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Proposed Bikeway in Long Beach – Letter to CBAC

September 30th, 2009

September 29, 2009

Ken McGuire, Secretary
California Bicycle Advisory Committee – MS1
P.O. Box 942874, Sacramento, CA-94274-0001

Subject: Proposal by City of Long Beach to Experiment with Separated/Protected Bikeway on the Left Side of Two One-Way Streets

by email to (email address deleted)

Dear Mr. McGuire:

The California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO) has reviewed the documents prepared by the City of Long Beach in support of a “protected bikeway” and notes that it fails to comply with the guidance and standards in the California Streets and Highways Code and Vehicle Code and in the Caltrans “Highway Design Manual”. In light of this noncompliance and the resulting potential problems of traffic safety, traffic operations, and the failure by the City to address the status of bicyclists as legitimate highway users, CABO hereby requests that CBAC adopt a finding that the Long Beach proposal fails to comply with these references and to forward this finding to the City of Long Beach. The reasons for this request are detailed below.

First, 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.

The Streets and Highways Code then goes on to require 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 the Highway Design Manual. The HDM recommends against facilities such as the proposed project:

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.

Because it recommends against bike paths immediately adjacent to streets and highways, the HDM contains no design criteria for such facilities. Therefore, the proposed project is breaking new ground. One would think that the appropriate thing would be for Long Beach to apply for permission to experiment with its new design. The HDM, however, contains no procedure for experimentation by local agencies. This is clearly a gap in the HDM that needs to be filled. CABO is already working with CBAC and Caltrans to fill that gap. Until that happens, however, every local agency is subject to the requirement in SHC 891 to “utilize all minimum safety design criteria” in the “planning and construction of bikeways and roadways where bicycle travel is permitted” as contained in the HDM.

Second, the proposed project involves multiple intersections and driveways. Long Beach has already addressed the signalized intersections by including vehicular left turn lanes and left turn phases separate from the bicycle facility. But for the unsignalized intersections and driveways, of which there are many, Long Beach proposes only cuts in the buffer island. By placing through bicyclists to the left of left turning vehicles, Long Beach is violating a basic tenet of highway design: never to place turning traffic in front of adjacent through traffic. The Vehicle Code puts it this way:

CVC 22100 Except as provided in Section 22100.5 or 22101, the driver of any vehicle intending to turn upon a highway shall do so as follows:
(a) Right Turns. Both the approach for a right-hand turn and a right-hand turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway …
(b) Left Turns. The approach for a left turn shall be made as close as practicable to the left-hand edge of the extreme left-hand lane or portion of the roadway lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle and, when turning at an intersection, the left turn shall not be made before entering the intersection.

Third, the proposed project provides for no traffic control at the unsignalized intersections and driveways except perhaps for a green pavement marking to warn turning drivers that they are crossing a bicycle facility. Apparently, Long Beach expects drivers to yield to bicyclists at these locations in the same way that drivers yield to pedestrians on sidewalks. But bicyclists travel much faster than pedestrians and the green pavement markings will suggest to bicyclists that turning vehicles must yield to them. This will result in left hook conflicts that Long Beach has not yet sufficiently addressed.

The HDM addresses conflicts at intersections between bike paths and highways by calling for stop or yield signs for bicyclists along with sufficient sight distance for bicyclists and drivers to avoid a collision, neither of which is provided by the proposed project. The HDM addresses intersections with highways, design speed and stopping sight distance as follows:

HDM Index 1003.1 Class I Bikeways
(4) Intersections with Highways
Where motor vehicle cross traffic and bicycle traffic is heavy, grade separations are desirable to eliminate intersection conflicts. Where grade separations are not feasible, assignment of right of way by traffic signals should be considered. Where traffic is not heavy, stop or yield signs for bicyclists may suffice.
Bicycle path intersections and approaches should be on relatively flat grades. Stopping sight distances at intersections should be checked and adequate warning should be given to permit bicyclists to stop before reaching the intersection, especially on downgrades.
(7) Design Speed
The proper design speed for a bike path is dependent on the expected type of use and on the terrain. The minimum design speed for bike paths shall be 25 miles per hour …
(9) Stopping Sight Distance. To provide bicyclists with an opportunity to see and react to the unexpected, a bicycle path should be designed with adequate stopping sight distances. The distance required to bring a bicycle to a full controlled stop is a function of the bicyclist’s perception and brake reaction time, the initial speed of the bicycle, the coefficient of friction between the tires and the pavement, and the braking ability of the bicycle.

Some people might note the permissive language in Index 1003.1 and conclude that since the HDM does not say that adequate stopping sight distance shall be provided on bike paths, it is all right not to do so at bike path/road intersections. That conclusion, however, would conflict with the direction in the Streets and Highways Code that bicyclists are legitimate users of public roads and highways:

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.

By not providing appropriate sight distance at unsignalized intersections, Long Beach is treating bicyclists as something other than legitimate users of its streets. If Long Beach were to treat bicyclists as legitimate users of its streets, it would provide adequate sight distance at all unsignalized intersections as stated in Chapter 400 of the HDM:

HDM Index 405.1 Sight Distance
(2) Corner Sight Distance.
(a) General–At unsignalized intersections a substantially clear line of sight should be maintained between the driver of a vehicle waiting at the crossroad and the driver of an approaching vehicle.
Adequate time must be provided for the waiting vehicle to either cross all lanes of through traffic, cross the near lanes and turn left, or turn right, without requiring through traffic to radically alter their speed.
(b) Public Road Intersections At unsignalized public road intersections corner sight distance values given in Table 405.1A should be provided.
Where restrictive conditions exist, the minimum value for corner sight distance at both signalized and unsignalized intersections shall be equal to the stopping sight distance.

Even if the City of Long Beach does not by policy comply with the HDM, whatever policy it does have surely has a similar requirement.

Fourth, the failure by Long Beach to provide adequate stopping sight distance is shown in the diagram [available here] on the following page. As can be seen, parked vehicles block the sight line between a bicyclist and a left turning driver for much of the bicyclist’s stopping sight distance before reaching the unsignalized intersection. The driver is placed in an impossible position of having to look behind and to the left in order to see an approaching bicyclist and to judge whether or not there will be a conflict. If the driver either does not see the bicyclist (because a parked vehicle or the structure of the vehicle is in the way or the driver has insufficient range of motion) or misjudges the bicyclist’s speed and turns in front of the bicyclist, the bicyclist will be left with insufficient room to avoid a collision. If turning drivers are expected to yield to through bicyclists, then it could be argued that the driver was responsible for the collision. But it could also be argued that City of Long Beach was responsible because it did not provide adequate sight distance so that the driver and the bicyclist could see what was about to happen and thus take action in time to avoid the collision.

Instead of protecting bicyclists, the City of Long Beach is placing them in situations where collisions are not only predictable, they are inevitable. This is a direct result of the attempt by the City to create “protected bikeways” on two of its streets without considering a basic highway design principle.

Fifth, CABO is concerned that providing “protected bikeways” 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. As noted above, Section 885.2 of the Streets and Highways Code states that bicyclists are legitimate road users.

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.

Since the ” protected bikeway” will be on a highway, bicyclists will have all the rights and be subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle, but the City of Long Beach has designed a facility in such a way that bicyclists are not provided with the same highway design features as vehicles.

By providing a “protected bikeway” adjacent to a street, the proposed project treats bicyclists as something other than legitimate road users with privileges and duties of something other than the driver of a vehicle, which is inconsistent with legislative intent concerning the status of bicyclists.

The City of Long Beach has represented that bicyclists may lawfully ride in the roadway instead of on the “protected 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 previous diagram, the travel lanes 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 bicyclists 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 control 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 us 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.

In conclusion, CABO believes that the proposed project fails to recognize the issues of traffic safety, traffic operations, and the status of bicyclists as legitimate users of the road with the same privileges and duties as drivers of vehicles. We urge the California Bicycle Advisory Committee to make a finding that the proposed project is not in compliance with either State law or with the Highway Design Manual and to recommend to the City of Long Beach that it not be constructed as proposed.

Sincerely,

Jim Baross
CABO President

Robert M. Shanteau
CABO Transportation Engineering Liaison

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