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Your city wants to be bike friendly. Now what?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/19/16 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Biking, Transportation choices

“We’re definitely in something of a revolution here,” a Chicago official told Governing magazine. Chicago is just one example of the “Two Wheel Revolution” taking place in American cities where “striping bike lanes is happening at an unprecedented pace.”

If cities are embracing bikes, Governing suggests they also measure how much good they are doing. Standard measures like how many miles of bike lanes are being painted are good. Counting how many cyclists will be using the bike lanes is even better.

Because it is near certain where there are cheerleaders for bike lanes, those who would like to see bike lanes disappear are not far behind.

<br />In the Circle-Heights Bike Network, EcoCity Cleveland established a planning framework for a network of slow (purple) and fast (green) bike routes in Cleveland Heights.

It’s why, as bike advocates, we should embrace these calls for “metrics.” Cities can tout the economic uptick or carbon emission offset on a street with a bike lane if they measure the volume of cyclists before and after a bike lane goes in. If the bike lane isn't producing results, they can take off the paint and move on (to painting a lane in another location).

The idea is to test where bike lanes will do the most good. If they aren't increasing ridership or improving safety, that may indicate a larger issue with the road (that bike lanes cannot fix).

But where can cities start? These days, in Cleveland, there are enough cyclists to survey; ask them where they are currently biking. It turns out, cyclists, like motorists, often pick the more direct route to their destination, writes Strong Towns, even if it's not the most hospitable for biking. Cities can learn a lot about where to paint bike lanes, they add, by looking at maps of crashes involving bikes and cars.

Caveat that with crash locations shouldn't be the sole indicator in establishing a bike network. Crashes only tell part of the story; your city likely has just as many routes that cyclists prefer to ride, for a variety of reasons, that aren’t hot spots for crashes. Depending on their age and skill level, cyclists may prefer a less direct route during certain (e.g. rush) hours and a more direct link during off-peak hours.

Cities could encourage more bike trips by promoting a network with fast and slow routes (like EcoCity Cleveland explored with The Circle-Heights Bike Network). For example, if a goal is to encourage “community oriented” biking—shorter trips to important destinations like school, libraries, parks, houses of worship or the local market—it may shape the plan toward providing greater connectivity, higher visibility and better roads between residential areas and major destinations. If "main street" takes on a slow-paced life after rush hour it may provide impetus for striping bike lanes there.

Beyond the “when,” there’s also a very real question of “how”—how can cities encourage more biking? There are plenty of examples of local efforts that have greatly shifted the momentum toward biking. Davis, California, Portland, Oregon, Madison, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois‘ are worth looking at for their system wide thinking, from bike parking, bike signals to using paint to designate a network for cyclists to share the road.

The question nationally-respected traffic engineer Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns asked this week: "Do we need separate protected bike lanes everywhere in order for biking to be safe and viable for everyone, or do we need to slow cars and redesign our streets so that biking can occur in the same space as driving, and still be safe?"

Again, what are the important metrics of the “revolution”? If the metric is to attract new riders, the 290 new protected bike lanes in five years in the U.S. is evidence that more cities believe a physical barrier between cyclists and drivers will ensure that the revolution includes everyone.

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