[At Walkable West Palm Beach, we welcome new voices into the conversation about sustainable transportation options. Joe Roskowski is an electrical engineer and a resident of Grandview Heights. He’s a frequent bike commuter to/from downtown and an active citizen working to make West Palm Beach a better place. Here, he shares his thoughts on the proposed Fern Street bike facilities from his perspective as frequent bike commuter into downtown.]
Have you seen the new bike lane designs for Fern Street? Sadly, I have.
It’s great that the Mayor, City Commission, and citizens wish to build safe bike and pedestrian infrastructure – but more important than the wish is the design. Design matters. This is a bad design. A bad design is a dangerous design.
But there’s still time to fix it if the city acts now.
I spoke about many of these concerns in front of the City Commission and Mayor back in April 2015, when the Fern Street design presented at a “Face of the City vote” was still a work-in-progress. A follow up email was sent in May to city staff and relevant contractors detailing many of these concerns. The majority of this post is based on that email since, unfortunately, the concerns raised 8 months ago were never addressed. The plans have been approved, but it would be normal procedure for the city to submit a set of revised plans.
Note: Excerpts from the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide – the bible of bike lane design – are used below to highlight how the plan ignores modern, safe, accepted practices.
First, the city insists that Fern Street have 11-foot lanes. Any regular reader of this blog will recognize the problem. 10-foot lanes have been shown to have definitive safety benefits, while providing additional street area for other uses. West Palm Beach was featured in a nationally-read expose in The Atlantic on why cities should use 10-foot (and sometimes less) lanes. In West Palm Beach, 9- foot lanes are even used on Forest Hill Boulevard – a 5 lane undivided arterial with a high traffic volume. And yet, the city insists on 11-foot lanes, preventing safer buffers on bike lanes and forcing bike lanes to end abruptly and dangerously.
It’s important to emphasize that Jeff Speck’s article in the Atlantic specifically makes the case for 10-foot lanes in the context of higher volume urban arterials and collectors. Neighborhood streets can and should be even skinnier. From the Atlantic article:
…we are talking only about high-volume streets here. Neighborhood streets can have much narrower lanes. The classic American residential street has a 12-foot lane that handles traffic in two directions. And many busy streets in my hometown of Washington, D.C., have eight-foot lanes that function wonderfully. These are as safe and efficient as they are illegal in most of the United States, and we New Urbanists have written about them plenty before, and built more than a few. But what concerns us here are downtown streets, suburban arterials and collectors, and those other streets that are expected to handle a good amount of traffic, and are thus subject to the mandate of free flow.
Notable is that the plan section from Olive Avenue to Flagler Drive utilizes 10 foot lanes in the Fern Street plans. This is the exception that proves 10 foot lanes already work on Fern. This is the configuration Fern has had on this block for a long time. Why can’t 10 foot lanes be installed on the remainder of the section, then?
If nine foot lanes work on a formerly state designated road with 5 lanes and significant traffic volume (Forest Hill Blvd), surely we can do ten foot lanes on Fern Street, a much lower speed, lower volume urban street through downtown. Low speeds are absolutely critical to safety as well as vibrancy of the public street life. Skinnier lanes mean safer speeds.
Terminated Bike Lanes:
Bike-specific traffic signals:
Bike boxes and surface treatments:
Termination of a bike lane on an uphill segment:
What’s not obvious here is that the curb-to-curb width for this “skinny” section is still 40 feet wide! If best-practices were used on car lane width, there would be sufficient room to continue the bike lane. Some minor parking modifications (careful tweaking of some of striped areas lost to disconcertingly large turn-radius requirements) might be required to the plan if the goal was to ensure no loss of parking.
What to do:
These are just a handful of unaddressed safety suggestions. The planned bike facilities are poorly thought out and potentially dangerous to people who will bike on Fern Street. Many of the possible fixes are inexpensive – just changing where and how much paint!
Write to your mayor, city commissioners, and planning staff to ask for safe, well-designed bike lanes on Fern Street.
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