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.
Last fall I and other representatives from Community Cycles participated in a discussion with the city and various stakeholders regarding upcoming redevelopment along Pearl Parkway. I wrote about the experience and the Transit Village Area Plan (TVAP) more generally from the perspective of a human-powered urbanist. Mostly, we looked at different possible streetscapes for Pearl Parkway between 30th and the railroad tracks. The property at 3100 Pearl Parkway is slated to be developed in the near future, as a 320 unit rental apartment complex, and as one of the first major developments in the area plan. The city is interested in experimenting with novel street treatments in order to try and make the place special and attractive. Community Cycles got involved largely because the TVAP “Connections Plan” had, with minimal fanfare, superseded the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) and removed the bike lanes which had long been planned along Pearl Parkway in favor of off-street only infrastructure. We felt that this change was not necessarily in the best interest of cyclists, and wanted to ensure that whatever did end up getting built would be safe and efficient.
After I got done moving all my stuff into Masala, I had to return the trailer to Community Cycles. Tim needed to work on his bike (and renew his membership…) so I gave him a lift out to the shop. The Bikes at Work trailers aren’t really meant for hauling people… but with a capacity of 300lbs, they’re certainly capable of it. I’d really like to have a decent setup for moving another bike around without the trailer. A way to just hook the front end of the rear bike up to my rear rack, allowing it to roll on its own. More photos below.
Every year, Boulder organizes a fun ride called the B360 in June to help familiarize new riders with the bikeways, and to highlight newly added paths and lanes that those of us who ride every day might not know about (especially if The Google hasn’t yet been notified of their existence…). If you ride here at all you’ve probably seen the faded little stencils all over town saying B360 and B180. Well, this is where those stencils come from!
We put out a survey in early March (more detailed summary here in PDF format), asking a bunch of questions about the bicycle habits and desires of Boulderites, and we’ve gotten nearly 200 responses. This is an attempt at a summary.
A large majority (83%) of respondents reported using their bikes as either their primary (53%) or secondary (30%) mode of transportation. This isn’t too surprising, since we targeted cyclists in promoting the survey. It’s important to realize though that at some level, our most important audience is people don’t currently bike, or identify as cyclists, but who could be potentially be enticed into riding given the right inducements. This group is important both because it’s large, and because it’s not “the choir” in terms of preaching. It isn’t your base that you aim for in politics, it’s the undecideds. At the same time, the current cyclists are the political constituency that we are trying to represent in an advocacy context.