Affordable city policies that support bicycling

Updated on .

Making transportation infrastructure safer for bicycles doesn’t only consist of controversial, divisive, multi-year, and multi-million dollar projects. While those projects are desperately needed, cheaper solutions can still have a big impact on whether a street feels safe to ride on or a car trip could be practically replaced by one on bicycle.

Road improvements

In the neighborhoods where I bike, I’ve found a lot of hidden cut-throughs at the end of cul-de-sacs or near schools that help divert traffic away from busy roads. Unfortunately, they’re often in a state of disrepair or too narrow for bicyclists and pedestrians to share them safely. One of these paths has a large electrical or telecom box taking up half of the entrance. Another has a tricky obstacle in the form of two overlapping walls to navigate. Cities could improve and promote the use of these cut-throughs for bike route planning. Where possible, they should add them to existing roadways to reconnect neighborhoods that try to funnel car traffic onto arterials.

Higher car speeds make collisions more lethal. Speed limits on bicycle boulevards be lowered by making design changes that force cars to slow down. While a few streets near me have seen spot improvements with bulb-outs and medians, the vast majority of residential streets are built to a grid and left unimpeded like an expressway. Cities should add cheap, concrete planters both to separate a bike lane from cars, but also to provide an imposing obstacle that drivers must navigate. These planters could be placed strategically to reduce through car traffic while paving the way for bicyclists and walkers. The big draw of these planters is that they cost a few thousand dollars for each installation.

To enforce these speed limits, cities should install speed cameras that send a violation notice to drivers who drive too fast. If speed cameras are illegal in the city’s jurisdiction, a speed monitoring sign helps, too. The CDC lists the costs for a speed camera on the order of $100,000, which seems steep. Speed monitoring signage might be cheaper.

Leaves and glass have an outsized impact on bicycles, especially during wet conditions. Bicycle gutters, off-street paths, and separated lanes should be cleared of debris, just like car infrastructure.

Bike security

The main reason I don’t take my bike on errands with me is because bikes are easily stolen if they’re left outside unlocked. Bike lockers and racks go a long way to make bikes more secure, but they’re often not required by commercial zoning laws. Rental properties should go further and require covered bike parking like bike lockers or a bike room. Apartment complexes are a target for bike thieves because of a lack of a secure location to store bikes, outside of the living space. A single car parking space could fit a dozen bikes stored on a rack or a few bike lockers.

A basic rack for bikes costs a few hundred dollars, while a bike box is closer to a few thousand. Installation is very cheap – just a few masonry bolts into concrete pavement. While full bike parking stations (like parking garages for cars) might make sense for transportation hubs and dense downtowns, their costs can skyrocket to tens-of-thousands of dollars per bike space in the US. A middle ground is something like the Bikeep racks that were installed at the Cupertino library, but it’s unclear how expensive they are. If they cost more than a metal bike box, then they wouldn’t make much sense. The Reliance Foundry wrote The Essential Guide to Bike Parking that covers parking in much more detail.

To combat theft, cities should provide services to recover stolen bikes and dedicated detectives to track down bike thief rings. Cities that have encouraged bicyclists to register their bikes with Project 529 or the Bike Index have seen huge improvements to bike recovery rates. A police officer isn’t necessary for this kind of work – just one or two people who can follow up on leads and scour sites like Offer Up and Craigslist would make a big difference.

Data gathering

Cities I’ve lived in rely on large, national consultant companies to conduct crash analysis surveys and recommend problem areas for bicyclists. But the data these surveys rely on is biased (accidents are rarely reported) and sporadically-gathered (one-time, manual bike counting), plus the studies are conducted on-demand, usually on a cadence of five years. Many European cities have instead started monitoring the situation themselves, installing Bicycle counters at chokepoints in their transportation network to see how many people use bikes to get around. They have a display so road users can see how many bicyclists have passed by them so far and cost around $20,000.

Outreach

Retail areas should close their streets to cars periodically throughout the year to encourage biking and walking. In San Jose, Viva Calle SJ closes down a few urban streets each year for a parade and festival. Schools should have programs that reward students for biking to school.

Resources