Bike Lanes are Not the Problem

A few days ago, we received an interesting email from an anonymous Burlington resident.  The email included a number of questions about the emerging bike network in Burlington.  We took this as an opportunity to take a deeper dive into some of the issues that have surfaced over the past six or eight months as Burlington has begun implementation of PlanBTV Walk Bike.  Read on to see what was asked—and how we responded.

Here is the email we received:  

I have a few questions I can’t seem to find answers to. 

  1. How many parking spaces citywide does your master plan remove?
  2. Why do none of your plans address the parking shortage in this city? Why not work to create alternate parking options to help replace at least some of the spaces you’re removing?
  3. What will be the cost to replace the numerous missing or damaged pylons on the new north union protected bike lane, and who is paying for that?
  4. Have car only (not car-bike) accidents increased or decreased on North Union since the protected lane was built? 
  5. What is the estimated number of riders who will use the new bike lane network?
  6. How many months of the year are the bike lanes actually used by the majority of riders?

I’m very much in favor of a more bike and pedestrian friendly city and anything that can be done to reduce accidents. But many of your plans don’t seem to account for the fact that there are far more drivers than riders here (often by necessity). Not everyone has the luxury of biking everywhere. I would be much more supportive of your plans if you attempted to address the needs of drivers as well as riders instead of just repeatedly saying we will be “minimally impacted” by the changes. 

Looking forward to your reply. 

Thank you. 

Here is our reply:  

First, I want to be clear that PlanBTV Walk Bike is not Local Motion's plan.  It is a city plan, developed and managed by the Department of Public Works, with in-depth involvement from dozens of organizations and hundreds of Burlington residents.  Local Motion strongly supports the plan, as do many others, but it is not "ours."

1. How many parking spaces citywide does the master plan remove?

I do not know how many parking spaces would be removed as a result of full implementation of the plan.  It isn't even really possible to calculate this, as most of the improvements in the plan are only at the concept level.  Part of the design process includes a deep look at how to integrate bike lanes and other bike infrastructure with minimal impact on other resources, including parking.  So the answer to this question will emerge over time.

2. Why do none of the plans address the parking shortage in this city? Why not work to create alternate parking options to help replace at least some of the spaces you’re removing?

PlanBTV Walk Bike is a walk and bike master plan, not a parking master plan.  You can't do everything in one plan.  That said, DPW has invested a tremendous amount of time and money over the past few years in the development of plans and strategies for improving both the quality of and access to parking, particularly in the downtown area.  They feel -- and Local Motion agrees -- that more effective parking management is key to being able to make the kinds of changes envisioned in PlanBTV Walk Bike.  So parking is being planned for separately, but you are absolutely right that parking and walk/bike improvements are intrinsically linked.

3. What will be the cost to replace the numerous missing or damaged pylons on the new north union protected bike lane, and who is paying for that?

I don't know the cost.  Nicole Losch of DPW was responsible for that installation and can give you details.  Presumably DPW will pay for upgrades to the protected bike lane to make it more resistant to damage.  It's really a shame that so many drivers this winter made a sport of running over the bollards and willfully damaging public property.  My hope is that the replacement materials will be more robust.

4. Have car only (not car-bike) accidents increased or decreased on North Union since the protected lane was built?

I don't know.  My guess is that it is too early to tell.  Given the level of damage to the protected bike lane over the winter (as well as the lack of a broader network of protected lanes), ridership over the winter was (anecdotally) relatively low.  I have no doubt it will pick up significantly once winter is over and the protection gets rebuilt.  Regarding safety:  in warmer weather, I ride this street every day with my daughter from our home in the South End to her school in the Old North End.  I can tell you that the installation of the bollards made it dramatically safer to bike along Union.  I no longer have to ride outboard of my daughter, with a constant eye over my shoulder, to protect her from drivers who drift into the bike lane.  It is night and day.

5. What is the estimated number of riders who will use the new bike lane network?

It is impossible to estimate exact ridership numbers.  What I can tell you is that, a few years back, bikes made up about 7% of commute trips and walking made up nearly 20% of commute trips in Burlington (according to the U.S. Census).  The biking portion has been increasing rapidly; back in 2000, it was between 1% and 2%.  And this increase has occurred with a bike "network" that is anything but:  fragments of bike lanes on streets here and there, but gaps in the network right where you most need a safe space to ride.  Once the city builds out a true network of bike lanes (and particularly of protected lanes), as envisioned in PlanBTV Walk Bike, I would not be surprised if the bike share increases to 15% or more.   

6. How many months of the year are the bike lanes actually used by the majority of riders?

People in Burlington bike year round.  Traffic decreases in winter, of course, but this is as much a function of unsafe streets as it is a function of cold weather.  (If you can ski in winter, you can bike in winter.)  The real issue is that there are simply too many cars in Burlington.  This city is supersaturated with cars, many of them parked and taking up space -- not even being used -- 90% of the time.  Bike lanes are not the problem.  Cars are.  Quality of life in Burlington would improve dramatically if there were a third fewer cars in our city.  
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Finally, I take issue with your characterization of biking as a "luxury."  Many, many people in Burlington bike because they have no choice.  Either they can't afford a car at all, or their family can only afford one car and bikes/walks/buses for a substantial portion of family transportation.  Other people bike by choice because biking makes their life better.  They enjoy the freedom, the exercise, the interaction with others that come with biking.  Still others would very much like to bike, but don't feel safe doing so.  
Being able to walk and bike safely around one's community is a basic right that Burlington has made a commitment to honor.  The bike network will be developed in as thoughtful and low-impact a manner as possible.  But to not build a bike network would be to do disservice to the tens of thousands of Burlingtonians who bike (or would like to) as part of everyday life.

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