Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why Roads Are Here To Stay (Part 2)

The Route 72 sidepath, difficult to see in this photo due to cars parked over it, was long ago abandoned by DelDOT. It provides one of a very few centrally located, safe crossings of I95. Because the road has no shoulder, the majority will still favor the path over the lane of high speed traffic - even if it means weaving through parked cars.

We conclude this series with Part 2, why on-road bicycle advocacy is critical in any Bicycle-Friendly City or State (Part 1 HERE).

Minus a webbing of abandoned railroad ROWs (right of ways), or an amicable relationship with active railroad companies to provide Rail with Trail opportunities, little exists in Delaware for real pathway continuity. The Newark to Wilmington Pathway, touted by Bike Delaware as a "Bicycle Highway" will be anything but fast and direct. DelDOT will try and cobble together existing MUPs, utility ROWs, and other open spaces in order to link the two cities. As cited in the feasibility study, segments are likely to see more use for local trips - less for commuting between the two cities. The popular choice among intermediate to advanced bicyclists will continue to be direct on-road connections, and these too deserve representation by advocates.

Project Timelines
The timeline for completion of bike path facilities is often measured in decades, even when an existing ROW is available. With an abandoned rail bed almost fully in tact, the Pomeroy Trail in Newark took over 10 years to complete. One can only guess what kind of timeline is expected on the Wilmington to Newark Pathway, where environmental impacts and private property constraints will weigh heavily. These issues - taking years to sort - can even arise where established ROW already exists.

Value for the Dollar
According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the cost of a 5' on-street bicycle lane can range from approximately $5,000 to $535,000 per mile, with an average cost around $130,000. The costs can vary greatly due to differences in project specifications and the scale and length of the treatment. On the other hand, bike paths cost vastly more to build and maintain. In an October 2013 blog post, we revealed spending of nearly $2M to complete a 1/4 mile section of the Northern Delaware Greenway along Talley Road. A protected bike lane could have served a similar purpose, at a small fraction of the cost.

On-Road Safety Compromised
A near total emphasis on segregated bicycle facilities can impede the work of advocates who are seeking to improve on-road safety. A 2013 PSA that bicyclists are granted equal rights as drivers was withdrawn when Bike Delaware's Executive Director contacted DelDOT in opposition. It should be noted that Bike Delaware's signature project - funding for Trails and Pathways - finds support among legislators who are weary of bicyclist's using public roads and highways. That our State's primary advocacy organization (according to LAB) is discounting roads as viable and safe for bicycling (including minor arterials which most often serve as the only alternative) is certain to feed this bias.

Environmental Impact
Adding miles of 10' wide asphalt adds more impermeable surface, and more run-off, which only contributes to worse flooding and erosion. On the other hand, both standard and protected bike lanes take advantage of existing infrastructure. Most arterial and secondary roads in Delaware can be greatly improved for biking, given overly generous lane and shoulder widths.

In Summary
Segregated bicycle infrastructure is a major component in any bicycle-friendly environment, and worthy of our enthusiastic support. But it shouldn't be the only focus. The most bicycle-friendly places here and abroad take a holistic approach, by including on-road bicycle facilities as part of the overall network. Anything less will impede the bicycle as a truly viable transportation alternative.


  1. Frank, I agree with you completely. We need to give more emphasis to riding safely on our existing network of roads.

  2. Absolutely. And after experiencing the mode share in Dublin, and what they've done with their road infrastructure and public campaigns to accommodate and encourage cyclists, especially considering that their roads are much narrower and more difficult to modify than ours, I couldn't agree more.