Boltbus To Portland

A few months back, I wrote about taking my bike to Portland on AmTrak.  Now Tubulocity has an in-depth look at traveling with a bike on AmTrak competitor BoltBus.  I’m not sure I’d take a bus over AmTrak to save a few bucks, even a bus as nice as these appear to be.  I’ve got too many memories of bad Greyhound and Trailways trips back in the 80’s.  But the fact that Boltbus has 6 departures a day down to Portland will no doubt get me onboard at some point.

Anyway, check out Tubulocity’s review and decide for yourself whether a Boltbus trip down I-5 is in your future.

“Bikeable Cities” and Bike Lanes

Seattle was recently ranked #7 in the nation for “bikeability.”  While we can all collectively pat ourselves on the back or bemoan the fact that we finished behind DC and Minneapolis, I was interested in the methodology used.  According to the Walkscore folks who put it together, the “bikeability” rating of a community is based on four equally-weighted factors: Hilliness, bike lanes, road connective and bike commuting mode share.

I guess Seattle’s always going to be in a hole compared to DC & Minneapolis when it comes to hilliness.

Having a fair bit of familiarity myself with the ins-and-outs of rating the intangible, I’m impressed with the thought that went into the Bike Score rating methodology.  For instance, check out how bike lanes are dealt with:

Bike lanes are divided into four categories: on-street bike lanes, off-street trails, cycletracks (separated bike lanes), and residential bikeways (a.k.a. bike friendly streets or greenways).

While examining the data, there were variations in how cities reported their infrastructure, especially with regard to residential bikeways. In cities like Vancouver, residential bikeways are bike priority streets with traffic calming, signage, and on-street markings. In some US cities, a residential bikeway might have very little infrastructure. Because of these, we collapsed the four bike path categories into two categories, on-street and off-street.

For a given location, we sum up the length of all nearby bike lanes. We apply a distance decay function to each segment, where no value is given to segments further than 1,000 meters from the origin. We weight off-street lanes 2X as valuable as on-street lanes. This creates a raw value that we normalize to a score between 0 – 100 based on an average of the highest Bike Lane Scores that we sampled.

Obviously there is a wide variation in the quality of bike lanes, and it’s great to see that the Walkscore guys are accounting for the differential between on- and off-street lanes.  However, seeing this recent tragic news out of Portland about a cyclist dying in a right-hook collision while riding in a bike lane, I have to wonder if on-street lanes should count at all – or if they should carry a negative weight.

The problem is that many urban on-street lanes are poorly-designed.  They put riders in the door zone, require swerving around double-parked trucks, dealing with buses crossing the lane mid-block to meet stops, and offer no bail-out options if a clueless pedestrian steps off the curb.  They also reduce visibility while simultaneously raising cyclist complacency that they are safe in “their” lane.

This is why I often don’t ride in bike lanes, preferring to take the whole lane for safety’s sake – and why I find that some of the lanes (like Pine Street downhill – photo above) don’t contribute at all to the “bikeability” of my city.

Taking the (Residential) Lane

The last mile or so of my commute home is through the residential portion of Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Like many residential neighborhoods in Seattle, the streets on Capitol Hill are remarkably narrow. How narrow? On many, the fact that parking is permitted on both sides means there is only one lane. If two cars are headed in opposite directions, one must dive into an open parking place or driveway to let the other pass. That narrow.

These streets are also notable for having uncontrolled intersections, many of which have “traffic calming circles” in the center.

(feel the calm?)

So, of course, I almost always take the lane when riding through my neighborhood. In fact, on many streets there’s really no other option unless you like being passed very closely while riding right in the door zone. Which I don’t.

While this doesn’t usually cause much consternation with drivers, I’ve had three occasions this week where I’ve been passed by drivers DESPITE my trying to take the lane (these were on some of the wider streets where two cars can pass abreast). In two of these cases, they passed in the half-block before getting to a “traffic calming” circle, forcing me to practically climb up their asses as they had to slow down to navigate around the circle.

While I still think taking the lane is the safest thing to do in most cases, it sucks when drivers won’t respect it – particularly when they pull off dangerous moves to get around.