Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Walnut Street To Get A Left Hand Buffered Bike Lane

An exciting (sorta) new bike lane is close to making its grand appearance in Philadelphia. PennDOT is repaving Walnut Street from end to end (Front Street to Cobbs Creek Parkway) this month. Paving is already underway and the Streets Department forecasts the completion of the paving project by the end of September. When finished, we will have a buffered bike lane on the left-hand side of the street, from 22nd Street to 63rd Street.

Walnut Street has some of the highest bicycle volumes in the City. It is a major east-to-west thoroughfare and is heavily used by UPenn and Drexel, two communities that tilt more bicycle-heavy. The old, narrow right hand bike lane beginning at 22nd Street created many conflicts with buses and frequent driver-side door conflicts, so this repaving project was a big opportunity to make major improvements for people on bikes.

In January 2012, we suggested to the Streets Department that they ask PennDOT to paint a left hand buffered bike lane to replace the existing right hand bike lane. Putting the lane on the left will remove bicycle-bus conflicts, and decrease the chance of dooring by placing the lane on cars' passenger side. A new buffered bike lane would complement the investment being made in the Walnut Bridge Gateway to make that section of Walnut Street friendlier and safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Extending it all the way to Cobbs would make a safe connection between the Schuylkill River Trail and Cobbs Creek Trail and enhance safety in an underserved neighborhood.
Schematic of Philly's first left-hand buffered bike lane next to a parking lane

What to expect

West of the Walnut Street Bridge, the road will have (going from left to right, westbound) an 8 ft. parking lane, an 8 ft. buffered bike lane (5 foot wide standard lane with 3 foot buffer), 2 ten foot travel lanes and an 8 ft. parking lane.

East of the bridge, there will be varying widths to accommodate a narrower road and conflict zones with traffic turning onto the 76 Expressway or Schuylkill Avenue.

There will be a 500 foot gap between 32nd and 33rd due to University of Pennsylvania's construction project that is taking up the entire left hand lane.
Lay-by lane

This lane is being installed without the removal of a travel lane or parking. Space was made for the lane by simply narrowing parking and travel lanes. The narrower travel lanes will slow motor vehicle traffic down. It is also the City's first buffered bike lane next to a parking lane, as opposed Spruce and Pine and 10th and 13th, which are next to the curb line.

We also like the bike "lay-by" lane that was installed next to the Walnut Street Bridge steps. This will allow people to pull over and get out of the bike lane before getting on or off the sidewalk to or from the Schuylkill River Trail.

Congrats to the Streets Department and PennDOT for adopting an innovative design that should make Walnut Street safer for people on bikes and in cars!

12 comments:

Zack Glantz said...

Certainly a big improvement, but seems like it could be taken still a step further, at the same cost, to create an even safer environment: Why not put the bike lane curbside, and then painting the 3 ft buffer strip next to it to deal with the dooring area. Drivers who park can walk out onto that buffer and then get to the curb after making sure that the bike lane safe. This way we end up with our first physically separated bike lane. You could even do a 4ft lane with a 4ft buffer if the dooring area is a concern. The two-way cycletrack on 15th in DC looks about that wide in each direction. In this proposed scheme, we still do not solve the problem of cars stopping constantly in the bike lane anytime someone wants to park, so I wonder how often you'll really get a straight shot. Good on everyone for getting this far, but would love to know if a parking-buffered lane was discussed and why it got taken off the table.

Andy B from Jersey said...

At this point why not just put the bike lane between the curb and the parked cars to create a cycletrack!

Daylight the corners to prevent left hooks and use that buffer space to TOTALLY prevent any dooring hazard (I'm not buy the argument that left side bike lanes can be placed in the door zone since the there aren't always passengers exiting cars).

Nicholas Mirra said...

Good points, Zack and Andy. The main reason the bike lane and parking weren't switched was that to conform to design standards, 1-2 car parking spots would have been removed at each intersection for visibility. That was not a battle all wanted to tackle.

dan reed! said...

What a great improvement! I wish it had been in place when I lived in Philadelphia (I just moved back to the DC area this month) because I used Walnut all the time. A question: how will right turns work? Ideally there'd be a bike box at the intersection where bicyclists could scoot over to the right lane, but the drawing doesn't show one.

Nicholas Mirra said...

Right turns will work just like making left turns work now: either a merge with traffic into the right lane, or a two stage turn. All stop bars are also moved 10 feet back at signalized intersection creating ad hoc bike boxes.

Unknown said...

I truly hate left hand bike lanes. Cyclists aren't used to riding on that side and cars aren't used to looking for us there. I never feel safe riding on 10th Street in the left lane and now commuting to work in University City is going to have the same problem. I of course applaud more bike lanes, but not left hand ones.

jklmnop said...

i knew there would be construction, but i was not aware of the change in orientation for the bike lane. there were no visible signs indicating the new change and the further west you go, the fewer lines are drawn.

this was a huge shock to me and frankly made me feel like my safety was in jeopardy due to left turning cars.

while i appreciate the thoughtfulness in repaving the street and creating a "safer bike lane" i feel like they should've warned cyclists and motorists about such a drastic change.

Ari said...

Riding home today, I felt the same way as jklmnop. It was very disorienting being on the left hand side of the road, especially if I'm going up Powelton or Market, then merging into Walnut and have to remember to switch. This article did a good deal to help explain the reasons, and I'll try to ride with a fresh and open mind later tonight.

Nicholas Mirra said...

It's worth reminding everyone that the current configuration involving switching sides of the road is not permanent. That should end soon when the striping is finished. After that the entire lane will be on the left-hand side.

Our view of left-hand bike lanes is that they make sense in certain circumstances. Walnut has such a high bicycle and bus volume that moving the lane to avoid bike-bus conflicts makes the switch a net gain in safety for bikes. For that reason, we're in support of the switch.

While riding on the left takes some getting used to, it will also have the side benefit of making drivers more accustomed to seeing bikes in places besides the right shoulder. That can only help when drivers encounter bicycles on streets without bike lanes.

Stek said...

What I like most: (1) The 8' lane means I can ride in the buffer rather than in the door zone. (2) I will no longer have to contend with the Penn buses that always stop mid-block obstructing both bike lane and other vehicular traffic.

Margie Politzer said...

I've ridden in the new left-hand lane and feel that this is a big mistake. I think that it is better to keep all lanes on the right where cars expect bikes to be. Cars are not respecting the lane on the left, probably because they don't know what it is; they are driving right in it.

Though having the lane on the left may prevent "dooring," "carring" may be more common, as it is much more difficult for drivers in the left-hand parking lane to see bikers before they pull out into traffic.

akreider said...

Cars and taxis stop in the bike lane which requires that cyclists go around them by turning into the car lane. This is dangerous as cars do not expect bikes to merge from the left (as this almost never happens on regular roads).

In general, I think was bad idea as it runs contrary to everyone's expectations. You can also make a case for the right-hand side of Walnut being more of a destination than the left-hand side (ex. two major grocery stores) after 40th street.

A positive is being able to go through traffic lights by U Penn more safely.