Right before one hits the protected bike lane on 3rd at Alamitos heading west, for most—particularly the inexperienced rider—there sits a massive violation of comfort: one must switch from the north side of 3rd, cross the intersection with eastbound 3rd traffic and northbound Alamitos traffic turning onto 3rd, and cross over three lanes to (hopefully) make it into the protected bike lane on the south side of 3rd.
Even for an aggressive bicyclist like myself—I am the person who has no issue riding in the middle of traffic on Ocean—there is a glaring reality that is proven through stats: more protection means more bicycling. In fact, NACTO’s Urban Bike Design Guide pretty much states it is absolutely unacceptable to force bikes and cars to share the road (much to the detriment of “share the road” campaigns).
The blunt fact is that safety is the biggest reason people don’t ride bikes—and rightfully so: despite the fact that being a pedestrian is more dangerous than being a bicyclist, the perception of bicycling’s danger is obvious. After all, who wants to pedal side-by-side with a two-ton piece of metal that can travel at deathly speeds?
But even protected lanes aren’t perfect when they hit major intersections. Much like Portland’s biking infrastructure, our bike lanes approach intersections in two unsafe manners: a mixing zone with a yield entry (figure 1, found on most sharrows or non-protected bike lanes) or a turning zone with unrestricted entry and through bike lanes (figure 2, an example being found at 3rd and Long Beach Blvd.). This bluntly means a mixing of cars and bikes that leaves many—yes, including the many so-called idiots not paying attention and either riding the wrong way, driving without pay attention to cyclists, or any of the other transit variables—seeking to avoid using their bikes on any level, or worse, ending up in an accident.
In the words of urban designer Nick Falbo, “The buffer falls away, and you’re faced with an ambiguous collection of green paint, dashed lines and bicycle symbols [like the aforementioned mixing zones]…It doesn’t matter how safe and protected your bike lane is if intersections are risky, stressful experiences. We need to make intersections just as safe and secure as the lanes that lead into them. What the protected bike lane needs is the protected intersection.”
Modeled after designs that have appeared or are similar to those in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Tokyo, Falbo’s concept is tangible through four concepts: a corner bicycle refuge island; a forward stop bar for bicyclists; a setback bike and pedestrian crossing; and a bicycle friendly signal phasing program.
“We are familiar with the design outlined in the video,” said City of Long Beach Traffic Engineer Dave Roseman. “Matter of fact: Mobility Coordinator Nathan Baird has already conducted a training session with my staff based on similar designs he rode and photographed on a recent trip to Copenhagen. Secretly I think he is out scouring the City looking for places in which we can test out such a concept or elements of the concept.”
Roseman is not alone in thinking the concept has merit. But as with any concept, the challenge of turning it into something tangible is another question. Immediate hypotheticals—will the implementation of such a project be hindered by the lengthy and pricey process of traffic studies?—will not hamper the possibility of protected intersections more than utility conflicts.
“I see utility conflicts—which is really funding—and public acceptance and understanding as being more significant hurdles to implementation,” said Roseman. “To turn the concept into reality cost-effectively, we need to find the right location where utility conflicts are minimal, drainage works well, there is sufficient right-of-way, we have a good probability of use by cyclists, a supportive business community, and preferably low vehicle turning volumes or sufficient roadway width to segregate turning vehicles out of through travel lanes. Our downtown protected bikeway has a number of the elements of the concept already in place and I suspect you will see more of the elements of the concept being worked into to street projects in the City as we strive to make our streets safer and more efficient for all modes of travel.”
Safe biking, Long Beach.