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March 12, 2015

Bikes vs. Chairs

I really love bikes.  The mechanics, the precision, the freedom, the sense of accomplishment.  I've biked all over (triked, really).  I worshipped at the feet of Lance, before they turned out to be made of clay.  But I have a couple of questions about the proposed bike lane on University Avenue.


There is unhappiness about changes to accessible parking.  On planet Earth, there is no good implementation of accessible parking.  There is little enforcement, the number of spaces has nothing to do with the number of permits, the lone driver sprints from the car, the nearest curb cut is often far away.

As a wheelchair user, a regular width space does me no particular good, and because I'm a passenger, never a driver, being close up against the curb makes transfer difficult.

Here's the thing:  people with disabilities want to be treated the same, not differently.  Don't try to tell me how special I am by giving me a blue parking space.  Tell me how special I am by giving me a job and some fairness.  As one of it's "Priority Outcomes" HRM swoons about Universal Design.  There is a standard for a Universal Design parking space; make them like that and I'll take my chances, just like everyone else, on finding one that's convenient.

Think of it: all parking is accessible.  Doubtless the answer is "Well, Universal Design except for parking"

If your teenager is out getting a bag of chips at the corner store, he isn't tempted to use his mother's Accessible Permit to duck in for a sec.  If he finds a space, it's his.  For me, the same applies;  if I find a space, it works;  if I don't, I'm in the same boat as everyone else.

And free?  Don't make it free, make it useable.

Pilot Project

I'm not sure why this is characterized as an experiment.

These are the natural language objectives of the experiment:
  • This is a valuable exercise to inform active transportation initiatives in the community and the first step in implementing Dalhousie's vision for the renewal of University Avenue.
  • The goal of this pilot project is to test best practices in cycling infrastructure, demonstrate the enhanced safety of a separated bike lane, and encourage increased ridership for cyclists of all ages and abilities.
Not to be pedantic, but an experiment requires some very specific steps:
  • Observation
    • a separated bike lane is a good way to encourage urban bicycle transport
  • Hypothesis
    • separated bike lanes are safer
    • their advantages outweigh disruptions 
  • Prediction
    • People will have  more confidence in separated bike lanes 
    • There are fewer accidents
    • There will be more bikers
    • There are benefits to us all
      • less use of automobiles
      • more equitable use of infrastructure
  • Experiment
    • To know if the protected lane works like you predict, you'd need something to compare it to.  An authentic experiment would be fun and interesting, maybe even educational. Here are some things you might experiment with:
      • some protected stretches, some unprotected
      • a range of pavement markings
      • lane differentiation at intersections (there are lots of intersections)
      • a one-way side street
      • a side street with a bike lane
      • crosswalk tables
      • some sections with parking, some without
      • eye-level traffic signals like in Amsterdam
This project is a prediction without any experiment.  A guess, not an empirical study.

University Avenue: The experiment.

We aren't privileged to learn of Dalhousie's vision for the renewal of University Avenue.  Probably there is a move afoot to have a memorable entrance and look more like Princeton.  

Just as a suggestion, an authentic experiment with UAve as the lab would be a visible reminder that learning is empirical and a good university serves the community.  

In a real experiment, at the same time you watched bike lane behaviour, data could be accumulated on parking spaces.  There are a ton of smart parking apps, meters that will send you a text, sensors to direct you to free spaces, different prices at different times, remote control of emergency priorities.

And you could try some other tricks to increase bike ridership
  • Subsidized leases
  • Bike culture promotion
  • Shower and locker facilities


I'm concerned that an infatuation with biking will distract HRM's attention from correcting its fundamental and longstanding failure toward pedestrians.  At best, biking is a sometime thing.  The weather, the time of day, your other plans.  But being a pedestrian is eternal.  You have to cross the street, you have to get in the door.  More bikes won't help.    I wrote about this seven years ago yet HRM still insists on installing those useless and pathetic fan-shaped curb ramps - it's like Newton never lived.  Send those engineers to the woodshed!

And Finally

I can't help thinking of the boulevard separating the halves of University Avenue.  If safety and convenience are the prime considerations and Dal wants to have a new look, why not transform the Gobi Desert into something like this?

Rethinking the traffic circulation might yield even more bonuses.  If side streets were one way leading away from UAve, the boulevard could be continuous.  

My guess is that Dal and HRM would reject this on some variation of the sacred historical integrity defense so often used to deny access to wheelchairs.  

Often called Inertia

Gus Reed

1 comment:

David Sobotta said...

Emerald Isle has done a wonderful job of a separated bike lane that goes 4.4 miles. What I don't know is if they have thought much about accessible bike parking. We tend to be luckier on the coast since many of our parking spaces are designed for trucks. In NVa parking spaces are tiny. I agree with the suggestion that all parking spaces should be accessible. The older you get the harder it is to get in and out of vehincles. Here is a link to EI bike path http://www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd/Parks/bikepath.htm