Friday, August 10, 2012

Connecting low stress streets for cyclists

In most communities the majority of streets are very bike-friendly. When people say that their community is a dangerous place to bike, they are usually referring to the few "high stress" streets that most motorists use. These are the more direct streets with higher speed limits.

A recent report looks at the importance of connecting low stress streets, the many neighborhood streets where cyclists can comfortably share the road with motorists. Connecting these streets allows cyclists to avoid the high stress streets that are often the only connection to major destinations.
"Nobody wants to ride their bike in the left lane of a six-lane road with 40-mile-an-hour traffic. It's crazy," says Peter Furth. He's a civil and environmental engineering professor at Northeastern University and co-author of a new report out from the Mineta Transportation Institute that looks at how varying levels of "traffic stress" on different city streets can limit where people are willing to ride.

Furth and his colleagues mapped out the different levels of stress on the streets of San Jose, California, and they find that while many streets are calm enough for most riders, they're sliced up by streets with high levels of stress. High-stress streets are measured as those with high speed limits, limited or non-existent bike lanes and signage, and large distances to cross at intersections.

A map of San Jose, California, showing only those streets that have been deemed to have little to no traffic stress.
The map below shows how high stress streets create islands of low-stress bikeability that are disconnected from each other.
Fairfax City neighborhood streets connected by major arterials
Fairfax streets are a prime example of this type of street network. It's very difficult to travel for any distance without having to use a major road at some point in most trips. You can see the many islands of disconnected neighborhood streets in the road network in the Fairfax City area shown in the map segment on the right. The solution is to either connect these streets directly or provide high quality bicycle facilities on the major roads.

In the county bicycle master plan, the high stress streets are categorized as Policy Roads. These are mostly arterial streets that will likely develop in the near future and need to be made more bicycle-friendly, but the fix is based on county policy regarding adjacent land use and the type of expected bicycle travel, and frankly, having the political will to create a good bicycle infrastructure. A final draft of the plan should be available soon.

From the WashCycle.

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