Steps to Silver - Engineering

One of the most dramatic differences between Little Rock and an average Silver-certified community is the quantity, quality, and connectivity of our bike infrastructure. A dense, interconnected network encourages ridership by creating safe, efficient connections between origins and destinations. Quality on-street bike facilities make streets operate more safely and efficiently for cars and bikes. Increased bike parking opportunities ensure a trip can be securely ended close to destinations.  Connections between origins and recreational trails create car-free active recreation opportunities and leverage recreational trails for transportation.

This page will consider the Engineering aspects of LAB's Attributes of a Bicycle Friendly Community and especially Little Rock's 2016 LAB report card (Fig. 1) to gauge the progress made between 2016 and 2018 and identify goals to work toward between 2018 and 2020.


Figure 1.  Little Rock's LAB report card in May 2016.  Engineering items highlighted in yellow bordered by red.

"Great questions John and yes, it's something that is both challenging and essential.

The reason we look at this as a metric [percentage of arterial and collector streets with bicycle lanes] is because in most cities, the most crashes (especially when controlling for exposure) happen on major streets.  Typically they involve people using bikes for transportation but because the street does not have any dedicated space for bicycling, people are using the sidewalk where sight lines are poor and motorists aren't expecting cyclists as they pull out from side streets and driveways.

It does not work for a city simply to determine that these streets are inherently unsafe for bicycling [...].  Cyclists will continue to use these streets for the same reason motorists choose such streets: they get you where you need to go, and often times faster than any other alternative.  Just from an equity standpoint it is essential to make the arterials safer for everybody; people live and work on these streets.  Sometimes even schools and important community centers are located on these streets; and of course major retail outlets are found on these roadways. And in most cities (Little Rock included) the only roads that cross rivers, limited access highways, railroad tracks, and other barriers are major roadways."

- Steve Clark, League of American Bicyclists

Key Steps:

  • Institutionalize the language of the Complete Streets Ordinance
  • Amend the Master Street Plan to be congruent with the Complete Streets Ordinance
  • Improve the Master Bike Plan to provide more and better connectivity and be more actionable when roads are resurfaced

Key Steps:

  • Support Recycle Bikes for Kids to ensure that everyone has access to a bike for recreation and transportation
  • Expand the bicycle transportation network to increase the perception and reality of safety
    • Close the loop to provide a safe east-west corridor from which other connectivity can be established
  • Establish a bikeshare system downtown and beyond to provide connectivity to those who did not commute to downtown by bicycle
  • Community Outreach: Better understand barriers to ridership so that they can be addressed
    • Work with Recycle Bikes for Kids
    • Establish relationships with neighborhood associations
    • Expand feedback platforms
      • wikimap

Key Steps:

  • Create an improved and more complete bicycle transportation network
    • Connect pieces of bike infrastructure to create complete routes
    • Create better bike infrastructure (buffered and protected bike lanes)
  • Educate drivers to better coexist with people riding bicycles
  • Offer more bicycle safety education opportunities

Key Steps:

  • Establish a City of Little Rock standard style and color bike rack
  • Install bike racks in same focal area as bikeshare program to facilitate its success
  • Expand the focal area of bike rack installation as bikeshare focal area expands

Key Steps:

  • Support the multimodal mandate of the Complete Streets Ordinance by dedicating more funding to bicycle infrastructure.

In a Silver community, 30% of their roads have bike infrastructure, while 5% percent of our roads have bike infrastructure (Picture 1, circled in red).

 

Figure 1. League of American Bicyclists report card for Little Rock on May 2016.  Infrastructure circled in red.

Little Rock is far from Silver levels in these metrics. We are primarily installing bike infrastructure as we resurface streets to make the cost of bike facilities nominal to the taxpayer. Using this strategy alone, given the number of miles the city intends to resurface from 2016-2018, it is unrealistic that we will approach Silver levels by 2020. However, reaching these benchmarks by 2020 may be less important than appreciating the extent of change needed in our transportation system to get Little Rock to the next (still modest) tier of bike-friendliness. Given this, we may need to be more aggressive with our planning and implementation for bike infrastructure in order to position ourselves to eventually reach Silver status and beyond.

Quantity AND QUALITY

As we look forward from our May 2016 Bike Friendly Bronze designation to consider how to improve our on-road bicycle facilities, it's also important to understand our end goal is not to increase the number of bike lanes on our streets or to get a League of American Bicyclists designation, but to make the bicycle a safe, comfortable, and convenient transportation option in Little Rock.  To do that, we must understand why residents choose to use their bikes, their cars, and other transportation alternatives for their trips.  When I ask residents why they don't bike commute more often, the answer I most often get is that they don't feel safe doing so.  The Complete Streets Ordinance mandates considering bicycle facilities when creating and resurfacing streets, but not all bike lanes designs are equally effective at reducing bike commuter stress.  

A study in Portland, OR found that most residents were interested in bike commuting, but were uncomfortable riding in the same space as motor vehicles.  MassDot used the results of this study, coupled with their own outreach, to create the following graphic:


Picture 2.  Most people are interested in bike commuting but concerned about riding with motor vehicles.  From MassDOT's Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide, Chapter 1, pg. 5.

So if we want to dramatically increase ridership, we must design for the 60% of the population that is "Interested but Concerned".  How do we do that?  By creating a "low-stress bicycle network" that, whenever possible, separates bike lanes from vehicular traffic.  There are many ways create this physical separation; here are a few:

Picture 3. Some methods of physically separating bicycle lanes from motor vehicle lanes, from MassDOT's Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide, Chapter 3, pgs. 36-37.

Here are some strategies to increase the number of bike lanes on our streets, the connectivity the network of installed bike lanes achieves, and the quality of bike lanes to decrease bike commuter stress and thereby increase ridership: