There are certainly streets that could be improved with a nice bike lane, right? Maybe I can think of a few right now. But there are a disturbing number of bike lanes and pseudo-separated bike lanes (behind rows of parked cars or some other sort of physical border) being installed on streets that previously had been considered pleasant bicycling routes -- a well-meaning attempt to attract timid riders to bike transport. The new facilities often result in some overall degradation of freedom and even safety for cyclists on those streets, unfortunately, which will bungle the whole plan in the end. Meanwhile, the really nasty streets for bicyclists continue as ever, untouched, and the city planners feel they have already done their bit for bike transport. This is a rut we need to escape while we still can.

I'd like to urge planning departments and bicycle advocacy organizations to consider street treatments and facilities that are really much more ambitious than bike lanes. Here are four superior ways to make bicycling easier, faster, safer and more attractive as a transportation option in American cities:

BIKE BOULEVARDS. A quiet residential street parallel to a busy arterial street can be transformed into a haven for truly efficient transportation of the two-wheeled variety, by turning the stop signs and discouraging or prohibiting motorized through traffic. Bike-actuated signals at major crossings, street sweepers, etc. Instead of sequestering them to one small section of street, Think Big -- turn entire streets over to bicyclists. This is not a new idea but one that so far has remained over on the Left Coast, Portland, Berkeley, Palo Alto. Let's spread it around already. It's time to expand upon and improve this ambitious idea.

SUPER SHARROWS. The new generation of shared-use marking is sharp and effective, an undeniable message for both drivers and bicyclists -- at least until it wears away. If these sharrows are good, wouldn't larger sharrows be better? I don't know, I say let's try it. The standard sharrow size leaves something to be desired. They could easily be, say, twice as large and still be reasonably sized. Sharrow standards have not yet been fully finalized, so there is still time to super-size them. A large enough marking will have the added benefits of making wear and faulty placement less critical problems, perhaps non-issues. Let's try extra large Super Sharrows and see if they can improve streets as much as I imagine they could. Along with the Super Sharrows, it would be a good idea to place smaller (maybe one-half the size of the current marking) sharrows, Mini Sharrows, in the center of left-turn-only lanes.

FULLY SEPARATED PATHS. Unlike the current facility flavor-of-the-month known as the 'separated bike lane,' a fully-separated path (Class 1 bikeway) can carry bicyclists right through the guts of a crowded city at speed for miles without encountering a single street intersection. So good, man. In sharp contrast, the so-called cycle track or 'separated bicycle lane' in favor today will necessarily take its users for a ride into one intersection after another, constant streets and driveways, alleys and Old Navy parking lot entrances -- really just a rehashed version of the sidepaths that were discredited in the 1970s. There aren't going to be too many potential locations for fully-separated bike highways in your town or any town. They need to be laid down next to rivers, canals, rail corridors, highways, things like that, which tend to be in limited supply. The beauty of it is, these fully-separated facilities are so powerful that you only need one or two of them to make a huge positive impact. This is exactly what we've seen in Denver with the CHERRY CREEK PATH and Platte River Trail. These paths should be about 11-15 feet wide for two-way traffic.

LOWER SPEED LIMITS ON CITY STREETS. American bicycle advocates have been dreaming about European sidepath networks and forgetting about a load of other factors that are just as important if not more important in fueling bike transport over there. If you want to get Euro, go for it. Don't half-@$$ it. This proposal is so ambitious as to be, perhaps, politically impossible.

You get the idea. Instead of attempting to smooth the fears of beginning riders or potential new riders with faux-separation on highly questionable sidepath-like bike lanes, let's break that vicious cycle. Instead of abandoning the streets, work on improving them. Make the streets better for bicycling (and walking) and augment the bicycle-friendly street network with a few nice fully-separated paths.

 

RELATED: DENVER'S CHERRY CREEK PATH , ONE FOOT , NEW ERA IN SIGNAGE 1,2 , BICYCULAR CYCLING AND THE LUNKHEADS ... , GOOD SHARROWS GONE BAD