So a few weeks back, I explained why a streetcar would function better on 12th Ave compared to the Broadway alignment. Most people seemed to agree that this would be a much better route due to the opportunities it would provide for a healthy, lively community. But one worry I have heard repeatedly is that a streetcar down 12th would interfere with an integral bike corridor, connecting South Downtown to Capitol Hill. Its a legitimate worry. As anyone who bikes regularly knows, the SLUT tracks wreak havoc for those on two wheels. 12th Ave, with its well-marked bike lane and gradual slope, would be an irreplaceable route to lose.
But it is very important to understand that the problem with Westlake is a design flaw, not some inherent problem with sychronizing streetcars and cycling. In fact, many of the world’s most bike-friendly cities use streetcars as an essential part of their transportation infrastructure. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and even Portland all use streetcars effectively without limiting accessability for bikers*. Here is an example from a street in Amsterdam:
Perhaps the most interesting item of note here is that the bike lane is raised from the street. This is because in most of Europe bikes are considered a form of soft traffic along with pedestrians. They have found that the risk of serious injury to citizens is much lower when bikers are with walkers instead of when bikers are with cars. Although a biker/walker collision might be painful and annoying, its almost never life-threatening. In addition, the added comfort provided to bikers significantly improves the accessability of cycling.
If I’m not mistaken the roadway here is 60ft wide. Vehicle lanes are typically 10ft wide and there would be four lanes of traffic, one car-only in each direction and one car/streetcar in each direction (grey and black). Instead of parking the sidewalk would be extended out another 10ft (blue and green) with your standard 5ft bike lane painted on top. Near the streetcar would be a 5ft section of pedestrian sidewalk for easy loading/unloading onto the rail line.
What I love about this design set up is that its really a benefit for everyone. Vehicles still have an extra lane to avoid traffic from left turns, pedestrians get a shorter crossing distance to walk across the street, and bikers get to relax a little and stop worry about car doors. Oh, did I mention there is also an awesome streetcar!
Now, I’m sure there are some challenges here that I’m overlooking and I would love for you all to point them out in the comments. But my main goal is simply to illustrate that through thinking a little differently about how we manage transportation, both streetcars and cyclists can thrive in the same corridor.
*Portland has had some issues with a recent Streetcar route but they are currently updating their Bike Master Plan and Streetcar Master Plan simultaneously in order to plan better in the future.
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