Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why Roads Are Here To Stay

Are off-alignment bike paths going to become so common, and so widespread someday that bicyclists can simply eliminate the need for road riding? At least one of Delaware's top bicycling advocates believes this can happen. For those of us that ride for transportation today, however, we know this is pure fantasy.

Above: Wilmapco's NCC Bike and Pathways Plan. Even the most optimistic outcome still forces most residents onto arterial roads and intersections to gain pathway access at both ends of their journey (click HERE to view in pdf).

Any successful bicycle advocate will attest that an off-road network of trails and pathways is crucial to any bicycle plan, but it must be combined with rigorous Complete Streets implementation. Only then can we tap into the "Enthused and Confident" segment of the bicycling public, and measurably increase non-motorized transportation modeshare. Unfortunately, Delaware is opting almost exclusively for Trails and Pathways - at the expense of on-road facilities - with the hope that we can increase the number of "interested but concerned" that might try bicycling. This will have little impact on commuting and every day trips from home - in other words, reducing auto dependency. Most of these bicyclists will only rack up and drive to the nearest pathway/trail head.

Issues with Multi-User Pathways

Many, if not most of the facilities in the map above follow the ROW (right of way) of existing roads. Where a pathway that is 8'+ wide travels alongside a road, it becomes known as a parallel Multi-User Path (MUP). It is misleading to describe these facilities as "bike paths" or "bicycle highways", because they are shared by multiple user types - including dog walkers and skaters. Where these exist, the addition of bike lanes and/or shared roadway signs is paramount. Left out, many drivers will view the road as theirs, and bicyclists avoiding the path as arrogant. Angrily, they will try to enforce their own imaginary version of a sidepath law.

Above: Route 4 in Ogletown, in front of the new Delaware School for the Deaf. This is a classic example of a parallel MUP, which also happens to be designated as part of the East Coast Greenway

When a parallel MUP is present, it may be viewed by DelDOT as an adequate replacement for on-road facilities, such as bike lanes. In the above photo, a new CVS retail store was just built on Route 4 in S. Newark at the corner of Marrows Road - without bike lanes.

Trumped Bike Lanes: Like so many others, both of the new construction sites above had their New Castle County Code bike lane requirement waived. Though we have been unable to confirm this, a likely reason involves the parallel MUP filling the role as a bicycle facility. Similar thinking - that DOTs can make bicyclists separate but equal - is what spawned the Vehicular Cycling movement back in the 1970s.

Rights Sacrificed: Those who choose to bike a parallel MUP instead of the road relinquish their rights as a legal vehicle under Title 21, and must stop for traffic at all intersections, side roads, and driveways. Too often, curb ramps are narrow and designed only for pedestrians. These facilities do serve a role for those who wouldn't bike otherwise, or to connect services, but intermediate and advanced bicyclists riding for distance won't hesitate to use the road instead.

Maintenance & Rehab: Even the most popular MUPs are the last to receive any kind of maintenance or surface repair, unless under local jurisdiction. Parks and Recreation does a magnificant job with upkeep on the James F. Hall and Pomeroy Trails in the City of Newark. For the remainder of Delaware, which is mostly unincorporated, MUPs are built and then left to decay until they become hazardous and no longer bikeable.

Above: The MUP along Route 72, from Route 4 South to Old Baltimore Pike. What used to be an 8' wide parallel MUP 20+ years ago is reduced to approx 6' or less from erosion and lack of edge control. Because there are no shoulders, the MUP is the only choice bicyclists have, unless they ride in the high speed lane of traffic.

Above: Numerous sections of the Route 72 MUP are being reclaimed by mother nature, as seen here. It is also full of utility cuts and potholes. I have been advocating for DelDOT to repave this facility, starting when the road itself was last repaved about 10 years ago. It has fallen on deaf ears, no matter what enthusiasm our state has for Trails & Pathways.

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