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Bike Lanes: Build them and They will Come

NAR has initiated an effort to encourage the planning and development of more walkable communities where residents can walk, bike and take public transit to destinations.   Walkable communities reflect the theory of Placemaking in that they create places where people want to live and visit.  Listen to our webinar or read our Fact Sheet to get more details on walkable communities.  The Spaces to Places blog will include posts on walkable communities.   Here is our second one.

Many communities are implementing Complete Street policies, which are designed and operated to make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bike to work for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

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Bicycling, which is becoming an ever popular way of getting around, especially in urban areas, is one element of a Complete Streets policy.  It improves mobility, livability and public health while reducing traffic congestion and CO2 emissions.

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Riding a bike is a great way to get around.  But…how do you encourage more people to hop on two wheels and get into the action?  One way may be to create more bike lanes – build them and they will come.

And studies are showing this to be quite true:

But first of all, people need bikes to ride as many residents do not own their own bikes.   Enter bike share programs.   Bike sharing is an innovative idea providing users the ability to pick up a bicycle at any self-serve bike-station and return it to any other bike station located within the system’s service area.

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Bike sharing takes several forms including municipal bike-share systems, where local jurisdictions (including cities, counties, etc.) are engaged in the funding, managing, administering and/or permitting of  bike-share programs. Bike-sharing differs from traditional bicycle rental services in that it is typically used for short, spontaneous trips that are often combined with other transportation modes (e.g. public transit).   Bike share programs are becoming quite popular, and growing, in many cities.  See a list of Bike Share Program in the U.S.

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Next up is to provide safe places – bike lanes — for people to ride their bikes and get to place to place.  Bike lanes enable bicyclists to travel at their preferred speed and enable predictable behavior and movements between bicyclists and motorists.

21 Good Reasons to Mark Bike Lanes points out twenty-one reasons to create bike lanes in a community.  Here are a few of those reasons:

  • Bike lanes remind drivers that bicyclists are roadway users, too.
  • Bike lanes increase the comfort level for bicyclists in traffic.
  • Bike lanes help stop global warming by providing a real, healthy option to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Bicycle lanes are usually designated by a white stripe, a bicycle symbol, and signage that alerts all road users that a portion of the roadway is for exclusive use by bicyclists.   Colored pavement or a contrasting paving material has also been used in certain situations to distinguish bike lanes from the motor vehicle lanes.

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Bike lanes are typically four to six feet wide. Wider bike lanes (six to seven feet) and/or buffers provide additional operating space and lateral separation from moving and parked vehicles.

Protected bicycle lanes are dedicated bike lanes with concrete medians and planters, bicycle parking corrals, or vehicle parking lanes that divide them from vehicle traffic.  This separation increases feelings of safety and comfort, which makes cycling an attractive commuting option for those who are not used to riding their bikes regularly.

Types of bike infrastructure include sharrows (shared-lane markings); buffered lanes (conventional bicycle lanes paired with a designated buffer space separating the bicycle lane from the adjacent motor vehicle travel lane and/or parking lane);  and protected cycletracks with bollards (physically separated from motor traffic and distinct from the sidewalk).

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The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide  provides cities with state-of-the-practice solutions that can help create complete streets that are safe and enjoyable for bicyclists.  And the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, funded by the Federal Highway Administration, provides resources to improve the quality of life in communities through safe walking and bicycling as a viable means of transportation and physical activity. blog

Vancouver is one city that gets it.   Cycling is the fastest growing mode of transportation in Vancouver. From 2008 to 2011 alone, trips by bike increased by a full 40%.  To help build on this shift, the City has made cycling a much safer and more attractive option, by adding protected bike lanes to key city streets.

Starting in 2010, soon after electing Mayor Gregor Robertson, the city began lacing a grid of protected bike lanes through its very dense downtown, displacing parking and passing lanes in an effort to open up a central city that was described as “the Bermuda triangle for cyclists.”  And by 2013, they arguably built the best connected downtown protected bike lane network in North America.

Then Vancouver kept going. In the summer of 2013, the City Council voted to create a spectacular, continuous new “Seaside Greenway” along English Bay and across the Burrard Bridge into the new downtown biking network.    And the City continues to build new bike lanes and shared paths.  Vancouver has rapidly boosted biking at a rate that tops any major modern North American city.   They have a great model that more cities need to follow.

A city doesn’t necessarily have to build permanent bike lanes which could be costly only to find out residents don’t use them for one reason or another.    So, they may want to implement a demonstration project to test out how a bike lane would work out.

Macon, Georgia rolled out a one-week pop-up bike network, which at 8 miles, may have been the largest such temporary installation ever.    Macon has an 11-mile riverfront trail, where cyclists can travel from historic monument to playground to park without ever touching a street.  But people would drive to the trail.

In an effort to change that, NewTown, 8 80 Cities and other partners decided to test on-street biking at a large scale.   They won a $150,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge to implement the project.

498 cans of paint, five days, 80 volunteers and 180 bollards later, the pop-up bike network was open.  It was intended to be a weekend-long test, but when Mayor Robert Reichert cut the ribbon, he declared it would stay up for a week.   The project also coincided with the launch of Macon’s bike-share program.

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At the time, Macon had exactly three blocks with “some form of bike infrastructure” in its downtown and the number of people riding bikes in downtown Macon was 23.  During the weeklong pop-up, average bike counts increased nearly tenfold.  Most people who used the bike network had never been on a protected bike lane before.

Macon is now considering making the bike lanes permanent, which was supported by a majority of residents surveyed as well as political leadership.

One last thing to note is that bike lanes help to increase property values.  Studies have shown that having a bike path near your home is a great way to increase the selling price of the house.  A recent ULI report, Active Transportation and Real Estate: The Next Frontier, explores the interconnections among walking, bicycling, and real estateThe report shows how developers are recognizing the competitive advantage of investing in active transportation amenities such as trails, bike lane networks and bike-sharing systems.

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In many places, bike lanes increase the demand for real estate in a particular area.   REMAX Around Atlanta’s Maura Neill, a REALTOR®, believes new bike lanes serve as a serious selling point that extends beyond individual property owners and makes Atlanta an attractive urban dwelling post on the national scale.

“The new bike lanes are absolutely an attractive selling point, putting Atlanta in the limelight as a progressive city. There’s a shortage of inventory in the Atlanta real estate market right now. The metro area was down 21 percent in inventory this time last year (2012), so when you add a citywide initiative like this, I think we’re going to be seeing listings that would have been sitting for 60 to 90 days a few years ago, going under contract within 24 hours — easy.”

So, do you feel comfortable riding your bike in your downtown or to get to work?  How many bike lanes does your city have?  And, what about bike share programs?   It may be time to start planning for more bikes, bike lanes and bike riding in your community.   Because if you build them, they will come.

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