Photo: New DeKalb Ave bike lane in
When it comes to adding bike lanes, a common roadblock (pun intended) is that the prospective street does not have enough horizontal space to accommodate them. For example, a typical striped bike lane should be at least four feet wide, but five feet is preferable. However, few streets have this kind of space between the parking lane and an adjacent traffic lane to make way for bike lanes without compromising legal lane widths. While taking away a traffic lane OR taking away a parking lane is an option, it can be like running up Everest trying to get the support of the community and its’ officials for this to happen, thanks to our powerful car/oil addiction. However there is one option that could serve as both a compromise and a win for the cycling/livable cities community: take away a traffic lane during off-peak hours.
To illustrate my point, I’m going to use a case from my Brooklyn neighborhood on DeKalb Avenue. As of about a month ago, DeKalb Ave was a one-way street with two traffic lanes and two on-street parking lanes. The avenue moves westbound moving out of Brooklyn toward the Manhattan Bridge, so cars regularly flew at speeds between 40-50 mph. As a result, the street was very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians despite a high number of both being present on the street throughout the much of the day.
Picture: Existing conditions on DeKalb Ave (NYCDOT)
The solution? NYCDOT decided to take away a lane of traffic during off-peak hours and add a five foot bike lane plus a three foot buffer to protect cyclists from traffic, getting doored, and hopefully mitigate maddeningly frustrating bike lane parking. By narrowing the street to one traffic lane during off-peak hours, it serves to calm traffic from the wild, unnecessary speeding and lane changing for much of the day. However, to help accommodate more traffic during rush hours, a parking lane (on the opposite side of the bike lane, of course) becomes a traffic lane. Any car still parked during peak hours gets ticketed.
Graphic: Conceptual plan for DeKalb Ave (NYCDOT)
Some people may ask, what about the businesses on DeKalb getting hurt by the loss of parking, especially during peak periods? The answers are straight forward enough. First, NYCDOT is installing meters to encourage turnover instead of all-day parking squatting. This will actually help businesses by facilitating turnover as well as generate revenue for the usage of valuable urban street space. It will also redefine loading zone hours in order to combat double parking that clogs traffic and creates dangerous conflicts. Lastly, by calming the street and improving access for cyclists and pedestrians, the potential is there to enhance local business activity even further.
Of course this will not be a perfect scenario, but it should certainly make DeKalb Avenue more livable as it functions more like a complete street. For example, I’ve noticed that it’s actually a little more difficult for pedestrians to cross DeKalb at mid-block now, since there is a steady (albeit slower) flow of traffic along the single traffic lane. However, this can be expected in the short term, as drivers adapt to the roadway changes. Over time, studies have shown that such street changes should eventually lead to disappearing traffic, whereas drivers either choose other routes, other schedules, or not to drive. I’ve witnessed idiot drivers double-parking in the bike lane already, but so far the only way to really solve this problem is physically separated bike lanes.
So how does this tie into Miami? There are many streets with parking lanes that could sacrifice a lane of traffic during off peak hours in order to incorporate bike lanes. Some of the streets that come to mind are operated by FDOT, so it’s important that this is taken into consideration when advocating for this type of roadway reconfiguration. Many other streets in more urban areas of Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables have the potential to utilize this configuration.
(Note: I know there will be at least a few haters reading this who will be eager to point out how different New York is from Miami and how this type of street space reallocation would never work in Miami/South Florida. Well let me tell you this — NYC may be quite different in many ways, but this kind of thing isn’t just being done there, it’s being done it cities all over the country, many of which are less densely developed than Miami.)
Photo: DeKalb Ave @ Washington Ave
As you may already know, I support bicycles. I am a huge advocate for improved bicycle infrastructure in Miami, including a comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan.
Nonetheless, I often speak to people who have concerns about using bicycling as a legitimate form of transportation, even if Miami had hundreds of miles of separated bike lanes.
Some of the more popular concerns include fear of theft, lack of secure racks, and problems with the bike’s generous proportions, particularly when on a crowded train or attempting to store it inside of a building. Fortunately, I’ve found a solution to most of these concerns: folding bikes.
The folding bicycle certainly isn’t new technology, but it’s rare I see people using these bikes and even rarer to hear people talk about them.
A couple weeks ago, I was introduced to the amazing convenience of the folding bike. I was in Brooklyn at the time, and was planning on going down to Philly for the weekend to visit some old friends. Lucky for me one of my friends allowed me to borrow their new Dahon.
After learning how to fold and unfold the bike, I packed some clothes in a backpack, and raced off through Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and into Lower Manhattan. I decided to test its convenience on the subway – no problem. Even fumbling at bit, it only took about one minute to fold up the bike and it was light (only like 20-25 lbs.) enough to carry right over the turnstile. The C train was relatively crowded, but I was still able to get a seat comfortably while holding the folded bike.
At Penn Station, I didn’t have to worry about maneuvering a regular sized bike through masses of people, nor having to lug it up or down stairs/escalators. I boarded Amtrak, stowed the bike in the rack above my seat, and read a book during the hour and change trip.
Upon arriving at 30th Street Station in Philly, I didn’t even have to bother with cab fare – I just unfolded the bike and road off to meet my friends about 12 or 13 blocks away. Upon arriving at my friends’ place, I folded the bike back up, walked past the doorman without any looks or objections, took the elevator with ease, and stored it in their small apartment without feeling guilty about space.
I was hooked. I just ordered a Dahon myself, and can’t hardly wait another day for it to arrive. In the meantime, let me share with you just a short list of benefits for folded bikes:
- Integrates flawlessly with all forms of transit. Instead of taking up a bunch of space on a Metrorail car, or loading and unloading a regular sized bike on the front of a bus, the folded bike is easy to carry on board
- They usually fold up in just 15-30 seconds
- Most of them fit conveniently into a duffel bag or suitcase – perfect for carry-on luggage on planes
- They take up a fraction of space in your home (especially great for smaller living spaces)
- No longer do you have to worry about them getting stolen from some random chain-up or even a rack. You probably won’t even need to buy any chains or locks in the first place
- You could even bring it into the office. Put it in a carrying bag, it stores easily
- Performance is as good as or better than regular sized bikes, depending on what model and/or brand you use
- Allows you the freedom to go just about anywhere; its convenient integration with transit is particularly beneficial
Photo courtesy of joelmann’s flickr account
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