Master Street Plan vs. Complete Streets

The City of Little Rock’s Master Street Plan is our reference document for planning our transportation network. It is an excellent guide, but its content does not always reflect the intention of the Complete Streets Ordinance. This is understandable given that the ordinance had not been passed before the most recent revisions of the Master Street Plan were made.

Altering the portion of the Master Street Plan that is the Master Bike Plan (Sections 4 and 5) is important but perhaps not sufficient to institute the changes necessary to plan for the multimodal transportation network the Complete Streets Ordinance mandates. Altering the design standards of different types of roads in our transportation network to include multimodal infrastructure may help facilitate implementation of these features (pgs. 10-24 of the Master Street Plan).

Amendments may include:

1) Including bike lanes as a design option, or even a design standard, for Principal Arterial streets (pg. 10-12 of the Master Street Plan).  

There is currently no design option for bike lanes on a Principal Arterial street in the City of Little Rock (a Principal Arterial typically has a 45mph speed limit), meaning that the Master Street Plan makes it difficult for city staff to install bike lanes on this type of street (Fig. 1).  This seems to be in conflict with a Complete Streets Ordinance that encourages city staff to consider the need for bike facilities on all streets, including Principal Arterial streets, unless one of five exceptions is met.

Figure 1.  Current design standard for Principal Arterial in Little Rock's Master Street Plan, pg. 10.

There are understandable concerns about adding bike lanes on Principal Arterial streets.  University Ave., for example, is on the Master Bike Plan to get bike lanes between Markham and Kavanaugh (Fig. 2).  

Figure 2.  The Master Bike Plan calls for bike lanes on University between Markham and Kavanaugh (yellow highlight), but the Master Street Plan does not have a design option for bike lanes on a Principal Arterial.

Do we want to encourage bicycle traffic on streets as busy as these and would bike lanes require additional pavement? I put these questions to Steve Clark, the League of American Bicyclists representative who audited Little Rock for our Bike Friendly Community designation.  This is some of what he had to say:

"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

It should be noted that Principal Arterial streets would be prime candidates for separated bike lanes.  It may not be useful, or maybe even counterproductive, to install unprotected bike lanes on Principal Arterial streets if they do not decrease bike commuter stress enough to encourage the bicycle as a viable mode of transportation on Principal Arterial streets.

2) Elevate the Minor Arterial (pg. 13-16 of the Master Street Plan) design option that includes bike lanes to the Minor Arterial design standard.

Figure 3.  Current design standard for Minor Arterial (speed limit typically 40mph).  Note no bike facilities are included in the standard (pg. 13 of the Master Street Plan).

The Complete Streets Ordinance flips the question traditionally posed to bicycle advocates "Why install bike lanes on this street?" to city staff "Why NOT install bike lanes on this street?"  This is the power of the Ordinance, to identify the bicycle as a legitimate transportation mode that must be accommodated within our street network. This is not to say that we should install bike facilities on all streets.  The need for bicycle connectivity must be balanced by the need for street parking, the realities of current road widths, and other concerns.  City staff must have the flexibility to install optimal facilities for each street after considering all of the needs for each street.  This is why an option of "no bike facilities" is important for every street type.  However, if the Complete Streets Ordinance encourages staff to accommodate all modes of traffic, including bicycles, as a default, and Arterial and Collector streets are designed in space and with traffic controlling measures to both move people and access properties (pg. 5), should the design standard for Arterial and Collector streets include bike lanes?

Figure 4. The design option for Minor Arterial streets that includes bike lanes (pg. 14 of the Master Street Plan).

Note the "special approval" language below the design option including bike lanes in Picture 3.  This language reflects a pre-Complete Streets Ordinance approach and should probably be removed from the Master Street Plan.

3)  Establish which facilities are typically intended for which street type.

The Master Street Plan includes a table listing general design specifications for each street type (Fig. 5).

Figure 5.  Summary of design standards for each street type (pg. 8 of the Master Street Plan).

This table could be expanded to consider other traffic modalities, consistent with the Complete Streets Ordinance.  Sacramento, for example, considers bicycle and mass transit modes of transportation in their table (Fig. 6).

A new row, "Bike lanes" could be added with the following entries: Expressway: No, Principal Arterial: Yes, Minor Arterial: Yes, Collector: Yes, Local (Res): No, Minor Res: No with a footnote (#9) attached to each entry, which reads: "Typical bike facilities for each street type.  Exceptions in the Complete Streets Ordinance or atypical need for bike lanes on particular expressways or residential streets may lead to different decisions."

Figure 6.  Table from Sacramento’s Complete Streets Best Practices Report.

4) Include buffered and protected bike lane design options in addition to non-protected bike lanes.

A "buffered" bike lane is a bike lane separated from vehicular traffic lanes by a striped "no man's land" (Fig. 7).  It provides people on bicycles an added measure of protection from distracted drivers drifting into the bike lane and hitting the bicyclist from behind.  

Figure 7.  A buffered bikeway in San Jose, CA facilitated by a reduction in the number of vehicular traffic lanes from five to three.  Photo provided by Steve Clark - League of American Bicyclists.

A "protected" bike lane is a bike lane separated from vehicular traffic lanes by some physical barrier (a row of parked cars, bollards, planters, etc.).  This adds an even greater measure of protection for bicyclists from motor vehicles, but care must be taken that lines of sight between vehicles and bicycles still exist, especially when motor vehicles cross into the bike lane to turn onto a street or parking lot.

Figure 8.  A protected bikeway on Dearborn St. in Chicago, IL facilitated by 9.5 foot vehicular traffic lanes.  Photo provided by Steve Clark.

MassDOT published an entire book on best practices for installing separated bike lanes which has now become the standard.  These types of bike lanes (buffered, protected, and separated bike lanes) require additional space in roadways.  Including these design options in the schematics within the Master Street Plan will provide these options to be front and center for city staff when considering options for new and resurfaced streets.

5) Include sidewalks on both sides of the street for the design standards of Collector and Residential Streets.

Navigating Little Rock as a pedestrian can be challenging.  Some sidewalks have fallen into disrepair and begin and end with little apparent plan for connectivity.  One way to begin to address this is to create a Master BikePed Plan.  Another way to address this is to include sidewalks on both sides of the street as a design standard for Collector and Residential streets.

Figure 9.  Sidewalks are only installed on one side of the street in the design standard for a Collector street.

Figure 10.  Sidewalks are only installed on one side of the street in the design standard for a Residential street.