Dissent of the Day: Bikes vs transit?

As mentioned in the comments for the Monomodal fixation disorder article, Jarrett Walker at Human Transit did a followup article on the subject. In the responses to that article, Human Transit commentor Eric Fischer said something quite interesting:

For some bike people, the issue is that they fear being hit by large, fast, heavy vehicles and see fast buses as especially threatening. I am personally antagonistic toward transit projects that damage the pedestrian environment by narrowing the sidewalks or replacing stop signs or timed signals with actuated signals in an attempt to gain speed.

In other words–if you’re on a bike, the bus (or the train, especially in-street surface rail) is just another vehicle which poses a hazard, and ought to be calmed (slowed down) to make a safer environment for pedestrians and two-wheelers.

Transit planners, on the other hand, frequently view technological improvements to bus service–including (though not limited to) signal priority schemes–as important tools in the toolbox, as making bus service faster and more reliable not only improves the quality of service for passengers, but lowers operating costs.

This may not be directly relevant to Portland, as Portland doesn’t have much in the way of BRT-style bus treatments; and much bus traffic through downtown is routed down the transit mall, with other streets being preferred avenues for bike traffic. (OTOH, MAX gets signal priority downtown, but the rails provide cyclists with additional reasons to avoid the tracks). But when and where traffic calming schemes are applied, how much should transit be exempted from attempts to slow vehicular traffic down?

8 responses to “Dissent of the Day: Bikes vs transit?”

  1. One solution can be seen in PBOT’s proposals for N Williams. That is a street where there are enough bicycles to make it difficult for the buses to safely pull over, so the city would like to make a separate cycletrack, with bus stops being moved to “islands” between the cycletrack and the vehicle travel lanes. It’s an innovative solution to to problem, and hopefully it will be implemented after more outreach to the community.

    On roads with full BRT or rail treatments, the important thing is to either identify a good parallel road to give bikes priority, or design the facility in a way that leaves enough room for cyclists. For streetcars, one easy way is to use center-running tracks and center platforms, leaving the outside lanes available for bike lanes or cycletracks. Buses are more difficult because they don’t have doors on the left, but it can be done given enough road space.

    In any case, “Complete Streets” not only means car use has to be balanced with other uses–it also means that transit and bikes have to be integrated, either on the same street or on close parallel routes.

  2. Given it takes 45 minutes to go from the Pearl or NW to Hawthorne/39th, I’d say we should be doing everything possible to speed up our buses.

  3. Given it takes 45 minutes to go from the Pearl or NW to Hawthorne/39th, I’d say we should be doing everything possible to speed up our buses.

  4. Establishing parallel routes for bikes can be challenging. While building the Streetcar Loop we attempted to do that on Marshall (after putting tracks in both directions on Lovejoy) but have yet to get Marshall to operate well enough for bikes to replace the access and mobility that existed on Lovejoy (we’re still working at it).

    On the other hand, as a cyclist, if I’m going to have a large vehicle driving next to me, pretty much my first choice for who to drive it would be a trained TriMet driver. They are very consistently conscientious toward folks on bikes.

  5. One thing that would make streetcar just a little better for cyclists, in my opinion, would be to put sharrows in the left lanes of one-way, 2-lane streets where there are tracks, so that cyclists and motorists alike understand that it’s ok for a cyclist to stay out of the lane with track. I’m thinking of SW (and NW) 10th & 11th as perfect examples. In my opinion, the tracks are enough of a hazard that I feel justified using the other lane when I’m bicycling in that situation.

    All of the “cyclists vs transit users” rhetoric is too divisive for my taste. The real point is to get the cars off the road. As a bicyclist, I’d rather deal with 1 bus than 30 (or more) cars.

    Are Trimet drivers more conscientious towards bicyclists? Well, I’m not entirely convinced of that. I’ve ridden the bus a few times where I have witnessed close passes, etc.

  6. I think bike lanes are a major cause of bus vs. bike conflict. On many streets in Portland, buses must block, or merge completely across, a bike lane to get to stops. These streets include some stretches of road with among the highest bike traffic in Portland (e.g. both approaches to the Hawthorne Bridge, N Williams, etc.)

    Dutch-style cycle track infrastructure, as zefwagner noted, would solve this problem. With the infrastructure we have now, I think it is next to impossible for bus drivers to always be polite and safe around bike riders.

  7. Given it takes 45 minutes to go from the Pearl or NW to Hawthorne/39th, I’d say we should be doing everything possible to speed up our buses.

    If you’re in NW, would taking the 15 and walking work?

    Regarding bikes vs. streetcar, one solution would be to put the streetcar in the left lane, and take advantage of how it can load from the left. It might also be less susceptible to delays caused by stopped/double-parked vehicles, and being in the “fast lane” might slow traffic better (if that’s one of the goals).

  8. jason, still takes that time despite the one-seat ride on the 15. transfers add even more time, such as coming from the pearl which has no direct connection to SE Hawthorne.

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