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Your View: West Broad Street’s bike lanes would make it safer for pedestrians, cyclists

Traffic moves along West Broad Street in Bethlehem. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
Traffic moves along West Broad Street in Bethlehem. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)
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We are writing on behalf of CAT-Coalition for Appropriate Transportation to voice enthusiastic support for Bethlehem’s West Broad Street separated bike lane project.

Separated bike lanes have the potential to be transformative for the city and offer big benefits to the community if they are implemented responsibly. Every detail matters for success.

For readers new to the lingo of urban bicycling infrastructure, there are many kinds of bike lanes, to deal with many kinds of traffic and road conditions.  As defined by the Federal Highway Administration, a separated bike lane is “an exclusive facility for bicyclists that is located within or directly adjacent to the roadway and that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic with a vertical element.” In many cases, this involves putting bike lanes between parked cars and the sidewalk.

Over the last 10-15 years, separated bike lanes have become ubiquitous in cities around the U.S. and globally. As public support for separated bike lanes grows, it is clear that CAT’s dual role is (1) to educate and inform bicyclists and motorists about new ways of driving related to separated bike lanes; and (2) to encourage implementation of smart designs that make separated bike lanes as effective as possible.

There are big reasons to implement separated bike lanes on West Broad Street. From a safety perspective, the street is too wide, encouraging motorists to drive too fast, and pedestrians have too far of a crossing distance. Separated bike lanes would transform Broad Street into the spine of a city that prizes humanity over highways.

The primary benefit of West Broad Street’s separated bike lanes would be traffic calming that slows speeding motorists where it matters, in the heart of the city where people live, walk and bike. Studies show that pedestrian safety drastically improves when drivers travel 25 mph versus 35-45 mph.

A second major benefit would be that separated bike lanes and curb extensions would shorten pedestrian crossing distances by more than half. This covers more than 20 intersections along a 2-mile corridor, in direct proximity to five schools and 20,000 residents. To boot, incorporating LANTA Enhanced Bus Service bus stops and shelters into curb extensions mean buses would not have to cross the bike lanes to stop.

A third benefit of separated bike lanes over conventional bike lanes would be that by moving street parking away from the sidewalk, cars and delivery vehicles would not cross the bike lane to park, and by including a door zone buffer, motor vehicles would not risk opening a door into the bike lane. It would also provide a calmer environment for pedestrians and local businesses.

Every detail matters for implementation: Designers need to provide enough visibility between motorists and cyclists on the approach to every intersection and driveway. The designs of Broad Street’s bike lanes are not yet available, but we at CAT urge designers to offer ample sight distance for safety of bicyclists travelling at 20 mph, the maximum legal speed for e-bikes in Pennsylvania and a speed that can also be reached by bicyclists without motors in many cases.

Turning motorists will need to look in the bike lane before turning and yield to bicyclists who are travelling straight. A bicyclist travelling at 20 mph will appear quickly, especially to a driver slowing down to make a turn. Signs and traffic signals could encourage drivers to avoid conflicts.

Other design considerations will determine success, such as: provisions for bicyclists to make left turns, drainage, surface maintenance, and sweeping in all seasons.

The timing for bike lane implementation on West Broad Street comes as national and state professional design standards are being refined based on real world experience. The revisions of these standards include intersection sight distance guidance for the first time — something that CAT’s team has been discussing for more than 10 years.

Bike lane designs are evolving. New York City has 1,525 miles of bike lanes (644 miles protected). In Philadelphia, over the last 20 years, 340 miles of bikes lanes (25 miles protected) have been installed, and in that time the city has documented a 46% increase in bicycle ridership.

CAT’s review of publicly available crash data from PennDOT has shown that even in this era of smart phones and distracted driving, Philadelphia’s bicycle crash rate decreased by 61%, while fatal/serious injury bicycle crashes decreased by 14%.

Separated bike lanes are not going away. As cities and boroughs embrace them, they are becoming an integral part of roadway design around the United States.

West Broad Street is the spine of Bethlehem’s West Side. From a health and economic perspective, incorporating separated bike lanes furthers Bethlehem’s goals to be a vibrant, livable and climate-resilient community.

Scott Slingerland is executive director and William Meiklejohn is board president at CAT-Coalition for Appropriate Transportation, a nonprofit that advocates for bicycling, walking/ADA accessibility and public transportation in Lehigh and Northampton counties.

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