(Note: Another in what will surely be an endless series of “guest columns” here at Burque Babble! If you’re interested in doing the same, drop us a line here at BB and join the fun/nerdiness).
By Burque McBikeface
I spend much of my time advocating for better bicycle infrastructure. People typically respond to this fact by telling me about places and streets where they personally experience issues around bike safety. In some ways it is helpful feedback, but, overall, these responses highlight a flawed civic problem solving process.
Based on my experiences and using modern technology, I’ve developed a process that you can use to advocate for better bicycle infrastructure! The process I’ve developed uses a mix of actual bike data, proposed bike facilities, satellite imagery and more.
This methodology centers on the lighter, quicker and cheaper planning methodology, otherwise known as Tactical Urbanism. It is an approach that focuses on the “lowest hanging fruit,” the most attainable opportunities at the lowest cost.
Though this process we will use an example from Albuquerque, yet it can be used anywhere. Almost every city and town has access to these same data sets, so this process could easily be replicated almost anywhere from the comfort of one’s couch.
To explain my process, I will use an example: Ventura Road, between Academy and Signal, in Northeast Albuquerque
Below is a typical view of this corridor:
It is a four-lane road with a center median. It has more lanes than are needed for the traffic it sees (more on this later). People typically use Ventura to drive from their houses to other places with services. Here is our example segment of Ventura on Google Maps:
Let’s begin with the declaration I always hear: “I want a bike lane on my street.” As in:
- “I want a bike lane on my street. Are there bike facilities proposed for my street in the bicycle plan?”
A natural first step when asking for bicycle improvements is to see if the given street is included in a long-term bicycle plan.
Here in Albuquerque, the city recently adopted a comprehensive bike plan. The plan, among other things, dictates which streets should and will receive bike related improvements in the future. Maps in the document display streets that already have bicycle infrastructure and streets that are proposed for bicycle improvements in the future:
As you can see in this map from the Albuquerque bike plan, Ventura Road has a dotted blue line, signifying that bike lanes are proposed for this corridor. To see more future bike maps of Albuquerque, click this link:
- Is there data demonstrating that cyclists are already using the proposed street?
Historically there has been a lack of data in Albuquerque and other places showing where people do and do not cycle. It is an ongoing problem for anyone advocating for improved bicycle infrastructure. If you can’t document use, how can you justify the investment? After all, data on automobile usage is commonly used to justify additional automobile infrastructure investments.
However, technology is beginning to change that equation.
Strava is an app that tracks bike rides with smartphones in real time. Recently, Strava has posted all of their data online in the Strava Global Heatmap. I encourage you to play with it! The Global Heat Map doesn’t display any personal information. It simply overlays all the trips ever recorded by Strava so that the most heavily used routes show up as darker lines*.
How does our example street, Ventura, display on Strava? Here it is:
The darker the color = the more rides being taken. As you can see, many people are already riding on Ventura, even without bike lanes. Therefore, one could make a relatively safe assumption that even more people would ride on it if bike lanes were added, especially since Ventura connects with some heavily used bike routes, such as Heritage Hills Park and North Pino Arroyo Trail.
*An important note with Strava data is that Strava represents a very small percentage of actual bike riders! People who use Strava typically are not low income (they must have smartphones) and many of the rides tracked are recreational in nature. It’s an informative data set, but it absolutely should not be used exclusively to make planning decisions. However, combined with these other data sets and documents in this analysis, it can be useful.
- Does the street need all of the automobile lanes it has? In other words, is it overcapacity?
This is a helpful question to ask because it can impact project cost. If a street is overcapacity, it’s easier to make the argument that automobile lanes can be removed in order to add bike lanes. If a street is heavily trafficked and there is limited street width available, it will be a longer and more expensive uphill battle.
The answer to this question can be found in local automobile traffic counts. Every regional government is required to take automobile traffic counts and the Mid-Region Council of Governments in Albuquerque is no exception. You can use their interactive map to see if traffic on a given street has increased or decreased over the years. It’s powerful data!
Below is a map with the 2014 traffic counts for Ventura:
According to this map, Ventura averages 4,000-18,000 cars per day, with the majority of the corridor averaging ~10,000 cars per day. These are numbers that can easily be handled with a single lane in each direction, especially because the center turn lanes would remain unaffected if the right lane were replaced with bike lanes.
For context, according to this same traffic count map, San Pedro and Spain, which have one general traffic lane in each direction, handle ~10,000 cars per day easily.
So far, Ventura is looking like a great candidate for high prioritization of bike lanes!
Here are some other helpful things to look at:
- By using satellite imagery, does it look like this project can be done with mostly paint?
This is one way to gauge the cost of a project. A lower project cost creates a stronger argument for bike lanes. Let’s take a look from above at a typical section of Ventura:
Here is a typical street view:
As you can see, Ventura has two lanes on each side with a limited amount of driveways. This means that by removing the right lane, a bike facility could be added without moving or tearing up many or any curbs, making the project costs significantly lower.
It’s an important thing to keep in mind: Paint is cheap and tearing up curbs and moving them around is expensive. With this in mind, it becomes easier to identify the lowest hanging fruit in your community.
This indicator, just like the Strava data, shouldn’t be used exclusively to make decisions, as most of the significant gaps in any community bike network require costly construction and infrastructure. However, finding the “lowest hanging fruit” is still a productive way to improve cycling in your community.
Based on this analysis, this is the design I propose for this corridor:
Due to the traffic counts discussed above, this street does not need two lanes in each direction. It can easily accommodate all current and likely future traffic demands with one lane in each direction.
In other parts of Albuquerque, a buffered bike lane costs ~$37,000/mile. Since this is two miles and the intersections will be a little complex, a ballpark cost of constructing this project would be $75,000-100,000.
The challenging parts of this project would be the intersections of Paseo del Norte and Academy, and a small amount of curb movement might be required there. However, if all of the lanes at those intersections were narrowed to a reasonable width of 10 feet, there would be enough space for a narrow bike lane without moving any curbs.
We’re going to ask one more question:
- Who represents this street?
Since this is about advocacy, we must give you, the reader, an implementation strategy.
If you live in a city, county, village or some other type of place, you likely have an elected official who represents you on a local level. In Albuquerque, our City Council is full of motivated, passionate individuals who want to hear from people in their district. Each councilor also has a small pot of money that they can use for projects they deem to be worthy in their districts.
Here is Ventura, this time on a City Council District map:
Ventura is located in Council District 4, which is represented by Councilor Brad Winter.
If you think this is a worthy project, let him and his policy analyst know by emailing them this article and expressing your support for the project:
- Email Councilor Brad Winter: email@example.com
- Contact Policy Analyst Rebekka Burt: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (505) 768-3101
So what do you think? Is this a useful methodology? Please let me know in the comments.