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CycloTouring in California

 

For promoting cycling touring, information on closed sections of interstate and state highways needs to be easily accessible on the Internet.  Adventure Cycling maps do provide routes through the state and are useful, if you are going in the direction set out and if you have the time and energy for the defined routes.

CycloTouring in California, at this time, tends to be more for long distance cyclists who are either confident in cycling in fast moving traffic, are competent cyclists, or lean towards risk-taking. Cycling of families with children, as is frequently seen in Europe, would, most likely, be more restricted to some regions in the state that have good cycling infrastructure and multi-kilometres of bike trails. CycloTouring as a combined mobility trip with the Californian and Amtrak train systems is simple and provides opportunities for regional touring. Just take a train to a designation and start the trip from there and then take the train back. Train one way and return by cycling provides another opportunity to extend the trip in different parts of the state. With the trains providing bike space without the need for boxing bikes expands the opportunities for cyclotouring. The only exception is Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight train, which still requires boxing of bicycles. Hope this changes in the near future. How Amtrak’s bus system fits into this type of touring is uncertain to me as I have received different information when the question was asked. Also, it seems uncertain if a bike would be taken when you show up for a bus. Would suggest that bike racks on front and on the back of these buses, i.e. the Swiss method, would increase cyclotourists using these buses. (Combined mobility cyclotouring trips will be the subject of a future blog article)

Realistically, the only provincial / state entity in North America that has comparable European style cyclotouring capacity, which appeals to families and children is the Province of Quebec with its famous La Route Verté network and the province’s capacity for combined mobility with the intercity transportation providers (trains, buses).

California is a frustrating state to cycle in.  Actually, there was enough frustration during the trip where I did not want to cycle to another city and just wanted to get out of the state.  Discouraging was the number of occurrences where interstate and other highways were closed to cyclists along my desired route path.   This did not happen in other western states.

Yes, one could go way out of the desired direction to find highways to cycle on.  Many times these highway routings were not direct to the desired target city for that night.  It would have taken much longer to reach my final destination this way.

Replacing maps with GPS-based cycling computer.
Garmin Edge 800
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Trip planning for the next day, setting up the day course on my Garmin BaseCamp computer mapping software, and then downloading the information onto the Garmin 800 GPS took much longer than it did in other states.  Sometimes it took an extra hour.

The lack of readily availability of information on which section of interstate and state highways were closed to cyclists caused trip planning to be time consuming.

 

The dreaded sign on interstate and state highways. Time to get off. The highway not designed for cycling as a mode of transportation.
Redding CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

On one day, an unexpected cycling prohibited sign on a state highway forced rerouting and change of destination for the night half way through that day’s trip when uncancellable motel reservations were already made in another city 30 kilometres farther away.  This happened on a Saturday of a busy weekend, which drew many tourists to this area.  Hotels and motels were filled up.  Finally, an accommodation was found late in the day at the edge of that city.  As it turned out, it was the last room available in the motel.  A bit of luck, at least.

 

There was no advance warning signs that this would occur.  There were no cycling bypass route or signs.  The only alternative was to cycle 20 kilometres north and then another 20 kilometres west to meet up with a highway that would take me to my intended destination.  Now, the question became “Is the highway to the motel open for cycling?”  Not wanting to take that risk, the decision was to stay in the city with the prohibition sign and do a major reroute of the trip bypassing some places that I really wanted to cycle through.

A few days later I was cycling on a state highway when that highway split into two highways.  There was one of those cycling prohibited signs for the highway that I wanted to take.  Joyfully, I noticed a bike route sign leading to the other highway.  So I took it expecting that at some point I wild be directed back to the highway that I wanted to take.  After an hour of cycling I realized that would not happen.  Fortunately, a person at a service station could direct me back to the highway that I wanted to be on by using some local roads.  Confidence was now lost that I could depend on highways to be open for cycling along my intended route.

So, this is cycling in California!

 
 

Trip Planning, Finding Information on Highway Cycling

 

The Internet was a frustrating place to find the needed information.  Maps to identify open roads for cycling did not seem to exist.  There was conflicting and sometimes incorrect information on blogs.

CDOT District 2 Cycling Guide providing information on interstate and state highways open and closed to cyclists.
State of California

There was an exception and that was District 2 of the Californian Department of Transportation, a northern district. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This district had produced a very effective and informative document for cycling there (http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist2/pdf/bikeguide.pdf).  Open and closed highways to cyclists were identified on maps.  For closed sections, alternate routings were mapped out.  Other useful information was provided.   Internet search did not reveal the existence of such a document for the other districts in California.  It certainly is needed.

 

Bike Routes Parallel to Highways.

 

Sometimes by chance, parallel bike trails were come upon through Internet searches, by chance, or avoiding restricted sections of highways.   Some of these trails were well marked with direction and destination signs.  Others were not.  Sometimes these routes used local and rural roads.  Some sections would have bike lanes and paved cycleable shoulders.  Some of the roads were shared roads, usually with a low amount of motorized traffic.  For the most part, bike lanes or cycleable paved shoulders were available on these roads.

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Pacific Coast Bike Trail between Santa Cruz and Monterey CA. The well signed trail travels along county roads with sections of bike lanes, paved cycleable shoulders, and trails.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bike paths next to a highway were frequently encountered as an entry to cities, while some started before city limits, up to 20 and 30 kilometres.  Some examples included Monterey with a path starting 30 kilometres before the city limit and Santa Cruz with a bike path starting at city limit.

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Santa Maria CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable as bike trails branch of state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Entering Monterey CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

As some municipalities are approached, the adventure of entering is much more comfortable with bike trails branching off state highways. For some municipalities, the experience of leaving is also enhanced with bike trails.
Leaving Fairfield CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cycling Facilities in Urban and Rural Environment

 

As mentioned in a previous blog, the positive effects can be continuously seen while cycling in California of federal road programs which requires cycling facilities as part of the funding for new and rebuilt roads.  One continuously comes on these facilities in municipalities from the smallest to larger cities as well as on rural roads from county roads to state highways.  It is rare to cycle in any municipality that is without any bike lanes or trails.

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Half Moon Bay CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Rural California, cycling made more pleasant with bike lanes or cycle able paved shoulders.
Corning CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cities with a Network of Cycling Facilities

 

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes in downtown waterfront area supporting retail.
San Francisco CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

When discussion turns to cycling cities in the US, normally Portland, as a US large cycling city leader, Seattle (3.5%), and San Francisco (3.5%) as an upcoming cycling city, are mentioned.  Sometimes the City of Davis is mentioned with its 22% cycling mode share. There the discussion tends to end.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On this trip there were other medium size cities that should be recognized for their work towards building of a cycling network and for developing a sizeable cycling mode share. Municipalities passed through that have made an effort towards providing cycling facilities include Fairfield (0.2%), Vallejo (0.2%), Monterey, Avila Beach, and Santa Maria (0.5%).

Special mention goes to the efforts put out by the following cities: Santa Cruz (cycling mode share 9%, many innovative cycling features), San Luis Obispo (7%), and Santa Barbara (6.4%).

Cycling cities. Separated bike lanes making the commute more pleasant.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Downtown bike parking on streets. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
Santa Cruz CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Mass bicycle parking contributing to attainability of higher education. An indicator of the attraction of cycling for transportation when the environment is supportive.
Santa Barbara CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

Cycling cities. Cyclists are good customers for retailers.
San Luis Obispo CA.
©Photograph by H-JEH Becker, 2012

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Source of cycling mode share to work: League of American Cyclists, 2010 data on bicycle commute mode share (based on the US Census American Community Survey with data on 375 cities over 60,000 population).

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Comments from the Latest Cycling Touring Trip

The third cycling touring trip of the year is now over.  It started on August 28th, 2012 as I left Calgary, AB behind.  It ended seventy-two days later on November 9th with a train ride from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, B.C.  I sort of miss not doing the last segment by bicycle.  Other priorities cut out those last three days of cycling.  Still, I have done this segment of the trip a number of times using a variety of routes.  Nevertheless, the cycling touring trip covered 4,100 kilometres and the states of Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California with the southern terminus being Santa Barbara.  The southerly cycle was by bicycle with the northern portion being a combined mobility trip of trains and cycling.  Time was a limiting factor on the northernmost section as the wonderful fall weather that I had been enjoying from the start of the trip now threatened to turn to winterly conditions, including the oncoming of fog in the morning hours as the length of daylight decreased quickly.

The next few blog articles will reflect on some observations from the trip on network and infrastructure design toolkits that affect cycling touring.

Federal Government Funding Programs for Cycling


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The trip showed the effectiveness of federal programs that mandate that a specified portion of grants for any road construction or rebuilt be spent on cycling facilities.  While the cycling facility design toolkit being used on these builds may not appeal to non-cyclists, the end product will appeal to more confident and more risk-taking people who now cycle to use arterial roads with bike lanes.

Reflections on cycling in the States, I started to expect that every hamlet, village, town, or city, no matter the population, would have bike lanes guiding me through it.  In rural roads, I expected either to see marked bike lanes or paved shoulders allowing for confortable cycling.  Definitely, the federal transportation program had a very positive effect on cycling facilities. It is amazing to think back and reflect on the limited distances that I cycled where there was not a bike lane or cycleable paved shoulders.

Chemult OR, Population 300, Hamlet, Bike lanes on the main road.

Chemult OR, Population 300, Hamlet,
Bike lanes on the main road

Moro OR, Population 370,
Village,
Bike lane on the main road.

Polson MT, Population 4,500, Town,
Bike lane and bike path within
road right-of-way through town.

Madras OR, Population 6,000, Town,
Bike lane next to car parking
lane and curb.


























Bend OR, Population 78,000,
Small city, Bike lane on
restricted highway
through city.

Santa Cruz, Population 60,000,
Small city, Cycling mode share 9%,
Separated bike lane entering
downtown.

Portland OR, Population 600,000,
Larger city,
Cycling mode share 6.3%,
Bike lane on an arterial street
with traffic control pavement
marking and green lane through
intersection.
























Fairfax CA, Bike Lane, Width measured from face of curb, Asphalt and Concrete surfaces, Separation starting at materials interface.

Being able to cycle on bike lanes was great.  The widths of the cycling facilities ranged from meagre to very comfortable.  Sometimes, the 1.5 metres bike lane widths were measured from curb faces making them uncomfortable.  Frequently, the concrete extensions were great storage places for dirt, branches, garbage, and other obstacles, making this space useless for cycling.  Frequently, the road asphalt did not extend to the curb face.  Unfortunately, having both asphalt and concrete surfaces in bike lanes also brought poor cycling conditions with safety issues as the meeting of these two materials may be unsmooth, may have difficult raised humps, or separate and ready to eat up a wheel.





Interstate Highway I-90, Washington State, Wide paved shoulder for comfortable cycling, Rumble strip separation from motorized traffic.

Interstate Highway I-90, Washington State, Wide paved shoulder for comfortable cycling, Rumble strip separation from motorized traffic.

Washington State Highway, With wide paved shoulder and rumble strip separation from motorized traffic, Comfortable cycling.















Generally, the bike lanes were designed to the second wave level with frequent, undesirable conditions at intersections where bike lanes would disappear when newer cyclists needed them the most.  So, for determinant, skilled, or risk-taking cyclists with limited fear, these second wave design bike lanes provided separation from cars and an acceptable cycling environment.  Certainly, these facilities would not draw out motorists from their cars to cycle instead.  This was evident by the number of people cycling.  Third wave cycling designs are needed to increase cycling traffic beyond the current cyclists.

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B.C. Stadium. Spectator line-ups for pre-game security checks. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

B.C. Stadium. Spectator line-ups for pre-game security checks. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Daily  we  see orderly streams of people walking down streets.  By B.C. Stadium, they are shepherded by voices from bull-horned crowd management folks perched on their high lifeguard chairs.  People are directed into security check line-ups every time there is a Stadium event or competition game. On Cambie Bridge, flow continues along the multi-use pedestrian and bike paths, sidewalks and then down the access ramps.

Cherry tree by Kitsalano Beach. Vancouver, BC  Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

Cherry tree by Kitsalano Beach. Vancouver, BC Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker

Spring-like weather causes tree buds to break free early and encourages more people to stroll and sit by the paths.  On the Seaside Path, cyclists are forced off the cycling path since foot traffic exceeds the capacity of the walking path.  Cyclists divert onto the adjacent roads. Fortunately, neighbourhood roads are only sprinkled  with occasional cars since temporary road closures and lack of low-cost car parking discourages car traffic. With a $35.00 parking fee, a parking lot across the street from a BC Stadium entry gate remains empty.  Thus, cyclists are able to clip nimbly along in their own space. 

Davie St. at Pacific Blvd. Near Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station.  With some road lane closures during Olympics. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010

Davie St. at Pacific Blvd. Near Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line Station. With some road lane closures during Olympics. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010

If car traffic is kept light during these massive people movement events, with alternative transportation options close-by, then the neighbourhood is not overly stressed.  One wonders why some streets are not closed off to roving car traffic with only residence access permitted.

Usually, sporting events from B.C. Stadium or GM Place (now “Hockey House” temporarily for Olympics), did not attract such high volumes of foot traffic nor cyclists over several hours in the North False Creek area by the Seaside

Seaside Path. North False Creek near Cambie Bridge. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Seaside Path. North False Creek near Cambie Bridge. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 14, 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Path, except near Science World.  Usually, the Seaside Path to the Main St. SkyTrain station, would be useless for cycling after a concert or hockey event for a half hour when streams of pedestrians overtake the multi-use path.

During the Olympics, it is quite different. Even on rainy days, there is a consistent flow of people for hours, walking in Yaletown to various pavilions and then flowing into the downtown core towards Robson St.  Walking and cycling crowds appeared quite orderly without much litter left behind.

Olympic streetcar line stop passengers to Granville Island. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker.

Olympic streetcar line stop passengers to Granville Island. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Becker.

The Yaletown – Roundhouse Canada Line station entrance is often crowded with people. So far, Translink estimated for Sat. Feb. 13 a total of 210,000 passengers used the Canada Line.  On a Saturday  at 9:30 am and onwards, there was a growing stream of people leaving Olympic Village Canada Line station to board the free Olympic streetcar line. As someone observed from riding the streetcar line three times during that morning, each time the streetcars were filled to standing room capacity to and from Granville Island. One streetcar has full capacity up to 180 passengers.

LiveCity Yaletown Fireworks & Waterworks Show. Feb. 2010 Photo by J. Becker

LiveCity Yaletown (David Lam Park) Fireworks & Waterworks Show. Vancouver, BC. Feb. 2010 Photo by J. Becker

Reflections
Does a neighbourhood die when cars are detoured from its roads or does it come alive with people?  Just ask the local retailers and eateries.  Urban Fare, a grocery store with an eatery section, cannot keep up with customer orders.  Restaurants on main pedestrian routes, are filled with diners.  As we walked from the evening fireworks display down the street past these eateries at 11:00 pm, the rooms were still full.  Usually, these restaurants are dark and shuttered much earlier.

Noteworthy is that careful people routing reduces tension on a neighbourhood.  A wise move is guiding pedestrians on sidewalks along undeveloped blocks, parkland or along retail streets without adjacent residences.

Good streetscape designs also reduce neighbourhood tension with a milieu of people passing by.  Wide sidewalks reduce crowd stress and promote orderly

Olympic bike valet parking. Nelson St. & Pacific Blvd. Vancouver, BC  Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

Olympic bike valet parking. Nelson St. & Pacific Blvd. Vancouver, BC Feb. 2010. Photo by J. Chong

passage without people jostling each other.  Careful landscape design with raised curbed plant beds and lawns, keeps people on sidewalks.  Trees surrounded by concrete eliminate trodden landscaping.  Laneways connecting streets helps thin out traffic.

A palatable mix of car traffic reduction, combined with convenient alternate transportation options and strategic streetscape designs, can increase life on streets and liveability of neighbourhoods.

Additional Reading:
TransLink. The Buzzer Blog. Feb. 17 2010.
Sinoski, Kelly. “Record Weekend Expected for Transit as Olympic Fever in Vancouver Deepens. In Vancouver Sun, Feb. 19, 2010.” (Addendum provided after this article was published.)

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