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VOL. 128 | NO. 184 | Friday, September 20, 2013

Cyclist Protection

City to debut 15 miles of protected bike lanes

By Bill Dries

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The city’s third kind of bicycle lane has been taking shape for about a month on Overton Park Avenue between Bellevue Boulevard and Cleveland Street.

The city’s third kind of bicycle lane is taking shape in Midtown on Overton Park Avenue. The green protected bike lanes flip the position of parked cars and the bike lane.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

It’s the first of 15 miles of “protected” bike lanes that flip the position of parked cars and the bike lane to put the parked cars between the bicyclists and auto traffic. And it is green.

That’s not just a statement about the intent. It’s the color of the street markings meant to avoid “right hook” encounters when cars and bicycles come to an intersection where the cars turn right on red.

“One of the ways that you sort of mitigate that action is by encouraging the cyclists and cars rather than coming to an intersection side by side – you actually encourage them to come to the intersection queued in the same line,” said Kyle Wagenschutz, the city’s bicycle pedestrian coordinator.

The green color and street markings are “clear indications” to bicyclists and auto drivers.

The effect of the markings is that the stretch of Overton Park Avenue by where the street dead ends into the walls of the interstate below immediately gets the attention of drivers on bikes and in cars.

And it does take some getting used to. On a recent afternoon, while most of the cars parked in the area were in the right place, two were parked against the curb where the bikes would travel.

But the stretch of road is not as busy as other roads and there is a margin of error in the relatively light traffic.

“It puts all of the users on the higher sense of alert,” Wagenschutz added. “We think it’s a much safer approach to getting people to ride bicycles through the city. It’s a much more intuitive system for all the different road users.”

In the last two years, the city has repaved streets to include bicycle lanes going in one direction on each side of some streets with parking lanes next to the curb. And the Broad Avenue arts district has bike lanes on one side of Broad that go east and west.

“We’re working hard to make sure ... we’re building quality bike lanes.”

–Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

The different approaches are likely to remain for the most part, Wagenschutz said.

“We look at every single roadway on a case-by-case basis – even on a block-by-block basis – trying to understand what will best serve both the needs of existing traffic users while also trying to maintain a minimal level of safety and security for cyclists on the roadway,” he said. “There isn’t going to be a one-treatment-fixes-all kind of scenario. There are still places where traditional bicycle lanes are applicable.”

And the protected lanes take up more space that isn’t there on some streets. In the case of Overton Park Avenue, the new lanes come with a preservation of most of the on-street parking, although some was eliminated at intersections.

When Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. committed in May to 15 miles of the new protected lanes by 2015, it was a move to get more Memphians interested in using all forms of the bicycle lanes.

“We’re working hard to make sure we’re not just building quantity, but that we’re building quality bike lanes,” Wharton said in May.

The protected bicycle lanes are not just new to Memphis, they are new to many U.S. communities with only several dozen in other cities. Wagenschutz said they encourage more bicycling, which has increased in the city’s two-year experience with bike lanes in general.

“They’ve been shown to increase the number of people riding bicycles. People are more likely to try bicycling for the first time in an environment like a protected bike lane versus one of the traditional bike lanes,” he said.

The most accurate and standardized data about bicycling in Memphis measures those who commute to work by bike. And Wagenschutz said the number has increased 400 percent in two years. Meanwhile, the number of bicycle accidents has remained stable.

Wagenschutz added the use of all three types of lanes and their configurations are under review as new traffic patterns for cars and bicycles emerge.

“What I can foresee in the future is taking a hard look at the intersections, particularly signalized intersections where some of our traditional bike lanes approach and making some adjustment to how the bicycles and cars interact with one another at the intersections,” he said. “I do feel we can do a little bit better job than we originally did.”

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