The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is recommending several new bike facilities for adoption by the Federal Highways Administration. Those identified here are easily-implemented pavement markings that would better safeguard riders negotiating hazardous Beverly Hills intersections. Adoption by NCUTCD would lend support for in-state inclusion in our state’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which is required before local transportation agencies deploy a traffic control treatment. Let’s take a look at a few that were recently recommended.
Of the dozen or so new facilities recently recommended by National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee, there are three that could help riders navigate Beverly Hills intersections not upgraded over the past half-century. By ‘upgrade’ we mean the incorporation of good practices we see rolled out in neighboring cities: durable thermoplastic, continental-style (aka ‘zebra’) crosswalks, and of course bicycle lanes that help position riders for safe transit though. Here in Beverly Hills our markings fade quickly because we won’t use thermoplastic (for reasons unknown) while we’ve just begun to use the new crosswalks. And our bike lanes are few.
Bicycle Lane Extensions
Marked extensions to bicycle lanes running through intersections help riders get across intersections that can span 10 lanes or more and reduce uncertainty and ambiguity by providing a marked path. Per the NCUTC’s committee recommendation report, they “denote the expected path for bicyclists and advise motorists that bicyclists are likely to use the intended path.” Thus it’s a facility that serves both riders and drivers. Even better, the NUCTC recommendation suggest coloring them green!
Now we know what you’re thinking: What use is a lane extension when Beverly Hills has so few bike lanes, and those that we have only span a few blocks? We’ll suggest here putting this cart before the horse if only because we have several particularly hazardous intersections that would benefit from immediate help. And extension markings might be the thing. Consider the Wilshire-San Vicente intersection for example. What a mess it is!
The issue here is that San Vicente is very wide (it once accommodated streetcars) and is divided by a median. And Wilshire is a race course. Both make traversing this intersection a high-stress endeavor. But City of Los Angeles is already upgrading their side of San Vicente with bicycle lanes. Hopefully Beverly Hills lanes will come soon. Lane extensions are the next step.
What about the Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection? This perennial LOS-level F juncture needs all the help it can get. But unfortunately it’s in City of Beverly Hills which appears in no hurry to improve it. We’ve suggested the need for immediate improvements but hear from city transportation officials that it might not happen anytime soon – perhaps not until phase II of the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction.
Looking ahead, though, bicycle lane extensions might be just the ticket because today’s traffic flow clearly compromises the safety of riders. The only caveat: can extensions can be striped if there is no existing adjacent bike lane? Proposed lanes for Santa Monica Blvd have run into political headwinds.
The Bicycle Box
Oh the venerable bicycle box! Currently considered an ‘experimental’ design by our state’s MUTCD, the bike box serves a simple but useful purpose:
Similar to a recessed or advanced stop line, a bicycle box creates a reserved space in front of one or more travel lanes, but outside of pedestrian crosswalks, for bicyclists to wait for a green signal ahead of queuing motorists.
The virtue of the bicycle box is that improves the visibility of cyclists by putting them ahead of motor traffic. It also gives riders a head start on turns if there is no dedicated bicycle signal (which is most every intersection in the region).
Among the benefits (as cited by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) are that groups riding together clear an intersection more quickly and minimize impediments to traffic; that the box helps to prevent ‘right hook’ conflict with right-turning vehicles; and that it keeps riders from breathing exhaust while queued and contributes to the rider’s perception of safety. All good reasons for Catrans to officially adopt the Bicycle Box. Both City of Davis and Santa Monica have been granted permission from Caltrans to ‘experiment’ with it.
We hope that NCTUCD follows the NACTO’s Urban Design Bikeway Guide recommendation and adopts this traffic control device so that local agencies like Caltrans might include it in the local toolkit.
Two-Stage-Turn Queuing Box
Among the most diminutive of traffic control devices is the Two-Stage-Turn Queuing Box, “a waiting area for bicyclists to queue to turn left at an intersection by first proceeding to a position to queue at the [far] right side of the intersection,” according to the NCTUCD’s technical committee’s recommendation. More:
In locations where conventional left turns are prohibited or where bicyclists’ merging to a conventional left-turn would be inconvenient, a two-stage left turn can be utilized… The distance traveled for a two-stage left turn is longer…but a two-stage left turn may nonetheless save time if the merge to the conventional left-turn position is blocked by traffic congestion.
Many larger intersections appear suitable for this treatment because riders may feel uncomfortable crossing two or three lanes of fast and aggressive traffic to reach a left-turn lane. At intersections like Westwood Boulevard at Santa Monica, for example, the two-stage box might be what’s best. Behold this beauty!
At such locations, the two-stage turn queuing box would allow the rider to stay right in order to navigate a left turn through the intersection. By simply progressing to the far side and waiting for the green light (as depicted in the diagram at right), she crosses no passing traffic. So heading southbound to turn left (east), the rider takes her place in the queue box on Santa Monica (bottom left in the diagram) and waits for the eastbound green. No need to cross busy Westwood Boulevard traffic!
These three traffic control devices are no-brainers and we wait for inclusion in California’s MUTCD. But there are other ‘experimental’ treatments used in California and they await approval for statewide deployment. Among those of interest are City of Long Beach’s buffered bike lanes, green shared lane markings, and bike signals; and San Francisco MTA’s red-colored pavement for transit-only lanes. The Federal Highways Administration enumerates experimental control devices across the country with 16 currently active evaluations of all kinds underway here.
We hope that all of these facilities are simply the beginning of an effort to re-engineer our streets to make them safe for bicycling. Like the Vision Zero initiative argues, streets must be forgiving of human error; it’s simply good enough to just move traffic. Looking ahead, we will see that we’ve lived through dark times when it comes to managing multimodal traffic. Caltrans and local transit agencies have for far too long done too little to keep riders safe.