What are Bicycle Boulevards?

And how can we bring one to Albany?

At our monthly meeting on November 17, 2011 Ken B. brought up bicycle boulevards. This got me thinking. I’ve come up with a few questions to help us understand bicycle boulevards a bit better.

What are bicycle boulevards?

“Bicycle boulevards are low-volume and low-speed streets that  have been optimized for bicycle travel through treatments such as traffic calming and traffic  reduction, signage and pavement markings, and intersection crossing treatments,” according to Portland University’s Fundamentals of Bicycle Boulevard Planning and Design. 

What is the purpose of a bicycle boulevard?

“The purpose of a bicycle boulevard is to improve bicycle safety and circulation, by providing cyclists a designated travel route as an alternative to or as a companion route to using lanes on higher motor vehicle volume streets,” according to a report prepared by Alliant Engineering, Inc for the City of Minneapolis.

Who use bicycle boulevards? 

Cyclist and non motor vehicle users all over the world.

Do they work? 

Yes. Among the eight case studies included in the Fundamentals of Bicycle Boulevard Planning and Design, Portland University found that bike boulevards are, “well-loved in each community,” and that, “nearly all representatives indicated that they have plans for additional bicycle boulevards.” Further, by using bicycle boulevard planning in San Luis Obispo, planners have lowered  traffic volumes from three hundred forty five to seventy five cars in one two hour count. If the idea is to create safer routes for cyclists, bicycle boulevards work.

How can we create a bike boulevard in Albany?

Five broad elements are included in Portland University’s fundamentals for bicycle boulevard design: traffic calming, signage, traffic reduction, intersection treatment, and prioritized travel.

Albany could easily construct a bicycle boulevard using signage. Signs are easily designed, constructed, are cheap, and can be put up in a day. There are plenty of cyclists who know alternative routes to the busy arteries: Central, Washington, Western, and Madison. They are willing and able to help design and implement a bicycle boulevard here in Albany.

I would personally like to see these boulevards constructed. The main arteries are too dangerous. I have lived in Albany for nearly five years and ride nearly everyday. I have been hit by a car four times in my life. Four times. Three of which were on Central Avenue.

[image from streetblog.org]

In all, what does this mean?

  1. It means that bicycle boulevards are designed to make a community safer.
  2. It means bicycle boulevards can be constructed as easily as posting a few signs.
  3. It means by constructed bicycle boulevards, a community is showing its members that cycling is a viable source of transportation and recreation.

 Here’s a great video to explain bicycle boulevards from StreetFilms.org

More Information:

Fundamentals of Bicycle Boulevard Planning and Design. 

A ‘How To’ by UC Berkeley

Alta Planning and Design builds boulevards

Written by Daniel Patterson


Filed under Activism, Bicycle Boulevards

7 responses to “What are Bicycle Boulevards?

  1. Thanks for the nice article. I like the idea of bicycle accommodations and I am happy you are working to make them happen. That said, when they happen they don’t go everywhere. For instance, I don’t see a bicycle boulevard running the length of Central. I hope I am wrong, because the same reasons that make Central the street of choice for so many of our neighbors (stuff on both ends and in between) makes it important for us. What do you think?

    I am terribly disturbed and saddened to hear you’ve been hit three times on Central. Sounds like you are now healed (or you’d probably say something), but still. Terrible! I have been hit once in my life and it was on Central. My assault (it wasn’t an accident–the driver hit me on purpose) happened on a casual roll on Mother’s Day. The street was all but empty. Just me and the perp. The details are here: http://randalputnam.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/limit-of-the-law/.

    Before and since, I don’t often ride on Central. If I had to I might, but I try to avoid it. Do you ride there often? I am guessing so, as it would be unlikely that you took three trips and were hit each time. Do you live and work on opposite ends?

    Unless there is a bicycle boulevard installed along Central, could there be one on another street that would work so that you wouldn’t need to pedal on Central? Maybe Washington? If so, why don’t you bike there now? The signage isn’t there, but if a street is lightly traveled such that a bicycle boulevard is possible, it seems pedaling there even before the signage should be considered.

    If there isn’t a better route for you, how will it help to have a bicycle boulevard somewhere else? That’s a big problem with bicycle accommodations. They can’t go everywhere and some trips require pedaling outside the lines. Not a reason not to advocate for them, but a reason to carefully plan bicycle trips, even pick places of residence or work, so that we don’t have to frequently pedal on high volume high speed streets. A dream? Maybe. We can’t always easily pick where we live and work, but I’d argue (a) that we have more control over our personal lives and routes than we do over city planners and (b) our safety is worth the hassle of careful trip planning (including putting extra effort into picking where we live and work). Another idea, if someone lived and worked at opposite ends of Central, would be to mount your bicycle on a bus for the length of Central. Suboptimal, but safer until work or home can be relocated.

    Don’t get me wrong. We can bicycle wherever we want and do so safely more often than not, but its the “not” that makes me nervous. Some streets will always present a higher risk than others and for our sakes and the sakes of those that count on us, we should try to limit our time on these streets.

    Again, thanks for writing about an important accommodation. I hope we get some soon! I also hope you are never hit again. Once is too often. Three times, well, it shakes my faith in humanity. Be well!

  2. Sarah Rain

    I disagree that signage alone is adequate to create an effective bicycle boulevard. Additional changes that make a route less attractive to cars and more attractive to bicyclists are necessary or it will not be utilized. For example, Myrtle and Morris are parallel alternatives to Madison, but I generally choose to ride on Madison instead despite the traffic volume because I don’t have to stop at every single intersection. Just designating a street as a bike route doesn’t help anything.

    • Christopher

      This is very true. Western Ave. is technically a state bike route, but does anyone ever think of riding it up to the mall? Some of the intersections and “bike paths” can be a little dangerous. What I think the advantage of the bike boulevard is is that it provides a nice alternative route to the main roads as well as informing you where the route leads. For example if you had one from downtown to UAlbany or St. Rose it is nice to see the signs that say “this way to .” As I was new to the area last year, there was a big learning curve of where to ride in terms of back roads. I don’t have a good memory under normal circumstances so with the signage around it would be nice to know where I am going even with all of the hustle and bustle of cars around me.

    • Daniel I. Patterson

      Signs for bicycle boulevards would help to make Albany safer. Signs would be designed to divert non motorists from using main streets. This would decongest traffic, help brand the idea of alternative routes in the minds of street goers, and hopefully pursued more people to use non-motor vehicles. Bicycle boulevard signs are for a safer Albany.

      By installing signs, we will have routes that non motorists can follow as an alternative to the main arteries, where people have been killed. The routes should be visible so that those who know them can stay on them and those that are unsure of them can find them and use them. As Christopher said, “this way to” is a great idea. More informtion can be added on the signs. “Two miles to Crossgates” or “one miles to Quail Street” would give non motorist more information.

      Again, the signs aren’t enough. Certainly further installations would be welcomed but, if successfully installed they would be a step in the right direction to make the streets of Albany safer.

      • Sarah Rain

        I disagree with the goal of getting bicyclists off main streets. I agree with the idea of providing alternate routes and love the idea of bike boulevards but feel that signage alone, with no further amenities that make the side streets more pleasant for cyclists to ride on, will fail to significantly increase ridership and will give drivers the sense that bikes don’t belong on other roads. It’d be a way for the city to pretend they’re interested in accommodating bikes without actually improving the situation. Don’t settle for less!

  3. This is great criticism of the signs. If drivers are able to say that cyclists, “have their own route and shouldn’t be on the main roads,” this may be ammunition against cyclist to keep off the main road. We don’t want that. This conversation may also deter non cyclist from riding bikes.

    Second, if signs are installed now and in the future cyclists try to improve the boulevards, then the city may bar further installations by saying, “well we’ve already built in the routes, we can’t go any further.” We also don’t want this.

    The signs alone would be a step to brand bicycle boulevards and provide an alternative route but, I’m starting to agree that they wouldn’t be enough to provide a better route and to get more people on bicycles. So how do we fix this problem? The problem of signs not being enough.

    A while ago I read something along the lines of, “If we have something that’s the best in the market, will people buy it? Yes, of course, it’s the best!” The idea is that people will choose an item because its the best. In our situation the best choice should be the bike boulevard. So the idea becomes to design a boulevard for non motorists that is the best, so that no other route is desired. So there is no argument between motorist and non motorist – they both will have their own best routes. This may be a solution, but is still unfinished.

    How do we design the best route for non motorists in Albany where most streets have already been built and designed for the automobile?

    Ideally we demolish streets and rebuilt them to deter all motor vehicles and encourage non motorists, but frankly this doesn’t seem likely in Albany. So what does seem likely in addition to signage?

    This is a good question.

    I think we just need a boulevard that’s the best choice. So there is no hesitation, “o yea, there is a great route between the Empire State Plaza and the train station we can take our bikes on, the best route for non motorists”

    There’s a lot of additions to signage out there for bicycle boulevards. Signs may not be enough for the best route. What do other people think?

  4. They have this traffic reduction agent that would be great to have built in Albany. A medium that works to block motor vehicles while opening an avenue for non motor vehicles.

    Check this.

    and more fancy

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