Sunday, February 5, 2012

Bike Lanes On Hillsborough Street--An Important Vote Coming Up

If you are interested in the future of biking in Raleigh, please take note: A crucial debate is shaping up that affects Hillsborough Street, one of the most important bicycle corridors in our city.

The stretch of Hillsborough Street in front of the YMCA will soon be reconfigured and resurfaced. On Tuesday, Raleigh's City Council will take up this issue: Should the city put in two rows of car parking or two new bike lanes?

I hope Raleigh’s governing council moves our city forward by approving the bike lane proposal as recommended by the bicycle and pedestrian commission. I would encourage all cyclists to contact your city official and weigh in with your opinion. Let me make it easy for you to contact them:

Nancy McFarlane
Mayor Pro Tem
Russ Stephenson
District A
Randall Stagner
District B
John Odom
District C
Eugene Weeks
District D
Thomas Crowder
District E
Bonner Gaylord
Mary Ann Baldwin

I would also encourage all cyclists to show up on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the Raleigh Municipal Building to hear the presentation yourself. There is a City Council session at 1 p.m. and another at 7 p.m. I’m not sure during which session the Hillsborough Street discussion will come up. I do know that warm bodies in the seat, especially when they are wearing a cycling helmet, can make a big difference.

Two-Side Parking Or Bike Lanes?

The debate over parking versus bike lanes has arisen because two groups differ on how Hillsborough Street should be updated.

A nearby neighborhood group, the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association, wants on-street parking on both sides of Hillsborough. Raleigh’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, of which I am a member, studied the issue and recommended two 6-foot bike lanes with parking on ONE side of the street only.

The problem: you can’t have both. There’s just not room for two-side parking and two bike lanes within the street’s 54-foot width. The updated road would also have a center turn lane, which traffic engineers say is needed because of the high volume of traffic on the corridor.

The latest skirmish over parking versus bike lanes illustrates the hurdles the bicycle and pedestrian communities face as the city attempts to modernize its sidewalks and bike facilities. The neighborhoods that line the streets where improvements are made will look after their own interests. And that's understandable. Who among us wouldn’t push for similar protections for our own neighborhood?

The Cameron Park group is motivated in part by a desire to keep cars from cutting through their neighborhood, and they want to eliminate some of the spillover parking from businesses along the stretch of Hillsborough Street that abuts their neighborhood.

It should also be noted that the neighborhood is not opposed to bike lanes per se. They’re reasonable folks. Many of the residents embrace green initiatives. But if the choice comes down to two bike lanes or two rows of parking, the association will go to the mat for parking.

The Cameron Park neighborhood group may ultimately prevail. The leaders are organized, they are politically connected and persuasive, and they do their homework. A tip of the hat to ‘em. We members of the cycling and pedestrian community should take a page or two from their playbook.

But respectfully, isn’t it time we stopped fighting for yet another parking space? Raleigh’s official website describes our fair town as a “21st Century City of Innovation focusing on environmental, cultural and economic sustainability.” In my mind, the 21st century means moving forward with options that promote alternative modes of transportation. Like bicycling. Like walking. Like light rail.

Hillsborough Street is the most vital bike corridor in Raleigh, and possibly the entire state. It is hard to overstate its practical value as a cycling route past three major schools and the downtown high rises and state office buildings.

Raleigh has an ambitious bike plan in the works, and great progress is being made. Look around, and you'll either see new bike facilities in your neighborhood right now or you will see them soon. If you look at the comprehensive plan, you'll see that many of those bike lanes feed into Hillsborough Street, making it a strategic component.

Hillsborough Street is symbolically important as well. Having bike lanes on a street that ends at the Capitol Building sends a clear message – two-wheeled alternative transportation matters for our environment, our health and the vibrancy of our city.

Even Roads Go On Diets

The section at issue is currently four lanes, running approximately from Woodburn Avenue to Park Ave, near the YMCA.  A “road diet”  would chop down the lane count, freeing up space for facilities such as bike lanes.

The neighborhood has asked the council to adopt option #2, (see illustration) which keeps parking on both sides and uses sharrows, or shared lane markings, for bike traffic rather than dedicated lanes. Here is the option preferred by Cameron Park. (Note: "TWLTL" in the illustrations indicates a center turn lane.)

 The bike / ped commission considered multiple options for Hillsborough Street, including the shared lane one. We ultimately concluded that a separate bike lane treatment would be more likely to encourage cycling by less-experienced cyclists who may not be comfortable with the high volume of traffic on Hillsborough Street—as many as 17,000 cars a day. There was also the belief that parents heading with their children by bike to the YMCA would feel more secure using dedicated lanes.

We were aware that the Cameron Park neighborhood wanted on-street parking on this stretch. Thus, with sensitivity to the neighborhood’s interests, we selected Option #3 (see illustration), which calls for parking on one side of the street. We recommended parking on the south side of the street (the YMCA side) because it could accommodate 36 spaces, compared with only 31 parking spaces on the north side. We also believe that parking on one side and a bike lane next to the other sidewalk creates a comfortable buffer for pedestrians.

Which interest will prevail? Show up to Tuesday’s City Council meeting to find out. (One note: it’s possible the issue will be sent to another committee for further debate).

Here’s what is stated in the city’s agenda packet for Tuesday.  

Hillsborough Street Resurfacing and Restriping Evaluation

Resurfacing of Hillsborough Street between Woodburn Road and Park Avenue is scheduled to begin this summer. Staff has evaluated multiple options for restriping and pavement markings, which are currently configured as a five-lane section, to be more consistent with previous changes to Hillsborough Street west of Pullen Road and east of Morgan Street. Staff has engaged the community through a public outreach process and has presented the public with multiple alternatives for restriping the street, including provisions for adding on-street parking and to provide bicycle accommodations. The Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission and the Cameron Park Neighborhood Association were also consulted; each has provided recommendations regarding the proposed restriping. Staff will provide a short presentation on the principal alternatives under consideration.

Recommendation: Receive as information.

1 comment:

will alphin said...

excellent summary of the situation! the city needs these lanes!