Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bike Ped 1:Fog Lines

Part one on cycling issues. Some of the argot is obvious (bike/ped) and others not so (fog line). My second year of attending the Moving Together conference for bikes, walkers and motor vehicles was yet again education. A few related posts will follow. None, zip, nada has any relation to marriage in Massachusetts.

Last year's one-day meeting was in Worcester. This one was in Boston's theater district. It was an exhibit and series of presentations on topics to this incestuous little community. Warning-sign vendors, bike lobbyists, the head-injury lady, road designers and bureaucrats nestled in non-contentious information exchange.

highway fog linesLet us consider those fog lines. Those are the painted stripes on the outside of a paved road, separating the lane from the shoulder. They are also known as end lines.

They are worth mentioning because they might be down-and-dirty cycling safety within the reach of both urban and rural areas. Who'd a thunk it?

In the unlikely setting of the presentation on the almost-released Massachusetts Highway Design Manual, fog lines emerged as such a quick fix. The short of it that if you repaint the line 2 or 2.5 feet into the lane, cars still have lots of room and bikes suddenly have enough shoulder to pedal safely. Tradition and inertia have conspired to prevent such commonsense solutions.

Note: The manual should be ready for public presentation starting in a few weeks.

Most of us have not been aware that the state is trying to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians, including road and crossing design. It has mandated for a couple of years that any rebuilt highway or street has to have safe room for all three modes of travel.

Whining and wailing sometimes accompany this rule. In the sticks, it's, "Oh, no. You want to demolish this 321-year-old historic stone wall by making us widen the highway for the two cyclists a week passing this way. " In the city, it's, "We gotta move the trucks and cars to keep Massachusetts working. Do you want to destroy our economy for bicycles?"

Meanwhile, Boston (as we cyclists can tell you in graphic verbiage) sucketh mightily for biking. The main drags in Cambridge at least have narrow bike lanes, which delivery trucks routinely consider FREE PARKING, but still offering a modicum of refuge in transit.

Boston has only a few miles of cycling paths from no place in particular to kind of where it is useful to go (Jamaica Pond to Fenway, Forest Hills to Northeastern). It hired a very part-time bicycle advocate (laughingly referred to as the bike czar) and Tom Menino had him canned at the first budget squeeze. While I always found him (Paul Schimek) to have been far too mild and obsequious, others disagree. One cycling advocate at the recent conference said that Paul irritated City Hall in his advocacy and was cut because he pushed the wrong buttons.

At the highway-manual presentation, word was that where exurban communities cannot afford to widen roads, they can generally just repaint the fog lines when they resurface. VoilĂ , a shoulder/bike lane suddenly appears! While it is half as wide as national recommendations for safe cycling lanes, it is adequate and cyclists would welcome it. Meanwhile, the rural governments are delighted at a cheap fix and some extra protection against lawsuits.

So, could that work in Beantown? Of course. A few gallons of paint would put the triangles and bike symbols in the lane. Boston could get the phone number of the suppliers from Cambridge.

Apparently, Boston's City Hall has some NIH problems on top of its resistance to change. Many other communities may simply not know yet that they can do the right thing for free. It is beholden to us cyclists to talk it up.

Read additional rants and coverage at Bike Ped 2 and Bike Pet 3.

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