About Traffic Congestion and Bicyclists at Intersections

By Dom Nozzi

October 15, 2014

Congestion

I serve as a member of Boulder, Colorado’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). In the fall of 2014, I suggested that TAB take a position opposing the City transportation objective that seeks to limit increases in traffic congestion (an objective that I think is undesirable for several reasons – see below).

The Chair of the Board at the time questioned my judgment by saying it was inappropriate for TAB to revise or remove the congestion objective without getting input from citizens or businesses. The City had engaged in a multi-year process of gathering comments from citizens, and there was no call for revising or removing the congestion objective, I was told.

I responded by saying that citizen comments are not always the basis for crafting a new objective for the City’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP), revising an objective, or removing an objective. For example, it was probably not citizens who called for an objective seeking a “reduction in VMT to 7.3 miles per capita and non-resident one-way commute VMT to 11.4 miles per capita.” Or “80 percent of all residents living in complete neighborhoods.” Or “reduce SOV travel to 20 percent of all trips.”

Instead, the task of Council, staff, and advisory boards is to use their knowledge of professional research tempered with citizen desires or comments to craft objectives that will achieve overall quality of life desires of citizens.

I pointed out that the congestion objective flies in the face of several objectives of Council, citizens, and professional research because it results in the following:

  • Increased GHG car emissions and gas consumption (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in GHG emissions and gas consumption)
  • Increased SOV travel
  • Increased regional (in-commute) car trips to Boulder
  • Increased levels of dispersed sprawl (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in sprawl)
  • Reduced amounts of bicycling, walking and transit (citizens have often stated that they would like an increased number of trips by bicycling, walking and transit by Boulder residents)
  • Increased speeding (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in speeding)
  • Promotion of Big Box retail, and a reduction in locally-owned small businesses (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in Big Box and protection of small, locally-owned businesses)
  • Harm to residences and local businesses due to big, high-speed roads and the nuisance and danger of high-speed, high-volume car traffic (citizens and business owners have often stated that they would like an improvement in conditions for residences and local businesses)
  • Increased social isolation (reduction in social capital) (citizens in Boulder have often stated that they would like more neighborliness and sociability)
  • Road narrowing is strongly discouraged (citizens in Boulder have often expressed a desire for road narrowing. One example was at the Walk/Bike Summit, where many called for road narrowing.)

Given the above, revising or removing the congestion objective, I noted, strongly supports expressed citizen and business owner desires, and it is therefore appropriate for staff, Council, or advisory boards to call for such a change.

Bicyclists Using Intersections

The chair also stated, in response to staff proposals that a second left-turn lane be added at intersections, that bicyclists would prefer less congested intersections because like motorists, they want to be able to make left turns or proceed forward without missing green lights at intersections.IMG_2987

I responded by pointing out that as a lifelong bicycle commuter and academic researcher regarding bicycle travel, I can unequivocally state that low-speed two- or three-lane roads are far safer and more comfortable for bicyclists than roads widened to several through lanes or multiple turn lanes. An enormous number of bicyclists would feel extremely uncomfortable on big, multi-lane roads or at huge, multi-turn lane intersections, and would therefore never consider using such roads or intersections on a bike.

Nearly all bicyclists pass a waiting line of motorists and queue up at the front of the waiting line when waiting for a signal light to change (partly for safety reasons). Therefore, a long line of waiting cars typically does not force bicyclists to miss signal lights.

Free-flowing car traffic (briefly) created by widening a road or intersection induces a very large “speed differential” between cars and bicyclists. High speed cars are extremely uncomfortable and unsafe for bicyclists. Therefore, an intersection enlarged to two left-turn lanes (to reduce congestion) is extremely undesirable to bicyclists.

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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation

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