Bike-in today! + the reasons South Boulevard bike lanes don’t work

I hope to see all of you at tonight’s bike-in! The event starts at 7 p.m.—meet on South Boulevard between 22nd and 23rd streets. Remember to ride in the bike lanes and practice safe cycling. Walkers are welcome too. More info on this post.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Bikes are not the problem. People on bikes are not a thorn in the side or a small group of outliers expecting accommodation. Instead, cyclists are a growing number of road travelers of widely varying ages, and the popularity of biking recreationally isn’t going to decline.

So when we talk about the problems with the city’s striping of South Boulevard, we aren’t looking for someone to throw cyclists the proverbial bone. Actually, that’s what we’ve got now. The skinniest of bike lanes feels a lot like a bad birthday gift, the kind someone gives when they don’t know you well but feel obligated to do something; it’s done cheaply and without a lot of thought.

But you got something, right? And shouldn’t that be enough?

Well, not really. Because here’s a sobering statistic: According to Streets Blog USA, “a tiny segment of streets—arterial roadways—accounted for 61 percent of bike deaths in 2016. That’s despite the fact that these roadways make up only about 10 percent of the nation’s total.” Now couple that with the fact that the South Boulevard bike lanes are so narrow they include the gutter, and you’ve got a death trap.

Back in the 1960s when urban renewal was hot, South Boulevard was classified as a minor arterial (that’s when the hospital was located on this street), and city engineers today are embracing that classification as they aim to funnel more traffic down the street to relieve other north-south roads. That alone is giving people indigestion, but at the same time engineers want to increase motorist traffic, they’ve chipped in a few paltry bike lanes.

The gold standard for road design is AASHTO, but our city engineers elected to follow NACTO guidelines instead when designing the current striping (please ask them why). Even with this alternative guide, the bike lanes don’t pass muster.

For instance, NACTO dictates that a buffered bike lane should be provided on streets with extra lanes, streets with high travel speeds, and streets with high travel volumes. If the city insists on embracing South Boulevard as an arterial, traffic volume will increase, and we’ve already got extra lanes. A buffered bike lane requires two solid white lines per NACTO—we don’t have enough real estate for that. As a note, the buffered bike lane is a “required feature” on streets with high travel volumes and extra lanes (and remember, city engineers hope to add another southbound lane by widening the road). More lanes should equal more space for cyclists. This is a safety issue.

Although NACTO says the bare minimum for a bike lane is three feet, it also explains that the desirable bike lane width to the curbface is six feet. City engineers counted the entire curb as part of the bike lane (you can see the measurements on their PowerPoint here, slide 8), although it’s obvious the curb can’t be ridden.

AASHTO insists that if the longitudinal joint in a bike lane is not smooth, four feet of ridable surface should be provided. We’ve clearly got a seam where the asphalt butts up to the cement gutters, which I’m guessing is one of the reasons the city had to go with NACTO guidelines instead.

I found these facts in 10 minutes on the NACTO website. I encourage you to take a look too. Just because someone claims to follow a specific set of guidelines doesn’t mean the guidelines are actually followed, and in the case of South Boulevard bike lanes, they’re not. If the city prioritizes safety, the lanes need to change.

Why haven’t we as a grassroots group dictated exactly what we would like to see for bikes? Because there are so many options available! There are sharrows, or a single, multi-use paved path (which citizens are asking for anyway) on one side of the road, or dropping the turn lane and making wider lanes for cars and cyclists alike. We want city engineers to consider all these options, and maybe they have, but we want evidence. We want to discuss because we care. And we pay their salary—same goes for the mayor because she has to approve these projects.

The Post Register reports that Mayor Rebecca Casper is creating a citizens’ committee for recommendations on ways to make Idaho Falls a community worth moving to. We are here are ready with suggestion number one. If you want a committee with a unified voice that’s 5,000-plus members strong, you’ve got it.

So let’s get to it. Let’s have conversations and compromise. There’s always more than one solution to a problem, and it’s time to find alternatives. •

One thought

  1. Brilliant. You nailed it completely and I am so grateful that you are leading this charge. It’s crucial to believe that we can gather facts, challenge experts, question their actions, propose our own ideas and take a stand for our communities. Thank you Rebecca! See you tonight.


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