Creating and Integrating a
Commuter Cycling Infrastructure: A Comparative Exploration of Problems and
Solutions in Alternative Transportation
States of America is obsessed with cars. We are the number one consumer
of oil in the world, with 20.5 million barrels drained daily. To put this
in perspective, China, the world’s number two consumer of oil relies on 7.2
million barrels per day (1). Such a striking disparity between levels of
consumption in the United States and abroad speaks to our immersion in, and our
dependency on, car culture. Many of our cities reflect this in the way
that they have been designed and built, though, as our world changes (with peak
oil looming, global warming on our minds and congested roadways stressing us
out) our cities must change as well. In many cases, the present
automobile bias marginalizes the access of commuter cyclists to cities and
discourages potential newcomers from considering cycling as a viable commuting
option. However, according to Missouri Revised Statutes Section 307.188:
“Every person riding a bicycle… upon a street or highway shall be granted all
the rights and shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a
vehicle” (2). The law clearly promotes equal access and equal
Columbia, MO along with three other U.S. cities (Minneapolis, MN, Sheboygan County, WI and
Marin County, CA) are developing pedestrian and cycling infrastructures with
the help of a $286.5 billion dollar highway bill (3). As part of this
pilot program, each city will receive about $5 million dollars a year for five
years. With these infrastructures in place, lawmakers (and those involved
in making it happen locally) believe commuters will be able to navigate safely
throughout their respective cities, to and from schools, businesses,
neighborhoods and recreational areas. So everything is peachy keen now,
right? Not exactly. While finding funding is a formidable initial
hurdle in the development of a commuter cycling infrastructure (with the added
obstacle of convincing local taxpayers not to cut existing funding in light of
the windfall), the actual creation and integration of such ideas into concrete
form in a community is the complicated part (though national oversight should
expedite the process). Each of the communities mentioned above has
developed a master plan to be implemented with the funds provided by the
federal government. This paper will explore problems arising in the
implementation of these plans in Columbia, MO by looking closely at problems
encountered and solutions generated by other cities (Amsterdam and Copenhagen in Europe, as well as Portland, OR, Boulder, CO and Davis, CA stateside) in the
development of such infrastructures. To keep things organized, four key
issues will be discussed with regard to Columbia, MO... how to develop
effective: 1. green routes (bike only pathways not adjacent to any roadways) 2.
cycle tracks (pathways adjacent to roadways that are separated from both auto
traffic and pedestrians by curbs on either side) and bike lanes 3.
intersections between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians and 4. parking
infrastructure. These are fundamental pieces of the infrastructure that
will make Columbia a city accessible to cyclists.
If you were to
drive west along Nifong Boulevard by the Super Wal-Mart in south Columbia, you
may or may not notice the pathetic bike lane wedged between the road and the
curb. If you do notice it, you may not even realize it's a bike
lane. That's how small it is... Nevertheless, traffic flies by on this
stretch at about 55 mph, driving through the bike lane en route to everyday low prices. Often, there is debris scattered
along the side of the road here and along other routes, just waiting to give a
cyclist a flat tire. This represents the sort of infrastructure that is
useless to many in the community. While experienced riders may take this
route if they have no other choice, it isn't even an option for schoolchildren
or less experienced riders. If the city wants to promote a modal shift
in the transportation patterns of the community, they will have to focus on
infrastructure that opens routes to experienced and unexperienced riders
alike. Green routes on the other hand, do not run adjacent to any
roadways, making them safe for riders of all ages and skill levels. These
routes must connect the neighborhoods of Columbia with the schools of Columbia,
so that parents will feel comfortable letting their children pedal to school actively, as opposed to riding the bus.
Columbia has a
great network of existing trails as well as a green belt that will facilitate
the development of these safe school routes. However, lots of new trails
need to be built and they need to be accessible from as many neighborhoods on
the existing school bus routes as possible. While the community on a
whole is supportive of this project (4), and I have no doubts that it will
reach fruition eventually, I suspect more than a few will be none too pleased
to allow the construction of a trail in their backyard. Such concerns are
understandable, would you want a bike lane cutting between your house and your
next door neighbor's? Land acquisition is perhaps the most difficult
obstacle in creating these routes. Aside from NIMBYism, Columbia is a city full of developers and
business people with community clout that might seek to develop land and vacant
lots that are needed for the construction of trails as stated in the current
plans. Working with public-private partnerships to keep them happy will
land needed to complete the project, other concerns exist over how to construct
these trails. The central issue here is whether to develop
concrete/asphalt trails or packed gravel trails (4). Runners prefer
packed gravel because it is softer than concrete/asphalt and allows a lower
impact workout. However, such trails are not as accessible to those in
wheelchairs (an important part of the PedNet Project). Additionally, while
cyclists can manage just fine on gravel trails, concrete/asphalt is cleaner,
may be cleared and salted in icy conditions, and makes for a faster
commute. Concrete/asphalt is also far more expensive in terms of initial
investment and in maintenance, though it lasts longer. Additionally,
concrete/asphalt can generate runoff and erosion problems in adjacent areas.
I have already
addressed some of the problems with existing bike lanes in Columbia and
elsewhere. An alternative to bike lanes is the european cycle track, or pedway as Columbia prefers to call them (4).
Essentially, a pedway is a road for bicycles, separated from both motorized
traffic and pedestrians (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). There are two main
issues concerning the development of these pedways; location and
construction. These pedways will provide a safe and comfortable commute
in areas with heavy traffic and higher speed limits. These are the busy
thoroughfares of the commuter cycling infrastructure and thus must be built in
areas that have the potential to be heavily used by commuters. So the
locations for these pedways must satisfy the first two considerations, while at
the same time dealing with NIMBYism on the parts of homeowners and business
owners with property adjacent to any proposed routes. It's simple,
either the roadway will be made smaller for cars, or made larger to include
bikes. Either solution steps on someone's toes. Some business
owners in the Columbia have expressed concerns over whether the construction of
pedways will necessitate the removal of valuable downtown parking (10).
Other difficulties include working around the aboveground placement of certain
utilities in the path of re-development.
most difficult task for planners, is how to construct safe and efficient
intersections that work for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.
Resentment of cyclists by motorists stems partly from the casual attitudes of
some cyclists towards the rules of the road (rolling through red lights and
stop signs...). Intersections need to have structures in place to manage
cyclists in the same way that traffic signals and crosswalks manage motorists
and pedestrians. The challenge is create a standardized scheme that will
work in many different locations throughout the city. Everybody knows
what traffic signals mean (green for go, yellow for slow, red for stop).
Similarly, easy to understand bike signals need to be developed that cannot be
confused with either standard traffic signals or pedestrian crosswalk signals.
Other difficulties include when to let cyclists merge with traffic, like in the
downtown 'District' neighborhood of Columbia where cyclists can generally keep up with traffic due to low speed limits. When do you use existing traffic signals
and when do you rely on the new infrastructure? How do you make the
transition between the two smooth and intuitive if both are to be used?
How will existing intersections be modified when they incorporate a new pedway
versus a painted bike lane? When should an overpass or underpass be
considered as an alternative to an intersection? Figure 3 illustrates a
difficult intersection in Columbia at Ash and Stadium where the sidewalk
ends abruptly before the intersection, blocked by aboveground utilities.
Stadium Boulevard is a major arterial with heavy traffic that will challenge
planners to create innovative solutions to connect residents and businesses to
the west of it with residents and businesses downtown and throughout Columbia (4).
making commuter cycling convenient is the presence of adequate parking
facilities and a supportive infrastructure in place to encourage people to ride
their bikes regardless of where they're headed and how long they will be
there. Finding solutions that place bikes close to central entrances and
foot traffic, as well as pedways and roads, is the first step.
Additionally, cyclists want secure parking spaces with "a heavy duty
material to lock onto... racks that won't scratch frames... racks that will
hold bikes up... racks that may be properly used with a u-lock..."
and "shelters for long term parking" and inclement weather (5).
Moving on to a
discussion of solutions to these problems, let us start with what Columbia is
doing and planning to do with the federal grant money. Listed in the
Interim Report on progress as the highest priority projects are the following (6):
- MKT, Hinkson Creek and Bear Creek trail projects with six neighborhood connections.
- Acquisition of additional trail ROW for four trails.
- Downtown and MU hub/spoke bicycle lanes.
- Demonstration bicycle route project in downtown.
- Three intersection projects.
- Five bridge overpass projects.
- Demonstration grate replacement project.
- Downtown bicycle racks.
- University projects (including shelters, racks, striping, and trail extensions).
- Neighborhood and school-area sidewalks.
- Three pedestrian walkways.
As a conceptual framework, Columbia has planned its bikeway network as a
bicycle wheel with a hub in the middle representing the District and the University of Missouri - Columbia campus with spokes projecting outward along waterways
when possible (4). The first project seeks to connect green routes with
six different neighborhoods. This will serve as a template for
integrating more neighborhoods into the green route network, enabling children
to commute to school as well as giving individuals and families greater access
to recreation areas. The expansion of neighborhood and school-area
sidewalks, mentioned near the end of the list, will work hand in hand with the
aims of providing a safe active means of transportation to in from school for
children (4). Columbia has an innovative plan to transition non-cyclists
to recreational cyclists, and then to use the acquired confidence and skills
learned to make these recreational riders become commuters. The second
project will build on the first through the acquisition of land to be used for
the development of four new green route trails. How this will happen has
not been detailed yet, though. Columbia Mayor Darwin Hindman stresses
that creating interconnectivity in the community is one the central goals of these
projects (4). The third project will build up the infrastructure of the
central hub and spokes in the District and on the MU campus by marking bike
lanes. This project along with the fourth project to develop a
demonstration route in downtown Columbia will make the goals of PedNet visible
to the community and will act as a stepping stone to continued expansion of the
network. Additionally, the seventh, eighth and ninth projects (all
involving downtown and the MU Campus) will serve to further increase the visibility
and accessibility of commuter cycling in Columbia. The most intensive
projects listed are the five overpass bridges, three intersections, and three
pedestrian walkways suggested for development. Busy roads can act just
like rivers, dividing up groups of people who live only a block or two
apart. If people don't feel comfortable crossing on foot or bike, they
won't, they'll take a ferry... in this case an automobile. These projects
will build the interconnectivity that Mayor Hindman emphasized.
Two overpass projects were detailed in particular, the Clinkscale to
Cosmos I-70 Overpass Bridge and the Douglass School - Providence Pedestrian
Overpass and Flatbranch Park Pedway connection (6). The first will
connect cyclists and pedestrians north of I-70 with downtown Columbia and other
areas south of I-70, as well as provide access to the Cosmopolitan Park
Recreational Area north of town to cyclists and pedestrians south of
I-70. This bridge does not exist in any form yet and will be constructed
from scratch. On the other hand, the Providence overpass connecting with
the Flatbranch Park Pedway will retrofit an existing and outdated pedestrian
bridge that already exists over Providence road just south of Rogers and Worley
and north of Ash. Both of these projects are described as
"signature" projects in the report, which may be a nice way of saying
that they will cost more than everything else.
Now I would like to look to other cities in the U.S. and abroad, relating
their alternative transportation solutions to the state of affairs in Columbia,
MO. While Amsterdam may be better known for its bikes, Copenhagen, Denmark is one of the most cyclist friendly cities in the world. Two
fantastic videos on YouTube.com (see references (7) and (8)) illustrate this
point far better than any language could. The first is titled "Cycle
Copenhagen" and gives a five minute introduction to cycling in the
city. Some interesting facts from the video are the presence of gas tax
in Copenhagen that makes it cost roughly $6 a gallon, additionally, there is a
200% tax on the purchase of motor vehicles; it is little surprise that cyclists
are given priority in city planning over motor vehicles (7). For
instance, when buses stop to let passengers on, the bus blocks automobile traffic,
but not bicycle traffic (7). The taxes levied in Copenhagen have the
intended purpose of encouraging people to choose alternatives to automobiles,
including bicycles and mass transit. However, as one Copenhagener
comments in the video, by the time you have the bus routes figured out you
could be there on a bike (7). In Columbia much less the U.S. at large,
there are presently no plans to tax automobiles more than they already
are. Thus, PedNet organizers in Columbia have taken a different strategy to
encourage people to bike, involving what they call social marketing, which they
define as "mass media marketing (radio spots, possible ads in
publications, etc.), such as... (a) radio and poster campaign conducted by the Health Department... targeted at specific audiences to create 'a buzz' and
promote and generate interest in the program" (6).
Copenhagen has green routes in addition to cycle tracks (8). There
are signals for cyclists at all major intersections (if an intersection is busy
enough to have traffic signals for motorists, it's busy enough to have them for
cyclists). Figure 2 depicts a cycle track in Copenhagen, showing how
cyclists, motorists and pedestrians, as well as parked cars and bicycles, can
all fit along one street. Large-scale parking facilities are available in
the city, complete with showers and lockers. The city center is closed
off to all motorized traffic. Because so many people in Copenhagen
commute on bicycle, their cycling infrastructure is developed and rich with
taxpayer support. While Columbia differs from Copenhagen in population,
density, geography and laundry list of other ways, there is always something to
learn from a successful model. Amsterdam is another successful model,
sharing all the features of Copenhagen's infrastructure mentioned above.
Both Copenhagen and Amsterdam share a common trait that distinguishes them from
many U.S. cities, their population density is much higher. Amsterdam wins
out with an urbanized area population per square mile of 12,649, whereas
Copenhagen registers at 7,413 (9). These numbers are a little dated, but
the point stands nonetheless. In dense cities, things are closer
together, whether these things are homes, businesses or entertainment.
This facilitates alternative forms of transportation such as cycling.
Columbia is a unique city which seems to straddle two ends of the spectrum, in
some respects, embracing the American custom of taking up as much space as one
can afford, while on the other hand, the city center, adjacent neighborhoods
and the MU campus are poised to take advantage of a commuter cycling
infrastructure and smart growth. By beginning the PedNet project in the
most densely populated area of Columbia (6), planners have started off on the
right foot (or wheel).
Returning to the four central issues of developing a commuter cycling
infrastructure, I would like to elaborate on what Columbia can learn from each
of the cities listed in the introduction. The successful development of
green routes is crucial to the success of the PedNet Project. These will
get people riding. Davis, CA is an example of a city that has an
extensive system of green routes that are frequently used by children commuting
to school (Davis got rid of school buses in 2005) (12). In Copenhagen and
Amsterdam, like many other densely populated areas, green routes, or even parks
for that matter, are cherished not only for their beauty, but because they
don't have the ability to make them any more. They've run out of space
(an inference from my travels abroad). Columbia still has space, and
strong community support for a greenbelt. These are valuable resources
for the community that must be protected. Additionally, cycle tracks and
bike lanes need to be integrated with existing infrastructure. Which is
to say, bike lanes need to be created downtown without a net loss in parking
spots for motorists (10). Business owners are concerned that losing close
proximity parking will result in lost business. However, in my opinion an
individual would be more inclined to swing into a shop on a whim on a bicycle
than driving a car. With the parking infrastructure in place for bikes,
it will be much easier to hop off a bike and lock it up, than to find a parking
spot in downtown Columbia and get out of the car to walk two blocks back to
whatever it was you wanted to check out. Nevertheless, taking a cue from
Portland, Oregon, Ted Curtis (in charge of planning the PedNet Project) has
suggested back-in diagonal parking (so drivers can see cyclists before they
pull out and roll over one) will allow for the addition of bike lanes without
the removal of parking, while looking after the safety of cyclists (10).
With increased development of cycling infrastructure, more people will begin to
ride because of a positive and significant correlation between such investment
and commuting (it's the Field of Dreams effect... "if you build it they
will come...") (11).
Bibliography: (APA w/ in text reference numbers)
Information Administration (2006) Non-OPEC
Fact Sheet. Retrieved
November 6, 2007,
(2) Missouri Revised Statutes (2007, August 28) Chapter 307 Vehicle Equipment
Regulations Section 307.188.
Retrieved November 6, 2007, from
(3) Frommer, Frederic J., (2005, July 29) Highway bill includes $100
million for trail pilot programs.
Retrieved November 1, 2007, from http://www.marinbike.org/News/Articles/AP25M.shtml
(4) PedNet (2007) Various
November 2, 2007, from http://www.pednet.org
(5) City of Columbia (2007) Non-Motorized Bicycle Parking Plan. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from
(6) City of Columbia (2007) Interim Report on PedNet Project. Retrieved on November 1, 2007, from
(7) Youtube.com (2007) Cycle
November 12, 2007, from http://www.youtube.com
(8) Youtube.com (2007) City
of Cyclists: Parts 1-5. Retrieved
November 12, 2007, from http://www.youtube.com
(9) Public Purpose. (2000) Population Density Ranking and Roadway Speed:
International Urban Areas: 1990/1991. Retrieved
on November 6, 2007, from http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-intlsp&dens2.htm
(10) City of Columbia. (2007) Columbia Special Business
District Board of Directors Meeting Minutes. Feb. 13, 2007. Retrieved November 12, 2007, from http://www.discoverthedistrict.com/pdf/minutes/minutes_sbd_feb2007.pdf
(11) Dill, Jennifer & Theresa Carr. (2003) Bicycle
Commuting and Facilities in Major U.S. Cities: If You Build Them, Commuters
Will Use Them. Pedestrians
and Bicycles. (Electronic
Version, p. 122) Retrieved November 12, 2007 from http://pubsindex.trb.org/document/view/default.asp?lbid=663874
(12) City of Davis. (2007) Bike Information - Bicycles and Davis - City of
November 3, 2007, from http://www.city.davis.ca.us/bicycles/info.cfm
the text, I reference images at these locations)
fig. 1 from
fig. 2 from http://www.bikearlington.com/cycletrack.cfm
3 from pednet.org
4 from http://goamsterdam.about.com