The last year has seen a flurry of Letters to the Editor in the Daily Camera from cyclists and pedestrians alike, frustrated at each others behavior on the Boulder Creek Path, and other well used parts of our path network. The debate has recently been re-ignited by the city’s proposal to allow electric bikes on the multi-use paths for the next year as a trial.
Plenty of well meaning suggestions have been made to alleviate the conflicts — better signage, more enforcement of the existing 15 mph speed limit, education and outreach campaigns — along with the predictable complaints from each side about the bad behavior of the other: careless roadies zipping by at 20 miles an hours without any warning, careening around blind curves and underpasses on the wrong side of the path. Deaf iPod zombies walking dogs on 12 foot long leashes while they meander unpredictably. Etc.
The Goss-Grove neighborhood is a quiet residential enclave in the center of Boulder, bounded by Canyon to the north, Arapahoe to the south, 17th St. to the west, and Folsom to the east. It’s quiet largely because it’s nearly cut off from the rest of the street network. The only through access to the area for cars is 22nd Street, which connects Canyon and Arapahoe north-south. At the same time though, the area is relatively permeable to bikes and pedestrians, with little pocket parks and community gardens making some of the north-south connections at 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd Streets, which all connect Arapahoe and Canyon. Running east-west, Grove Street becomes Grove Circle, connecting 15th all the way to Folsom St. for pedestrians.
If you’re willing to walk through the parking lot by James Travel and Mondo Robot, you can get all the way from the Farmer’s Market to McGuckins on very quiet streets.
As a bicyclist, you can get through too, but it’s not designed to make it easy. With some relatively minor changes to the Grove corridor, we’d be well on the way toward creating a Neighborhood Greenway like the ones Portland, Oregon has been putting in. Streetfilms looked at them in this video:
Two bicyclists have been killed at the intersection of US-36 and Violet Avenue since 2009. The most recent was TJ Doherty, on July 24th, 2012. Both cyclists were headed southeast on US-36, and were hit by cars traveling northwest, making left turns onto Violet. In this area US-36 is just outside of Boulder’s city limits, in the county, but it’s the Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) that’s responsible for it. Looking at the aerial view below we can explore why this intersection might be particularly dangerous for cyclists.
Northwest bound vehicles on US-36 have a dedicated left turn lane, and no obligation to stop before making their turn. The angle that Violet Ave. makes with the highway is quite oblique, meaning that it can be taken at high speed, and because US-36 has a speed limit of 55 mph in this area, cars often will take it at high speed if they don’t see any oncoming traffic.
From a southeast bound bicycle’s point of view, there’s no obviously correct place to be on the road, if they’re planning to proceed through the intersection. The shoulder on the west side of the road narrows to a few inches, and it’s to the right of a right-turn-only lane. If you ride all the way to the right, you risk a vehicle turning in front of you onto Violet. Your intent to continue through the intersection is also unclear to oncoming traffic. Most cyclists instead take a position that’s well within the right turn lane, to prevent right-turning vehicles from passing them and immediately turning right in front of them. However, this lane position still leaves their intent ambiguous to oncoming traffic. Alternatively, you might choose to straddle the line separating the through travel lane and the right turn lane. This makes the bike relatively visible, and more clearly conveys the intent to continue through the intersection, at the expense of potentially sandwiching the cyclist between right turning vehicles and very fast moving through traffic. If the cyclist instead chooses to behave exactly like a motor vehicle, moving into the through lane of traffic, the very large difference in speed between the bike and the other vehicles in that lane creates a hazard. Thus, there’s no right place for a cyclist to be on this road if they’re planning to continue through the intersection.
When we combine the unavoidable ambiguity of the through cyclist’s intent with the very high left-turning speeds of oncoming traffic, we have a recipe for disaster. A recipe which has killed two people in three years.