation of bicycles on pedestrian or bicycle facilities, provided such regulation is not in conflict with the provisions of this code.

Without a local ordinance, for instance, not even one-way operation on the separated bikeway would be enforceable.

Seventh, in at least two places, the letters from the City of Long Beach refer to the proposed separated bikeways as bicycle lanes. The July 20 letter from Mark Christoffels to John Fisher on p. 33 of the amended agenda refers to a “Protected Bicycle Lane,” and the July 23 letter from Mark Christoffels on p. 34 replies to John Fisher’s question (probably asked by e-mail) about “a curb bike lane adjacent to parked vehicles located many feet from the curb.”

The proposed separated bikeways, however, do not meet the requirements for designation as bicycle lanes as described in the Vehicle Code and the Streets and Highways Code, so it would be incorrect to designate them as such.

The California Vehicle Code says that bicycle lanes are part of the roadway and specifies the rules for operation on them:

CVC 21208 (a) Whenever a bicycle lane has been established on a roadway pursuant to Section 21207, any person operating a bicycle upon the roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride within the bicycle lane, except that the person may move out of the lane under any of the following situations:
(1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle, vehicle, or pedestrian within the lane or about to enter the lane if the overtaking and passing cannot be done safely within the lane.
(2) When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
(3) When reasonably necessary to leave the bicycle lane to avoid debris or other hazardous conditions.
(4) When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
(b) No person operating a bicycle shall leave a bicycle lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after giving an appropriate signal in the manner provided in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 22100) in the event that any vehicle may be affected by the movement.

Since the separated bikeway described in the RTE would not be part of the roadway (because it is to the left of a curb or striped buffer), the proposed separated bikeway is not a bicycle lane. Furthermore, the design of the proposed separated bikeway would make it impossible for a bicyclist to leave it to make the permitted movements specified in CVC 21208.

The Streets and Highway Code defines the types of bikeways as follows:

SHC 890.4 As used in this article, “bikeway” means all facilities that provide primarily for bicycle travel. For purposes of this article, bikeways shall be categorized as follows:
(a) Class I bikeways, such as a “bike path,” which provide a completely separated right-of-way designated for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians with crossflows by motorists minimized.
(b) Class II bikeways, such as a “bike lane,” which provide a restricted right-of-way designated for the exclusive or semiexclusive use of bicycles with through travel by motor vehicles or pedestrians prohibited, but with vehicle parking and crossflows by pedestrians and motorists permitted.
(c) Class III bikeways, such as an onstreet or offstreet “bike route,” which provide a right-of-way designated by signs or permanent markings and shared with pedestrians or motorists.

Since the proposed separate bikeways would not be bicycle lanes, CVC 21208 does not apply, meaning that, unlike New York City, bicyclists may lawfully ride in the roadway instead of on the separated bikeway. They might do this to reach destinations on the right side of the street, because they prefer the speed and efficiency of the roadway, because they are keeping up with other traffic, or to avoid hazards. But as shown in the diagram included in the RTE, the travel lanes that are only 10 ft wide. This is much too narrow for a bicyclist and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane, so bicyclists would not be required to ride as far right as practicable (see CVC 21202(a)(3). Therefore cyclists may lawfully control the travel lane (indeed, bicyclists using narrow travel lanes should control the lane for their own safety). Still, it seems plausible that bicyclists who lawfully take one of those lanes may face harassment in the form of shouting, honking, or close passing from motorists who resent sharing the road and believe that cyclists should use the separated bikeway instead. The City of Long Beach has not informed the CTCDC how it will respond to such hostile acts. In particular, it has not said if it will educate bicyclists, motorists, and police officers that bicyclists are fully entitled to use the travel lanes and that it should be expected.

Finally, it is not entirely clear to us that Long Beach has in fact received FHWA approval for this RTE. The letter from Paul Pisano to Mark Christoffels dated June 9 refers to “permission to experiment with bicycle traffic signal indications and green bike lanes across cross streets for separated bikeways.” But it also says “For recordkeeping purposes, we have assigned the following official experimentation number and title: ’9-112 (E) – Green & Shared Lane Markings and Bikes in Lane Symbol Sign – Long Beach, CA.’ ” Green markings accompanying shared lane arrows are the subject of a different RTE, whose number is not given, which is mentioned in the July 20 letter from Mark Christoffels to John Fisher. For that matter, it is not clear to us whether the City of Long Beach is seeking CTCDC approval to experiment with green and shared lane markings and the bikes in lane symbol sign, seeing as these have already been installed.

In conclusion, CABO believes that this RTE is not only incomplete but also fails to acknowledge previous unsuccessful trials, fails to identify the legal issues involved, and fails to recognize the issues of traffic safety, traffic operations, and the status of bicyclists as legitimate users of the road. We urge the CTCDC to reject the subject RTE or, if the CTCDC feels that the RTE may still have merit, refer it to the California Bicycle Advisory Committee for a recommended action.

Sincerely,
Brian DeSousa, CABO Vice President
Robert M. Shanteau, CABO Transportation Engineering Liaison

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