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UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN
WINTER 2007-08

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Bike Lanes: Making Space for Safety

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Bike Lanes: Making Space for Safety

The recent addition of bike lanes in Lincoln has given cyclists the option to ride downtown. Tyler Bragg, a third year civil engineering student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a cyclist and a motorist who travels through the downtown Lincoln area. Bragg says, however, that he avoids riding in the bike lanes during the times of day when traffic is high downtown.

“It’s scary sometimes because cars don’t stay out of those lanes,” Bragg said.

On the flip side, Bragg also drives his automobile downtown. He thinks the bike lanes are a good idea, but that there is no room to work with on the streets to improve the placement of the lanes.

“Driving downtown sucks in general,” Bragg said.

The downtown area in Lincoln has been expanding and developing quickly in recent years. These advances have accommodated students attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Countless clothing boutiques, restaurants and parking options are becoming available; these areas surrounding campus are becoming more appealing to students as developments continue. Included in the downtown updates are the new bicycle lanes.

The first steps toward the downtown Lincoln bike lanes began in 2002 as part of the Downtown Master Plan, according to the City of Lincoln website.

Scott Opfer, manager of engineering services and operations for the city of Lincoln, said most of the planning and implementation for the bike lanes on 11th and 14th streets occurred during 2005. The planning process for the bike lanes included public meetings. During these meetings, bike lane placement was discussed.

Randy Hoskins, assistant city engineer, said, “Obviously ... if we were to start with a clean sheet of paper, you would not end up with the bike lanes looking like the ones we’ve got out there.”

Opfer and Hoskins, the main planners of the bike lanes, had to investigate where to place the lanes in relation to the curbs and parking, as well as which streets to choose for the lanes.

The streets at 11th and 14th were chosen according to the traffic volumes of the streets, where turning lanes are located, the affordability of losing a lane of automobile traffic on these streets, their bus activity and the traffic in and out of UNL, Opfer said.

One of Hoskins and Opfer’s big endeavors was to determine if any changes should be made to downtown parking to accommodate the bike lanes. Through their research, they found that one parking option utilized with bike lanes in other communities is back-in angle parking.

To put this to the test, Hoskins and Opfer went out on the streets in Lincoln and marked out bike lanes and back-in angle stalls. They asked drivers on the street to try backing into the stalls for their tests.

What they found was that the visibility wasn’t necessarily better for the drivers with back-in angle parking, and drivers in Lincoln weren’t particularly comfortable with that method of parking.

One key safety advantage that cyclists have with pull-in angle parking is the opportunity to see backing lights. “If you have back-in angle parking, they don’t have those reverse lights. That was something that really stuck out,” Opfer said.

The safety of cyclists was another concern addressed at the public meetings. It was decided that the bike lanes should be six feet wide. Some bike lanes elsewhere are up to eight feet wide, but “the wider you get them, the more likely it is you’re going to get vehicles that use them,” Opfer said.

Another safety measure for the cyclists is the inclusion of symbols in the lanes to let motorists know
they can’t drive in the bike lanes, as well as overhead signs.

Overall, the greatest addition to cyclists’ safety was the process of “setting aside an area that’s exclusively for use by bikes,” Hoskins said.

In order to maximize their safety, cyclists need to wear a helmet and know the appropriate ways to communicate to motorists with the use of hand signals, as well as being alert of all that is going on around them. Cyclists always need to be “watching for people that don’t see them,” Opfer said.

“The big thing for bicyclists is to recognize that they are a vehicle on the street. They need to follow the same rules and regulations as if they were in a car – stopping at traffic signals, following all the rules. Constantly watching for the car no matter whether the car is in the wrong or the right. The car is much bigger, and if somebody is (going to get in a collision), we know who’s going to be the loser in that.”

Since the bike lanes became available in late August 2006, Opfer and Hoskins have received mixed feedback.

Most negative feedback has come from motorists. Most of the issues raised by motorists concern the loss of a lane of automobile traffic, as well as traffic congestion near parking garages.

As far as cyclist feedback, most has been positive, Hoskins said. “Most cyclists have been pretty happy with it,” Hoskins said. “They’re glad to have their own space on the street.”

Because the bike lanes have enhanced downtown Lincoln, Hoskins said he looks forward to the incorporation of more bike trails and lanes. If the bike lanes gain greater acceptance and popularity residents of Lincoln “will see some of those plans continue on,” he said.

“Hopefully this is like a first step in making the town more bicyclefriendly, particularly for students who attend the university,” Hoskins said

 

     

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