Two-way streets for bicycles, or just cars? Jeff Speck’s downtown bicycling proposals have been declawed by HWC Engineering. Why?


Considering how few New Albanians ever bothered reading Jeff Speck’s Downtown Street Network Proposal, it might surprise them to learn that Speck’s “walkability” calling card isn’t the only weapon in the planner’s curative arsenal.

Speck’s report also contains a strong supportive element of bicycling enhancement, as influenced by New York City’s gains during the Bloomberg administration. Search Janette Sadik-Khan and her wonderful book Street Fight to learn more about this.

I’ve culled just one section of Speck’s work (below). The recommendations unveiled by HWC Engineering at this week’s BOW meeting certainly do include boilerplate buffered bike lanes — and yes, echoing Speck, at this juncture in the city’s history of unresponsiveness to modernity, boilerplate buffered bike lanes will be a substantial improvement over the currently prevailing nothingness.

However, there has been no explanation for why the spirit of Speck’s biking components was so readily excised. I believe this gutting of Speck’s biking recommendations is a wasted opportunity to maximize the proposed street grid changes.

After all, on Tuesday morning HWC placed heavy and repeated emphasis on computer modeling of street grid usage extending 20 years into the future. As such, doesn’t the resulting short shrift given bicycles represent a significant dismissal of non-automotive mobility options?

It’s coming. For once, couldn’t we be pro-active instead of reactive?

I understand that Team Gahan will be financing two-way streets primarily with federal roadway monies, and this probably helps explain the castration of Speck’s more challenging bicycle infrastructure suggestions, along with 11-ft traffic lanes rather than Speck’s preferred 10-ft, and the State Street corridor’s removal from HWC’s clipboard before the first consulting check even was mailed.

I also understand that the rationale of all city officials involved will be the usual cautious incrementalism: Digest the big pieces first, then expand the effort later — and when in doubt, paint a sharrows.

In fairness, Speck himself finds a place for sharrows, and also offers a diluted version of his own first option, perhaps anticipating New Albany’s congenital timidity.

Accordingly, I understand that New Albany isn’t a hotbed of avant garde innovation, although this became much clearer to me on Wednesday morning at the Town Clock Church, listening to Jerry Finn explain that in the pre-Civil War era, our city wasn’t exactly a hotbed of abolitionism. In short, being a day late and a dollar short comes naturally (historically?) to us.

Maybe we’ll get a better explanation of all this at Monday’s public meeting.

Maybe now that Team Gahan’s secretive Cheshire cat has disgorged its hairball, some of them will be willing to discuss publicly the finer points of the two-way reversion.

Maybe there really is a City Hall “master plan” for biking and walking, although as with the reversion itself, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Two-way streets in NA: Why is the stated protective aim out of sync with the calendar of tolling reality?

Following are Speck’s thoughts.

Including Bike Lanes

Cycling is the largest planning revolution currently underway … in only some American cities. The news is full of American cities that have created significant cycling populations by investing in downtown bike networks. Among the reasons to institute such a network is pedestrian safety: bikes help to slow cars down, and new bike lanes are a great way to use up excess road width currently dedicated to oversized driving lanes.

When properly designed, bike lanes make streets safer for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.

Safety—for All

This was the experience when a cycle track (protected two-way bike lane) was introduced on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn, NY. A 3-lane one-way street was converted to 2-lanes, parked cars were pulled 12 feet off the curb, and a cycle track was inserted in the space created. As a result, the number of weekday cyclists tripled, and the percentage of speeders dropped from about 75 percent of all cars to less than 17 percent. Injury crashes to all road users went down by 63 percent from prior years. Interestingly, car volume and travel times stayed almost exactly the same—the typical southbound trip became 5 seconds faster—and there were no negative impacts on streets nearby.

Experience in a large number of cities is making it clear that the key to bicycle safety is the establishment of a large biking population—so that drivers expect to see them—and, in turn, the key to establishing a large biking population is the provision of buffered lanes, broad lanes separated from traffic, ideally by a lane of parked cars. In one study, the insertion of buffered bike lanes in city streets was found generally to reduce injuries to all users (not just bicyclists) by 40 percent. Of course, buffered lanes need not be inserted everywhere. Often, in smaller cities, the insertion of just one prominent buffered facility can have a tremendous impact on cycling population.

Economic Impacts

Additionally, bike lanes are good for business. A study in Portland, OR, found that customers arriving by bike buy 24 percent more at local businesses than those who drive. And merchants along 9th Avenue in New York City showed a 49 percent increase in retail sales after buffered bike lanes were inserted.

New York has dominated the biking headlines in recent years because of their recent investment under Mayor Bloomberg in a tremendous amount of cycle infrastructure. But many smaller and less “progressive” cities are making significant cycling investments, with the goals of reducing car dependence, achieving higher mobility at lower cost, and especially attracting young entrepreneurial talent. More than half of the states in the US, including Indiana and Kentucky, already have buffered bike lanes as part of larger
downtown networks.

A Strategy for New Albany

There can be little doubt that New Albany will develop a more significant cycling population once it creates a truly useful bike network downtown. However, the greatest short-term justification for bike lanes in the study area is simply to take up space—excess asphalt currently serving no purpose but to induce speeding. So many streets in downtown New Albany have too much pavement; once the proper lanes of the proper width are dedicated to driving, turning, and parking, there is often still somewhere between 5 and 20 feet of pavement left over. Striping this pavement for cycle facilities is the best way to encourage legal driving speeds among the motorists using these corridors.

For that reason, the bike facilities proposal ahead is different than the one that would result from a purely functional analysis of where bike lanes are needed. It provides significant east-west redundancy, because Spring, Market, and Main Streets all contain excess pavement. Meanwhile, it struggles to provide a strong north-south corridor, because only State Street has the extra room for lanes—and barely.

The drawing below shows current marked cycle facilities in New Albany. It is far from a useful bike network. Aside from the Ohio River Greenway atop the levee, the only striped bike lanes are on Spring Street, wisely placed on both sides of the street in an earlier “road diet,” but oddly both heading in the same direction. Additional lanes can be found further north on Silver Street and Charlestown Road, but these do not integrate with a downtown network. East Main Street is being rebuilt with “sharrows”: wide lanes that accept bicycles, but these are hardly a preferred facility for non-aggressive riders. No north-south paths are striped, although it is worth noting (and in the upcoming revised plan as well) that many small streets allow safe north-south cycling within the downtown—but not beyond it.

The Plan

The drawing on the next page, is the proposed bike network for New Albany. Again, it is principally a result of making the best use of each individual street’s pavement, but pains have been taken to make it connective and truly useful to cyclists. As such, its key corridors are Spring Street, which is recommended for a cycle track heading east, and State Street, which is recommended for two integrated lanes heading north.

The plan below can be summarized as follows:

• Spring Street, already a cycling corridor, is identified as the principal access reaching into downtown from the east, and receives a protected cycle track all the way to E. 3rd Street, where the street must widen for interstate stacking, and cyclists are shifted southward on 3rd Street. This cycle track reaches as far east as Silver Street, beyond which it is not considered likely to attract many riders. (A less aggressive proposal with bike lanes instead of cycle tracks is described ahead.)

• West of W. 6th Street, Spring Street begins again (connected by W. 6th Street to other axes), and connects to Spring Street Hill to the northwest.

• Market Street receives bike lanes where it has additional room in the roadway that can be put to this use, and is designated as a shared way where no room exists. This creates an odd condition from E. 3rd to E. 12th Street, where an extra 6 feet of pavement is placed into service as a one-way bike lane headed west. Because this

lane is redundant to the Spring Street facility, its asymmetry is not an issue. From W. 1st to Pearl Street, Market Street takes advantage of the central median to place a cycle track in the center of the roadway.

• East of Silver Street, Market Street connects to the extended end of the Ohio
River Greenway, which it also connects to at W. 10th Street.

• Main Street is being rebuilt as a shared way from Vincennes to E. 5th Street. West from there, the roadway contains ample room to receive two bike lanes all the way to W. 10th Street. In some cases, due to the extreme street width and the lack of demand for curb parking, these lanes can be striped with ample buffers.

• North-south connectivity is provided throughout this system by many low-volume streets. However, due to their significance in shifting bike traffic on and off of Spring Street, W. 6th Street and E. 3rd Street are marked with sharrows. Vincennes, another likely path for cyclists, also receives sharrows.

• Northward connectivity to the Hospital is provided by striping bike lanes on State Street, beginning at Oak. This is accomplished by removing the west flank of parallel parking; most of these spaces can be regained by restriping the east curb more efficiently. South of Oak, sharrows are placed in the roadway to alert drivers to the likely presence of cyclists.

The decision about which cycle facilities to insert in which streets is discussed in detail in the individual street redesigns that follow in the next section. As can be seen, several options are offered in certain locations. For example, if there is reluctance to place a cycle track in Spring Street at this time, an alternative is offered: two integrated lanes. A similar compromise is offered for Market street. As here, the language of the recommendations makes clear which solution corresponds more closely to national best practices.

The final drawing below shows the same cycle plan, but with the Spring and Market street cycle tracks eliminated. While such a compromise runs counter to the objectives of this study and likely represents a sacrifice in traffic safety, it is certainly a vast improvement over New Albany’s current cycling infrastructure. Such a proposal could be considered a good first step towards introducing cycle tracks in the near future.