Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Durango, CO: Silver Level Bicycle-Friendly Community with Door Zone Bike Lanes

One suggestion for striping a door zone bike lane. 
Note--picture NOT taken in Durango, but their design
might be even narrower on 3rd Ave
(photo courtesy of BikeOrlando)

I really enjoy Durango and have had several great bike rides there. Plan to go back, too, with my wallet and my bicycles. One of these days I'll ride to Silverton on the Six-Thirteen. This time, we took our tandem up there for some less insane family riding. Durango is a great place to do that.

But not all is idyllic in Durango. I sometimes wonder what good some of the well publicized efforts at shoe-horning in bike facilities does for us cyclists*. Especially on a road such as 3rd Ave in Durango, which has plenty of room to share sans bike lane stripes.

Durango, in my eyes, is definitely a bicycle-friendly community, but not because of the striping I found on some of its city streets (in fact, my wife Meena more than once heard me mutter a quiet sigh of relief as I got past its downtown streets striped with hazardous door zone bike lanes). In fact, my opinion of a city that will put in bike lanes in what should be a clear buffer space along side parked cars is that it is NOT willing to go the extra mile to be truly accommodating to safe and lawful cycling. That's downright cynical. That is a lesson we should not forget here in Los Alamos, where we are in our own "complete streets" movement.

Let's face it. Appearances can be deceiving to the uneducated. An uneducated bicyclist may be happy to have his "own space"--until a door flies open into his path.  Face it, even careful drivers make mistakes. An uneducated motorist may be happy to have slower moving bicyclists in their own space--until a crash leaves them defending a hefty lawsuit, since unsafely opening a door into traffic is usually citeable (NM 66-7-267) Finally, its yet to be seen when a city will be sued for creating an attractive nuisance with these things when a child is doored. The bottom line is some streets are better left alone and intuitive to use if they can't be improved, rather than made worse through stress-inducing stripage that herds cyclists into hazardous riding.  I've often worried about North Road by the Urban Park tennis courts in this regard (although in our own defense, that bike lane is quite wide, but see the asterisked note at the end of this post--what would work better there in my opinion is a buffered stripe between parked cars and a bike lane--or no bike lane at all).Bottom line: First, do no harm. Then, do good.
Striped DZBL on 3rd Ave (Google Earth photo)
There are two perfectly good lanes for overtaking.
Why put cyclists in the door zone?

I sent this email to the Mayor of Durango and after not hearing back, to Mary Oswald, listed on the LAB site as a point of contact. Ms. Oswald has chaired the La Plata County Safe Roads Coalition.

Dear Mayor Rinderle
Mayor, Durango, CO

We just spend our second short vacation in Durango in the last few years and as usual had a great time. However, there is one thing I wanted to discuss with you or your roadway engineer.

Durango is listed as a Silver level bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. During my two trips to Durango during the last five years, it is pretty obvious that a lot of folks are bicycling in Durango. Mode share is obviously high. Bicyclists are everywhere. But some of your bicycling infrastructure left me a little shocked.

My wife and I were staying at the Rochester Hotel, on 2nd Ave, this weekend. We brought our tandem so we could get around Durango by bike and also get out of town for some good rides. Our typical route out of Durango was to go north on 3rd Ave. to Florida Rd. and out into the country. I noted several things while biking and walking.
East College Drive near 3rd Ave
That space by the curb isn't designated as a bike 
lane (at least I didn't see any signs), but was used 
as one by every cyclist I saw on
College Drive. Who reinforces such bad behavior?

The bike lanes on 3rd Avenue and on either 8th or 9th Street (I forget which) were very narrow and the bike lanes were entirely within the "door zone" of marked onstreet parking.  These bike lanes are therefore dangerous to ride in. I rode outside the bike lane on these roads and frankly, would have considered it dangerous to use these bike lanes.

I also noted that there is striping on College Avenue such that there is a very narrow (three feet?) space to the right of a stripe bounding the right edge of the right travel lane. Is this marking a bike lane? This space to the right of the travel lane, about three feet, is split rougly half and half between a concrete gutter pan and asphalt. Thus the narrow space to the right of heavy traffic is split by a longitudinal gap between the gutter pan and roadway. That space, used by a lot of cyclists I saw riding there, could result in a diversion fall and is inconsistent with AASHTO guidelines.

I would offer that all of these striped situations (College Ave, 3rd, Ave, 8th St and any others like them) should either have the striping removed or be re-striped so that these bike lanes meet (2010) AASHTO (pg. 74-75) guidelines** and do not endanger cyclists via diversion falls or dooring incidents. An experienced cyclist such as myself was constantly wondering if I was going to be cited by police for riding outside the bike lane. That is hardly fun. Do you have a mandatory bike lane law? A less saavy cyclist, and I saw lots, were riding well within the door zone of parked cars. This included Sunday morning, when a lot of church traffic was loading and unloading on 3rd Ave. This is hardly bicyclist-friendly.

I have been a member of my county transportation advisory board for most of eight years and have chaired or vice-chaired this board for about half that time. I've co-authored the Los Alamos County Bicycle Transportation System legislation and worked on the Honolulu Bike Plan (1999) back when I lived in Hawaii. I'm quite concerned that we ensure that our bike plans work well and are safe. Hence, I'm writing you to share these thoughts, which are my own entirely and are not spoken in any official capacity.

* Finally, a nice quote:

"...a lot of times the cycling community has a myopia when it comes to the function of a road. 'Bike lanes' is the answer, now what was the question? Theirs is a less pernicious mentality than the DOT that says 'more lanes' is the answer, now what was the question? Both groups stand in the way of creating streets that work better..."
--a member of a national advocacy organization who wished to remain anonymous, in an email to me.

** From the 2010 AASHTO Guidelines, pp 74-75: "...When on‐street parking is permitted, the bicycle lane should be placed between the parking lane and the travel lane (see Exhibit 4.13). The recommended bicycle lane width in these locations is 6 feet...Several communities employ markings to encourage cyclists to ride further from parked cars, such as providing a wider parking lane, a wider bike lane, or a striped buffer between the parking lane and the bike lane..."

Door Zone crash in Cambridge, MA that killed graduate student Dana Laird
Acknowledgements to John Allen. Original photo by Robert Winters, Cambridge Civic Journal


JoeyDurango said...

Hey Khal,

Yep, we've got door zone bike lanes, and lots of them. I tend to simply not use them and take my lane instead. As far as I know, we have no "bike lane only" law.

I like the fact that the lanes are even thought about in the first place - that is, I'm glad Durango is putting multi-modal transport infrastructure into street planning at all. But I do wish they would have thought about the reality of those lanes a bit more thoroughly.

After living in Germany for a bit, any American bike infrastructure seems poor... but then again, after living in SoCal, Durango's attitude towards bicycles seems amazing.

Next time you're in town, we'll have to formally meet. The bike shop at which I work (and will soon own) is actually just across the street from Carver's!


Khal said...

Saw the bike shop. Wish I had walked in and shot the shit. I'll definitely stop in next time!

Durango is definitely cool but as a stickler for details, I'll always be rolling the smokebomb under the tent flap.