Category: Bicycle Infrastructure

Bike Denver

Flat Irons, near Boulder, Colorado

The Flat Irons near Boulder, Colorado, not far from Denver.

We have lived in and visited both coasts of the US and have a pretty good understanding of both sides. But we never quite understood Middle America, aside from what the media shows us. So, we decided to go visit Denver, Colorado. (No, not because of marijuana legalization there.) It’s not too far of a trip to take from the Bay Area, and I heard it’s not a bad city to bike in. Denver is referred to as “the mile-high city” or 5280 which is the number of feet it sits above sea level, and it’s located next to the Rocky mountains, which are the highest mountains in the United States.

This time, we planned to travel light which meant that Nellie brought only a single backpack and I brought only my messenger bag. We left our Bromptons at home because we thought the bike-share program that they have in Denver would suffice and be more convenient. The closest bike-share station would be only a block away from our hotel, so why not. As a bonus, our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in the city, on 15th St.

This bike share station is located on the sidewalks near our hotel on 14th St. and Welton St.

This bike share station is located on the sidewalk near our hotel on 14th St. and Welton St.

As a matter of fact, the bike-share stations are nicely distributed across downtown Denver. There are 700 bike-shares in 83 stations, twice as many as in San Francisco. It’s called Denver B Cycle, and sourced from the same company as most other bike shares in the US, Alta Bikeshare. Although their mobile app didn’t work, we could locate another station without even looking for one. It’s that ubiquitous. There was this brand-new redeveloped neighborhood called Prospect which was not completely done, and a bike share station was already in place. I was impressed.

A bike share station is placed in Prospect neighborhood which is not completely finished.

A bike share station is placed in the Prospect neighborhood, which is not even fully built out.

The bike shares are always located on the sidewalks and not in the street, which I think is an ideal setup. The sidewalks there are generally very wide, up to 20 ft/6 m wide. By locating the stations on the sidewalks, you don’t feel the pressure to hurry because you are in a safe zone. Also, it’s nice to undock or dock your bike off the street, unlike how it is in SF. Bike shares invite newbies, so having them on the sidewalks makes them more welcoming.

However, I still don’t like using bike shares when I would like to mindlessly wander throughout the city exploring. The 30-minute grace period was always on my mind because I didn’t want to accrue penalties. Also, docking/undocking is a huge hassle when you have to do it every 30 minutes. My opinion is that bike-shares are good if you know where you are going and only need it for going short distances. It would not be good for recreational our touristic cycling and for going long distances.

The only cycle track in the city on 15th St.

The only cycle track in the city on 15th St.

Our hotel was located next to the only cycle track in town on 15th St. It was nicely done with crossbikes and protected barriers, but the intersection was not protected. Also, what I don’t get is why the cycle track was on the left-hand side. I heard that another cycle track is coming to a nearby street on Broadway, a north-to-south commercial corridor which should make a better network of bike paths.

A crossbike with a right turn bike box.

A crossbike with a right turn bike box.

Another commercial corridor in downtown that is bike-friendly is the popular shopping area, the 16th Street Mall, which is closed off to cars. There are hundreds of shops and street vendors located on this long stretch. The identical tiles on both the street and sidewalks give it a very pedestrian-friendly feel to it. No need for bike signage.

16th Street Mall is closed off to cars except buses and bicycles.

The 16th Street Mall is closed off to cars except buses and bicycles.

Denver has a bike modal share of 2.9% in 2012 (20% jump from 2011), most of which I see riding on the extensive Cherry Creek bike trail. The Cherry Creek trail stretches 11.2 mi/ 18 km from Cherry Creek Reservoir in the south and through downtown in the north. It serves for both recreation and transportation. It’s a must if you do visit Denver and go for a bike ride. Some of the best scenery within the city is along this riverside bike trail. The water running next to it is surprisingly clean!

You see both recreational and utilitarian cyclists on the Cherry Creek bike trail.

You see both recreational and utilitarian cyclists on the Cherry Creek bike trail. I like how there are street signs installed on the bridges, so you know where you are going.

People actually go rafting on the creek and the water is pretty clean.

People actually go rafting and kayaking on the creek and the water is pretty clean!

Confluent People street art by local artist, Emanuel Martinez, under Speer Blvd. and Little Raven St.

The “Confluent People” mural by local artist, Emanuel Martinez is located at Speer Blvd. and Little Raven St.

What I like about Denver is it’s numerous parks, and the majority of them you can really bike within them for quite a distance with flat topography. City Park is my favorite and has a zoo and the Museum of Science and Nature. It’s located not too distant from downtown. Another park I recommend is Washington Park in the Pearl St. neighborhood. It’s voted as the most favorite park in Denver by the locals.

Denver City Park

City Park, not too far from downtown Denver, is a great place to bike recreationally.

Denver Bicycle Cafe

Our favorite cafe is the Denver Bicycle Cafe. You can get food, beer or coffee while you wait for your bike to be fixed.

Denver Bicycle Cafe

Denver Bicycle Cafe also has comfortable outdoor seating (not shown here).

Coolest looking bike corral in Pearl St. neighorhood.

A nice looking bike corral in the charming Pearl St. neighborhood.

Green Cyclery bike shop in Pearl St.

Cute little Linus bikes in the Green Cyclery bike shop on Pearl St.

Nice window dressing!

Creative window dressing using bike wheels!

I still think Denver has some ways to go in terms of bike infrastructure and reducing their use of cars. But I admire how much they are embracing the ideas of New Urbanism and I feel like they are doing the bike thing better and faster than many other American cities. For example, their 15th St. cycle-track was completed this year and now, the city is proposing another cycle-track on Broadway St. In addition, I really like their ubiquitous bike-shares, but it’s just not ideal for visitors to use them to explore the city because of the time limits. Visitors and recreational riders should rent a bicycle instead. Their Cherry Creek bike path is great fun to bike on and quite scenic, but then, it doesn’t go in every direction to really serve bike commuters. However, I do think that overall, the city government gets it and it’s just a matter of time.

A couple of more things I want to mention for anyone who is going to visit Denver and bike around. You may need some time to adapt to the higher elevation. At higher elevations, oxygen is less concentrated and so your body will have to adjust and breath shorter but more frequent breaths. At first, you might feel worn out faster when exerting yourself. However, the air is just fine for Denverites who are known to be very active outdoors. So once you adjust, you should be fine. Also, one of the fun things you can do in Denver, if you are of drinking age, is to ride your bike around to all the different local breweries and do some free tastings. Denver has great local beer! Many can be easily reached by bike.

Happy Trails!

Buffered Bike Lanes in South San Francisco!

While Rotterdam just completed its amazing Green Connection project and Copenhagen is almost done with its admirable Bicycle Snake, South San Francisco just got its first buffered bike lanes. Yes, it’s pretty lame when you are comparing it to those inspirational projects, but it’s a great feat for such a place where it’s a ghost town after 6pm. So, kudos to South City!

South San Francisco, the Industrial City. Courtesy of hillbabies.blogspot.com

South San Francisco, the Industrial City. Courtesy of hillbabies.blogspot.com

For those of you that don’t know South San Francisco, it’s actually a neighboring city south of San Francisco (not part of SF) and it’s known as the Industrial City. It’s the birthplace of biotechnology and it’s basically an office park where freight trucks, delivery trucks and cars are all you see. The city is mostly comprised of very wide streets with speed limits upwards of 40 mph/64 kmh, and barely any pedestrians strolling on narrow sidewalks.

So, it’s surprising to see a road diet of a street of 4 car lanes into 2 car lanes on Forbes Blvd. The road diet starts at the cross street of DNA Way and ends at Allerton Ave. And to top it off, the city added buffered bike lanes- the first of its kind in South San Francisco. Pretty cool, eh?!

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Eastbound on Forbes Blvd.

I have never ridden on such a smooth paved street in the States for as long I can remember. I know this is not going to last though because after awhile, the condition will deteriorate and as you know, we have a lack of infrastructure maintenance. For now, I feel more safe because I don’t have to look down on the road for cracked pavement or potholes. I can have my full attention on the road ahead. And as a matter of fact, you will find yourself riding faster. Also, the buffer zone makes me feel safe as well.

A few of these pedestrian signals are installed.  You have to press a button to cross.

A few of these pedestrian signals are installed. You have to press a “beg” button to cross.

However, it’s too bad that the speed limit is still posted at 35 mph/56 kmh. Does it make any sense on a 2 car lane street? You have a road diet, with wide medians to calm traffic, and new crosswalk signals installed; and still the speed limit is at 35 mph/56 kmh? At least, install a protected barrier on the buffered area of the bike lanes.

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Eastbound on Forbes Blvd.

Moreover, when you reach the intersection, you have to share the space with autos.

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Forbes Blvd and DNA Way intersection.

Lastly, the buffered bike path should be extended all the way to the Caltrain station (see blue arrow in bottom image). It’s a logical next step. This will provide a safe passage for the last mile commuters. I truly hope the city is working on it.

Green arrow: beginning of new bike path.  Red arrow: ending of new bike path.  Blue arrow: need to expand to Caltrain, public transit system in the area.

Green arrow: beginning of new bike path. Red arrow: ending of new bike path. Blue arrow: need to expand to Caltrain, public transit system in the area.

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This is at the intersection of Forbes Blvd. and Allerton Ave.  This is how it used to look before the road diet.  Courtesy of Google Maps. 

Vehicles blocking bike lanes pt. 2

This parking patrol on a Saturday morning with no cars on a two vehicle lanes directional street, and he still parks on the bike lane.

On a Saturday morning with no cars on a two vehicle lanes one directional street, this parking officer blocked the bike lane instead.  He can’t even park next to the curb to give citations.

Pathetic! Bike lane is blocked by two trash bins. That is how bicyclists are treated.

Pathetic! Bike lane is blocked by two trash bins. That is how bicyclists are treated.

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UPS truck parked on the northbound side of Franklin St. in downtown Oakland – May 2014.

Hello fellow bicyclists,

Last time, I wrote a post about bike lanes being blocked by all sorts of things from delivery trucks to piles of dirt. I had never seen a vehicle parked outside a bike lane, but there was this UPS delivery truck that to my surprise did something out of the ordinary-park on the outside of the bike lane. I wanted to thank the driver but he/she wasn’t there. But this time, I saw another UPS truck parked outside the bike lane and was able to catch the driver. I asked the driver, “Is it the company’s policy to not block bike lanes? It’s the second time I’ve seen this.” She shook her head, no. Then I asked, “Did you purposely park there to leave the bike lane open?” To my surprise, she said that she just didn’t want to block any cars that wanted to park or leave. Anyhow, I still wanted to let her know that it’s a good thing she didn’t block the bike lane because it can be dangerous for cyclists to have to weave out into traffic when bike lanes are blocked. She said, “No wonder! There was this female cyclist earlier waving to me to say thank you but I didn’t understand.” I hope that the UPS driver, knowing what she knows now, will do the same thing everywhere when she’s behind the wheel.

Yep, we bicyclists still get no respect!

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UPS truck parked on the southbound side of Franklin St. in downtown Oakland – June 2014.

Be safe and cycle well!

I gave the driver of this USPS van and he nodded. I think he knows why I did that. Respect!

Similar to the UPS parking spot, another delivery van parked outside of the bike lane. I gave this USPS driver a big ‘thumbs up’ and he nodded. I hope he knows not to block bike lanes.

Vehicles blocking bike lanes

I am so tired of vehicles blocking bike lanes when you already feel like you are a target for every driver.

Does this driver think it's okay to partially block a bike lane?

Does this driver think it’s okay to partially block a bike lane? Any bike is going scrape his or her car if a cyclist stays within the bike lane.

What’s the point of bike lanes when cars and trucks are double parking? It’s so easy for a driver to pull over into the bike lane and stop there and act as if he or she is doing nothing wrong. There’s so much disrespect for us people on bikes. I used to bark at drivers but now I don’t even try.

Already, there are few bike lanes in the city of Oakland, and yet many times drivers take away those bike lanes by parking on them. Blocking bike lanes particularly on high speed streets forces bicyclists to swerve out into car lanes which is very dangerous, and I don’t even think drivers can even think of this hazard to people on bikes.

It's bad enough that we have to share the road with autos, but to even blocked on a bike sharrow road is ridiculously unspeakable.

It’s bad enough that we have to share the road with drivers, but to even block on a bike sharrow road is ridiculously unspeakable.

What’s worse is when you see a car that is a government vehicle! One time, I saw two police cars parking on bike lanes in San Francisco (no, their patrol lights weren’t even on). If city officials don’t set good examples, why would private citizens do the same?

What is this? Cattle food in the middle of a bike lane? Why does the city allow this?

What is this? Cattle feed in the middle of a bike lane? Why does the city allow this?

But today for the first time I couldn’t believe my eyes. After passing a FedEx truck parked in the typical fashion blocking a bike lane, ahead of it was a UPS truck parked on the outside of the bike lane, not on it. At first I thought UPS was driving away, but that wasn’t the case. You can see its emergency yellow lights flashing. I was hoping to find out who he/she was and to say “Thank you!” but the driver wasn’t around. I would like to think he/she is a bicyclist himself/herself or is it the policy of UPS to not park on bike lanes? I will look for them next time.

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Yet, another delivery vehicle blocking a bike lane.

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This UPS driver had total respect for cyclists. Kudos to you driver of this UPS truck!

Happy bicycling and hope to see you at Bike to Work Day, May 8th!

Green carpet of super bike sharrows – a new type of bike lane?

Bike sharrow (left) and super bike sharrow (right). Are bike sharrows becoming more common?

Bike sharrow (left) and super bike sharrow (right). Are bike sharrows becoming more common?

I never did like bike sharrows on wide streets that have more than two lanes in any city. I have seen them a lot where the roads have no space for bike lanes. Then not too long ago, I started seeing green-backed bike sharrows, called super sharrows which can be spotted on the Wiggle and Market Street in San Francisco. Now they have taken it up another notch with these carpets of green super sharrows in Long Beach, Salt Lake City, and recently in Oakland. It just reminds me of vehicular cycling (where you ride your bike like a motorist) which has failed miserably to get more people to bike. I hope this doesn’t become a norm.

Green sharrow bike path on 40th St. in Oakland, CA.

Green sharrow bike path on 40th St. in Oakland, CA. Does it make you want to ride on it?

The first time I drove my car in a car lane that had a green sharrow bike path painted on it, although there were no cyclists there,  I felt like I was running over all the cyclists that had ridden there before, in a spiritual sense. – Nellie, Scion IQ driver and bicyclist

A carpet of green sharrow bikeway was put down on 40th Street in September of last year to give bicyclists a safe passage to the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland from Emeryville in the west or Oakland’s Piedmont Ave. in the east. It was said that this was a compromise between having a protected bike lane or doing nothing. Yep, bicyclists always get the bad end of the stick. (I guess they can at least claim they are rolling out the red green carpet for us bicyclists.)

Street sign indicating green sharrow bike path leading to MacArthur BART Station

Street sign indicating green sharrow bike path leading to MacArthur BART Station

We went to Long Beach in 2012 to check out their bike infrastructure and we experienced this type of bikeway. We didn’t like it at first. I thought it was stupid because again, bicyclists have to share a lane with drivers and it seemed like having green paint there was supposed to trick cyclists into thinking they have the lane. After some analysis, I understand now why they did this. The auto traffic through there moved slow at around 8-15 mph (12.9-24 kmh) which is bike speed, with many traffic lights on 2nd St. and it’s on a commercial corridor. In this situation, this type of bikeway may work better than a conventional bike lane because you are away from car door zone. You won’t have to swerve out of the bike lane because of idling cars blocking it, and you can avoid right hooks at intersections.

2nd St. commercial corridor in Long Beach, CA. Notice numerous shops and traffic lights.

2nd St. commercial corridor in Long Beach, CA. Notice numerous shops and traffic lights.

However, I think that the one on Oakland’s 40th St. is a bad idea. I did not feel safe at all going through there because motorists were going as fast as 40 mph (64.4 kmh). You can hear the roaring engine noise from trucks coming from behind, and cars passing you to change into your lane at 3 times your speed and merge into your right of way at any time. I felt vulnerable. Maybe during commute times things may be different (I was there on a late Sunday afternoon and very few cyclists were on it). Still, I can never trust distracted or angry drivers and I see plenty of them on the streets at all hours.

Also, if adding a protected bike lane was going to be so expensive (again, the green sharrow lanes that are there now are a compromise between protected bike lanes and none at all), I don’t understand why street parking couldn’t have been removed to create a buffered bike lane instead, which is cheaper and easier to do. Since this is a residential area with homes that have garages and it is not a commercial area with shops, they do not need the parking. Also, adding a buffered bike lane wouldn’t impede traffic flow.

Note the lack of traffic lights and long distance before each intersection suggests bikes and cars shouldn't be mixed.

Note the lack of traffic lights and the long distances between intersections. That type of environment does not allow for the safe mixing of bikes and cars. There should have been a buffered bike lane instead.

Fortunately, according to this EastBayExpress.com article, this will not be the final design for that street and this is a pilot study. I hope it will not be permanent.

Oakland has the potential to be a wonderful bike city

Grand Lake Theatre, a landmark situated in Grand Lake neighborhood.

The Grand Lake Theatre, a well-known landmark of the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland.

It’s been 3 months now since I’ve started biking around Oakland as a resident, commuter, and recreationist. As my wheels have wandered into different parts of the city, I have often found myself saying, “This place really has the potential to be a wonderful bike city.” It is not just a matter of wishfully dreaming about it being a paradise for people on bikes, although that is certainly part of it too. It is more about seeing that there are a lot of inherent characteristics about Oakland that make it pretty ideal for biking, if the city can ever fully embrace it as a means of transportation and the infrastructure that it would require. (Like practically all American cities, the transportation budget allocates very little to biking.)

Oakland is a fairly dense city for the United States, registering at about 7,000 residents per square mile (2,705/sq. km) and growing. Although there are many neighborhoods which are quite suburban in character, there are significant parts of Oakland that are actually quite urban such as neighborhoods like Grand Lake, Adams Point, and Chinatown which have triple the density. Moreover, the city’s dense neighborhoods are mostly clustered together. Density is good for biking because it makes the travel distances between destinations much shorter.

One of the things that makes Oakland a special place is that the shops here tend to be mom and pop, which means small and local. There are some chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks, but they don’t have many big box stores. So that means that most of the shops tend to have a smaller footprint. These small shops tend to have limited parking because they usually do not have their own parking lots or garages and street parking is not always plentiful. Bikes complement these small shops nicely since 10-15 bikes can fit in one car parking space. The shops are human scale and that attracts people on foot or bicycle. Their signs are also smaller which makes them more visible by foot and bike as well.

Old Oakland, a charming neighborhood that is filled with small businesses.

Old Oakland, a historic and charming neighborhood that is filled with small businesses.

The top biking cities of Copenhagen and Amsterdam have ironing board flat topography which is very conducive for biking. But Oakland isn’t too different in this regard. Although there are the Oakland Hills, large parts of Oakland are nice and flat. A visual estimate using Google Maps shows that at least 60% of Oakland is flat and the hills are tucked to the side. A side effect of this is that you see people on bikes coming and going in every direction. Although you will rarely see a whole bunch of cyclists stopped together at a traffic light, you will see one or two turn up here and there in all directions. This is due in part to that all the bicyclists do not need to funnel into a few preferred routes to avoid hills. For example, in San Francisco, there are many areas that are empty of bicyclists and yet when you go to The Wiggle during rush hour, you will see a whole bunch of them going by like a herd of wild gazelles. That is because The Wiggle is really the only east-west route to avoid SF’s infamously steep hills. (There are still some hills on the route, but the slopes are much easier to climb.) But in the flat parts of Oakland, you can bike for miles without meeting a hill. Combined with less traffic congestion, cyclists even regularly take routes without bike lanes on them. So, there is greater freedom to roam.

In addition to flat topography, Oakland has a lot of street space. Most streets in the urban areas are really wide and the width of many of them are not justified by the amount of car traffic that actually uses them. This underutilization is an opportunity for bike facility planners because there is enough space to put in cycle tracks without removing car lanes and/or the need to remove parking spaces. That means that, at least in theory, there will be less fighting between different interest groups over the scarce and valuable resource of space. Even if a few parking spaces have to be removed, not as many people are going to throw a fit about it because Oakland is not as space-constrained of a city yet. So in theory, it should be easier to implement bike infrastructure. But space will not always be this available. As the city grows and traffic increases, the opportunity to easily implement bike lanes with little opposition will disappear. It is better to incorporate bike infrastructure now rather than later when it will become more difficult to do just about anything in a crowded city.

Super wide streets are common in Oakland which provide enough space to put in cycle tracks.

Super wide streets are common in Oakland which provide enough space to put in cycle tracks, or at least buffered bike lanes.

Oakland is one of the few American cities which has a decent regional public transit system. The subway-like Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has 8 stations within Oakland and connects to San Francisco (which also has 8 BART stations) and a large part of the Bay Area. Thousands of Oakland residents use the BART every day to get to SF for work or play. In fact, it is quicker to get into downtown SF from certain BART stations in Oakland, than from the western neighborhoods of SF to downtown using SF’s own metro transit system. However, not all people live within walking distance of a BART station. The solution is to take a bike to the nearest station. They are actually bike-able from most places in Oakland. Plus, the BART now allows bikes on board all the time and when you get to your stop on the other end, you can use your bike to cover the last mile to your final destination. With the sleek new BART cars (designed by BMW) coming in a couple of years, they will have better on-board bike racks in which you won’t need to stand next to your bike to keep it from falling over.

system-map

BART System Map

Weather-wise, in Oakland it’s almost perfect for biking. The climate is mild all year round and on average there are 261 sunny days per year. The average low is about 45 deg F (7 deg C) and average high is about 74 deg F (23 deg C). It rarely goes above 80 degrees which is great for cyclists because we don’t want to get all sweaty. It doesn’t get that windy so you won’t get that strong headwind you sometimes have to face when riding. The fog which engulfs SF for much of the year dissipates by the time it reaches Oakland and the humidity level is pretty comfortable too.

In addition to the great biking weather, riding around the better parts of Oakland can be a very visually enjoyable and stimulating experience. The built environment around Oakland is aesthetically charming and pretty, has lots of old growth trees, a variety of neighborhoods, a variety of architectural styles, and many unique gems. There are many churches with great architecture, some of which are old like the neo-gothic First Presbyterian Church on Broadway or new like the glassy Cathedral of Christ by Lake Merritt. There are elegant old landmark theaters in the Art Deco style such as Fox, Paramount, and Grand Lake which bring you back to the Jazz Age. Then there is the beautiful Lake Merritt known as “The Jewel of Oakland”, a natural estuary lake placed in the middle of an urban setting for everyone to enjoy. You can see Oakland’s well-known and lauded diversity of people (people of every color and background) when they gather at the lake, strolling, biking, jogging, and boating. Also, the fact that Oakland has the most artists per capita in the US, besides Greenwich Village in NYC, gives Oakland a very visible artistic flair. There are art galleries and murals everywhere with a great concentration of them in downtown and the waterfront. It is great to roll by on your bike and take in these interesting and sometimes unexpected sights.

Murals are everywhere throughout the city and best discovered on a bike.

Murals are everywhere throughout the city and best discovered on a bike.

Now, I’d like to point out the elephant in the room that is always there when speaking of Oakland. Yes, as many of you have heard, Oakland does have a lot of poor residents and yes, it does have a problem with crime. Much like SF, Oakland is also a city of contrasts. So even though there are wealthy neighborhoods like Rockridge, Piedmont (which is technically its own city contained within the city of Oakland) and the Oakland Hills, there are lots of poor neighborhoods with a depressing and disturbing amount of blight. Even though Oakland has a lot of assets, culturally and physically, that other cities dream about, it also has an alarming amount of crime.

We all know that Oakland has long been comprised of low-income residents. The estimated household income for Oakland in 2011 was just a little bit over $50K and currently, the unemployment rate is at 11%. During the recession, Oakland was hit hard and the already financially strained city had to suffer through massive foreclosures. This took a toll on the city’s funds and they had to dramatically cut services. While the city has been forced to find ways to cut costs, these problems only make it more important for the city to look into investing in bicycle infrastructure. Bike infrastructure costs only a fraction of what costs for both car-oriented and mass transit infrastructure.

As well as saving money for the city, it also saves money for its residents at an individual level since more people will have the option to commute by bicycle since they will feel more safe and comfortable to do so when bike lanes are put in. More people will not have to own a car or can use their cars less frequently, saving them money. A study in Copenhagen showed that riding a bike for a mile provided an economic net gain of $0.42 while driving produced a net loss of $0.20. If there was any city that needed bike infrastructure the most it would be one that is economically strained, such as Oakland.

The other problem Oakland has is its crime rate. Although its robbery rate has dropped 26% and the homicide rate has gone down by 30% at the end of 2013, its crime figures still remain embaressingly high. Having real bike infrastructure would make Oakland a better city for its residents and a worse place for criminals. If more people are encouraged to bike, there would be more eyes on the streets. Having more eyes deters crime and is something even the famous urbanist Jane Jacobs has written about. More riding of bikes also means less parked cars which provide barriers needed for discreet drug dealing or other hidden criminal activities. A real example of this can be seen in SF, where they recently banned parking on the worst block in the seedy Tenderloin neighborhood. Crime dropped immediately. 

It is the poverty and crime which has held Oakland back from taking its rightful seat as a world-class city (they’ve got the 5th busiest port in the country and their own international airport for crying out loud). That and the fact that San Francisco, its neighbor across the bay, has stolen a lot of the attention away. But because of San Francisco’s recent stunning economic growth, Oakland is also changing. Even Chip Johnson from the SF Chronicle admits there is something special happening right now in Oakland.

A view of the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland during dusk.

A view of the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland during dusk.

Right now, Oakland has about 100 miles of bike lanes, but none are protected or buffered from cars. A lot of them are comprised of these silly painted bike sharrows that I think should be completely eliminated. And some bike lanes just disappear right under your pedals. But even with its lack of real bicycle infrastructure, this city still observes a commute modal share for bicycles of 3% in 2012, an increase of 40% since 2010. What’s also interesting about these stats is that the gender split between male and female riders is about 50:50. That’s rare unless you’re in one of those bike-friendly European cities.

Oakland is a city with a lot going for it and if it can fix its problem with poverty and get its crime under control it will become another amazing city that people everywhere will want to visit. Oakland also has a lot going for it bike-wise and if it can truly embrace biking by financially supporting bike improvements in a significant way, it could become one the best bike cities in the US. It would not just be great because it would have cycle tracks and such but also because it is an incredibly rewarding and pleasant urban city to ride your bike in. The biking in turn would make Oakland an even more desirable city. It would be wonderful.

Lake Merritt is an urban park centrally located in the middle of the city.

The “Jewel of Oakland”, Lake Merritt is a beautiful urban lake centrally located in the middle of the city.

Truck drivers and traffic engineers need to rethink bicycle safety

In urban cities, over 50% of all collisions involving bicycles are at intersections. Up to a third of all bike collisions involve heavy trucks, despite there being less trucks on the road than passenger vehicles. These two statistics help paint a horrifying picture of how a lot of bicycle collisions happen. In most bicycle collisions involving trucks, the bicyclist is usually heading straight when an oblivious truck driver makes a right turn and “right-hooks” him or her. This past August in San Francisco, Amelie Le Moullac, a 24 y.o. woman, was killed exactly this way. This time was no different in Susan Watson’s death.

Susan Watson, a dear and wonderful friend to many, was riding on Market St. in Oakland after getting off the ferry at Jack London Square on Monday evening, December 17th, 2013. She was a dedicated bike commuter on her way to her home in El Cerrito, about 9 miles away. The shortest route with some sort of bike facility for her to take was northbound on Market St. and she wore all the things that would make a cyclist visible to drivers in the evening hours: an assortment of flashing and colorful wheel lights, bike lights, and lights decorating her backpack. She would have known that this route, close to the Port of Oakland, is often filled with trucks- even more the reason to have so many lights.

Her route going home has bike lanes in both directions, but it is also a favorite route for truck drivers coming in and out of the Port of Oakland to pick up and drop off all those cargo containers (see the stack of Matson containers in the image below). Anyone who rides a bike can tell you that large trucks are the scariest things on the road (aside from maybe aggressive and impatient taxi drivers), but the city decided to put bike lanes there anyway, sharing the truck route without doing anything more than painting white stripes. Obviously, doing only that much wouldn’t and doesn’t work and this setup hasn’t worked in San Francisco either.

Market St. - looking southbound. You can see this street is filled with big rigs.

Looking southbound on Market St. near 4th St. – You can see that this street is filled with 18 wheelers.

Trucks come and go on this route because of its vicinity to the Port of Oakland and the nearby freeway entrances and exits (see image below).

Market St. - northbound, another way to get on the freeway.

Looking northbound on Market St. near 5th St. – Truck drivers’ preferred route to get onto the 880 freeway.

Furthermore, when I was taking photos at this intersection, I saw that over 95% of the truck drivers did not merge to the far right before making a right turn (see image below). Although that would require trucks to merge into the bike lane before executing the turn, this is what they are supposed to do. Trucks need to do that so bicyclists and everyone else can predict where they will go and not think that they are going straight instead of turning. Also, it will keep bicyclists from treacherously ending up in their right-side blind spot.

Why aren’t truck drivers merging all the way to the right before turning? There’s definitely still enough room to make a right turn if they do so. This is probably so they can make wide turns which would also require less effort than having to merge to the right and then make a tight right turn.

Another truck not merging onto the bike lane.

Another truck driver is not merging to the far right before making a right turn.

In the image below, you can clearly see that the rear end of the truck is far from the corner curb. The front wheel axle barely turned.

Another reason why truck drivers might make such wide turns is to avoid the tail-end from hitting curbs, light poles, and pedestrians waiting on corners, etc., but does it warrant such a wide turn? I have seen big rigs make tighter turns than this.

Almost every truck makes this wide right turn.

Almost every truck driver makes a right turn this wide, with the rear end far from the curb.

Another reason for such wide right turns is so that after making the turn, the truck would not end up outside the boundary of the road he or she is turning onto. However, at this intersection these truck drivers clearly have space. The photo below shows that 5th St. is so wide, almost 4 lanes wide in one direction (including street parking space), that there is actually room for truck drivers to make tighter right turns. Tighter turns would mean trucks would have to merge to the far right, crossing over into the bike lane before turning, which would also mean that the driver would more likely see a bicyclist in the bike lane where Susan was located at the time of the collision.

Why such a wide turn when there is so much space? Do truck drivers do this so they can more easily position themselves on the farthest left lane on 5th St. so they can get onto the freeway ramp a few blocks down? To me, they just seem carelessly lazy.

3 lanes wide 5th St.

5th St. is a wide street: 4 lanes wide (including the parking lane).

Whether or not such wide right turns are indeed necessary at this junction, traffic engineers must design it better and also wherever there are bike lanes sharing the road with heavy traffic and in close vicinity to mass transit stops (in this case, the ferry terminal in Jack London Square).

Here are my ideas to improve this area:

Better and adequate street lighting in the right places, which it currently does not have (see photo below). For some strange reason, the street lamps are placed away from the sidewalks on the median island, so  that means that they will not really light up the curbs and sidewalks. This is pretty darn silly if you ask me. Why would street lamps be placed in the center of a road when pedestrians and bicyclists need it the most? Moreover, this junction is partially under a BART bridge and so needs more lighting than usual.

In addition, I think a bicycle alert signal placed near the intersection for alerting truck drivers of the presence of bicyclists is another good measure for safety.

Speaking of lights, another thing they can do is have different traffic signal lights for both drivers and bicyclists at this kind of junction.

Perhaps, let’s have green marked lanes such as green cross bikes all the way through the intersection.

Of course, protected bike lanes are ideal but that is going to be perceived as too expensive and intrusive in our car-centric society. Instead, put buffered bike lanes in that stretch since there is no street parking allowed anyway (see image below) and there is plenty of space. That way, bicyclists are placed closer to the curb and away from the back end of trucks making right turns. This extra distance will allow them some space to react.

No street parking, so why not have protected and buffered bike lanes

No street lamps on the sidewalk. No street parking, so why not have protected and/or buffered bike lanes?

To conclude, Susan’s death could have been prevented but a truck driver that night was too carelessly lazy and traffic engineers were too incompetent to see that what they put there is not enough to allow for the safe mixing of bicycles and trucks on open streets. They need to do more and they need to do it right.

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Update: Susan, a ferry passenger and bike commuter just died…