City Wants High-Tech Traffic Control

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 28 - 2010

The City of Columbus wants to invest $36.8 million to purchase a high-tech system that would give traffic controllers direct access to coordinate traffic lights across the city. When traffic backs up because of an accident, congestion, or re-routing, traffic controllers could change lights with a flick of a switch to get cars moving more quickly through intersections.

COTA Offices Move Downtown

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 28 - 2010

The Central Ohio Transit Authority moved its headquarters downtown recently into the newly remodeled building at 33 North High Street. The $13.6 million renovation of the 10-story downtown building includes a new customer-service counter where passengers can purchase tickets and extensive green features such as energy-saving lighting. COTA is in the process of applying for LEED Certification for the renovation. COTA will utilize seven of the 10 stories and will rent the other three out. Notably, the building does not include parking as COTA employees are expected to utilize the bus.

YPCOTA Kicks Off

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 17 - 2010

Young Professionals Columbus and COTA have teamed up to encourage 'social transit' through a month-long initiative combining transit with social networking.

New Parking Meter Rates Coming

Posted by Columbus Transit On June - 17 - 2010

Crews are changing the parking meter prices and times on meters in the downtown and Short North area, as well as adding 400 new parking meters to previously free spaces. The changes come after a long debate about how best to up rates to help pay for the construction of a new convention center hotel. The original rate change, pulled from the funding plan for the shelved Columbus Streetcar initiative, upset business owners in the up-and-coming Gay Street area and downtown. A commission revised the plan which was approved and is now being implemented.

Mayor Unveils Sharrow: Sharrows vs. Bike Lanes

Posted by Columbus Transit On 5:22 PM
Yesterday, Mayor Coleman unveiled the first of 189 icons that will be painted along High Street from Nationwide Boulevard to Morse Road to remind motorists to 'share the road' with bicyclists. The 'sharrows' are one part of a much broader strategy outlined in the 2008 Bicentennial Bikeways Plan to create the bicycling city of tomorrow right here in Columbus. The plan calls for an extensive mix of sharrows, bike lanes, and bike trails running throughout downtown and the greater region.

Before coming to Columbus, I had biked previously in only one city which also happened to be a worldwide center for biking: Copenhagen. Having lived there for four months, I traversed its many trails and bike lanes finding them safe, easy to navigate, and fun to use. For that reason it truly shocked me to return to the United States and encounter a fierce resistance among some urban cyclists to the construction of designated bike lanes on city streets on the basis that they made cyclists less safe.

Looking historically at the issue, Columbus' streets were not always the urban highways we see today. These pictures from High Street in 1914 show an astonishing number of pedestrians walking directly across the street with multiple modes of transit coexisting: horse and buggy, automobile, streetcar. That type of fluid mix slowly faded with the sorting of transit uses. The 1968 plan for Columbus called for transit modes to be grade-separated with the street reserved for the automobile while the pedestrian would be segregated to skywalks hung over the streets and even an elevated transit line. These recommendations heavily influenced the zooming, barren urban streets urbanists often detest.

In viewing the historic mix of uses on our city's streets, I can see an argument that sharrows on our city's streets may be better than bike lanes in an attempt to create that historic urban vitality. However, with the advancements of vehicles in the past century, the speed of cars makes me believe such sharrows would be dangerous themselves with cars flying by. At the very least, I know that fewer people will feel comfortable jumping onto their bikes to ride with the SUV next to them than in dedicated bike lanes. I know I did.

The safety concerns of cyclists about bike lanes create questions however. There are a number of ways in which such safety concerns arise. First, cyclists worry about the possibility of lanes which run between parallel-parked cars and the street. In hugging the wall of cars, cyclists risk a door opening in their way and running into it. Secondly, the more generalized idea that lanes will make cyclists less visible to cars, especially turning cars. These fears are highly justified and the safety of bikers should be a number one priority.

Such concerns are, though, a question of design rather than a referendum on bike lanes as a whole. After all, if the fear of running into an open door or being clipped by a right turning car meant all uses should be mixed on the street, then pedestrians should not walk on sidewalks but with traffic? That seems entirely silly. Imagine cars wading through crowds of people. Rather, appropriate signage and well marked cross-walks create a safer environment for pedestrians.

The design of bike lanes should follow similar conventions. To be clear, painting lines on the street should not be considered safe bike lanes. They must be more than that. Only with appropriate design can biking be safe. Consider for instance, lights specifically for bicyclists that would give them a few second head-start over cars in crossing an intersection. In Copenhagen, bike lanes were slightly raised above the level of the street but below the level of sidewalks. That gave a very physical separation from both vehicles and pedestrians that was also very visible. Also, by placing bike lanes far enough away from cars, they avoid the problem of open doors. What it comes down to is this: by creating better-designed bikeways, the problems of safety can be overcome. In overcoming those problems through greater investment in infrastructure you will encourage more riders. More riders creates more visibility. More visibility creates a safer environment. They build upon each other. This Berkley study supports this argument.

Then which is better, sharrow or bike lane? After that discussion it is pretty clear that I favor bike lanes; however, the sharrow plays an important role and the two need not be mutually exclusive. Not every street has the room to safely accomodate a bike lane (at least so long as we continue to favor the vehicle above all other forms of transit). When it is not safe to do so, a sharrow is the next best option. It is for that exact reason that the bicentennial bikeways plan for Columbus envisioned a mix of the two. Thus I applaud the implementation yesterday of the bike sharrow on High Street, and I hope the process of creating lanes and sharrows continues.

1 Response to "Mayor Unveils Sharrow: Sharrows vs. Bike Lanes"

  1. Yianni Said,

    This is super awesome! go cbus transit!


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