Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's the real conflict between bikes and parking?

It is an article of faith that, in Newton, there are two major impediments to bike accommodations: too narrow streets and legal parking. Combine them and they eliminate the possibility of bike lanes. There just isn't room in the right of way for travel lanes, bike lanes, and parking. That requires at least 20' -- 9' travel lane, 4' bike lane, and 7' parking shoulder -- and more like 23' in each direction. So it's posed as an either or: bike lanes or parking.

But, maybe things aren't as bad as they seem.

Along the streets where parking is principally overflow parking, there is no real competition for space between bikes and cars. The shoulder is predominantly available for cycling and a striped shoulder separates bikes from traffic pretty well. But, because of regulation, that nice space for biking can't be designated as an official bike lane. A bike lane can't be striped where cars can legally park.

For long stretches, it isn't a conflict between actual cars and actual bikers, but a conflict of regulations.

On those long stretches of road, why isn't a striped shoulder enough? From my own experience (principally on Beacon and Winchester) the stripes keep the cars out of the shoulder. But, the goal is broader than making life safer for the bikers on the road now. We want to encourage more riders. And, unfortunately, the stripes don't attract new bikers to the shoulder.

Less advanced riders, the riders we need to attract to our city streets, don't feel comfortable without more explicit bike accommodations.

So, what are we to do? One option is to disallow parking, at least from the stretches where parking is infrequently used. That's certainly a better balance of accommodation for bikes and cars: full time access for bikes at the expense of occasionally used parking. But, it invites a political battle.

What if there were a way to create bike accommodations that attract new riders without taking on the parking regulations? The answer lies in this bit of reality. If the regulations did allow parking and a bike lane to co-exist on these up-for-grabs stretches of road, the actual incidence of parking wouldn't be too much of a concern. Occasionally, a biker would have to go out into the road. Not ideal, but much better than what we have now. And, not too different than what you see with the occasional illegally parked car in official bike lanes in other cities.

Next up: the solution.

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