Phoenix’s First Protected Bike Lanes Are More Than Paint On A Street

By Annika Cline, Mark Brodie, Steve Goldstein
Published: Friday, October 13, 2017 - 3:13pm
Updated: Friday, October 13, 2017 - 6:34pm
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(Photo courtesy of City of Phoenix)
A biker rides down the 15th Avenue protected bike lane as a car passes.

This week, the city of Phoenix installed its first protected bike lanes. You’ll find them on a stretch of 15th Avenue, between Van Buren and Jefferson streets. That’s only about 0.3 miles one way. But it’s a positive sign for biking advocates like Sean Sweat. He’s president of the Urban Phoenix Project, a group that advocates for walking, biking and public transit in downtown Phoenix.

“It’s really good to see us getting our first protected bike lane. I mean, stripes are not enough. There has to be a vertical element, there has to be protection,” Sweat said.

The lanes on 15th Avenue include plastic posts in between the bike lane and the car lane. These signal the divide more clearly to drivers, and keep them from illegally parking in the bike lane. There are a lot of ways to create a buffer for a protected bike lane — it could also be a curb or planters or parked cars.

Sweat said that protection is critical for the group of people he calls interested but concerned. These are people who would bike if they felt safe enough doing so.

“When cars are going quickly and when a car is 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 pounds and you’re just a person on a bicycle, you want to make sure that you’re safe and feel safe. So protected bike lanes are really what's required to get this majority of people feeling comfortable, like biking is an actual option for them,” Sweat said.

Eileen Yazzie is a special projects administrator in the city’s street transportation department. She said there are more bike lane improvements to come.

“Kind of in the past three to five years, we really have been shifting our focus on how we look at our streets right now,” Yazzie said. “Previously we looked and it was, how are we moving cars?”

Now they’re considering pedestrians, buses, light rail and bikes. In 2015, voters approved the Transportation 2050 plan, which includes a goal of 1,080 miles of bike lanes. Yazzie said that breaks down to about 31 miles per fiscal year — and they’re on track.

But beyond mere mileage, Yazzie said they’ll keep looking at places where protection can be added to bike lanes.

“There’s an idea on Third Street — can we shift parking closer to the vehicle lane, and then put the bike lane closest to the sidewalk?” Yazzie said.

That’s the kind of protected bike lane Sweat would like to see: a lane buffered by parked cars.

“That’s the holy grail of a protected bike lane: parking protected. That’s really the best way because a post is not really going to stop you from a car that’s careening out of control, whereas a parked car — having a 3,000-pound obstacle is,” Sweat said.  

He added it would also be easy, because it’s just a matter of re-striping the road to indicate that cars should park on the other side of the bike lane.

Yazzie said they want to pilot new ideas for bike lanes on a small scale first.

“We need to address driver expectancy. Are drivers going to be aware there are parked cars? Again, other cities do this, but we don’t have that here yet. So looking to pilot different options as we move through the different projects,” Yazzie said.

She said they’re projecting to stripe 38 brand-new miles of bike lanes by next summer, but says that number could increase as the year goes on.

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