Orange County Branch Newsletter
Bikeways in Orange County
By Steven King, P.E.
By: Steven King, PE
While my hometown in Illinois is currently on the verge of dropping below zero degrees, I can’t help but be thankful for Orange County’s ideal climate to be able to enjoy outdoor recreation year-round.
The term “it’s like riding a bike” implies that once learned, it is easy to recall how to do. It’s been nearly 20 years since I was last on a bicycle, which was about the time I upgraded for a driver license. Yet late last year, I decided it was time to try again and give bicycle commuting a shot.
Orange County has over 1,000 miles of bicycle trails and the Santa Ana River trail is close to both home and my office – this eased my apprehension of how do I get to and from work. This was the perfect opportunity to get a little more exercise, improve my health and try active transportation. Day one: visit my local bike shop and purchase all my gear. Day two: grab some water and hit the street for a trial run to the office. With an eight mile commute, most of which were on the Santa Ana river trail, I didn’t think much of my journey ahead.
I took off downhill and it was smooth sailing until I reached an arterial highway and quickly realized that urban cycling wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought; cars flew past in each direction and I couldn’t wait to get off the road and onto the trail. Far too quickly on the trail however, my ride was interrupted by a construction detour and I was back on the street. The remainder of my trip, I spent most of my time looking over my shoulder for speeding cars than I did where I was headed. I eventually made it to the office safe and sound, but as a novice cyclist, I really didn’t want anything more to do with sharing the road after that experience.
While my story may not be all that uncommon in Southern California, I think many people would love to try new commuting options to avoid our congested freeways. What keeps me from cycling more often is really the lack of a safe environment. The experience added more stress to my routine and I’ve only tried it again a handful of times.
While many of our cities and local government agencies are making great strides toward implementing complete streets and bicycle projects, I was very pleased to read that Caltrans took another step toward prioritizing multimodal transportation by releasing Design Information Bulletin 89, Class IV Bikeway Guidance on December 30, 2015.
The Protected Bikeways Act of 2014 established Class IV Bikeways for California and required Caltrans to establish design criteria for separated bikeways. The design criteria and guidance in DIB 89 provides designers flexibility to exercise sound judgment when designing projects and is meant to be used in conjunction with other design guidance such as FHWA’s Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide, NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide and the Caltrans Highway Design Manual.
Depending on the site conditions, the guidance recommends 3 to 5 feet minimum separation between general lanes and the bikeway as well as inflexible physical barriers or flexible posts. It allows for implementation with a variety of features such as on street parking, curbs, or adjacent sidewalks and details options for critical decision making points such as intersections, alleys, driveways. Safety features are recommended to protect drivers, cyclists and pedestrians in these critical areas. As designers, we can truly enhance our transportation facilities by looking for more opportunities to implement multimodal features into each of our projects.
Considering our already robust bicycle infrastructure and ongoing efforts to expand the system, Caltrans prioritization of bikeways and context sensitive solutions is likely to create synergies that might transform the way we think about commuting in the years to come.
As for my current commute? I’m still more comfortable riding on trails, but I will happily welcome a few more separated bikeways along the route to make the ride a little less frightening. And in the meantime, I continue to share OCTA’s “Bike Smart, Bike Safe ” video, see below, with everyone I know to ensure drivers are aware they must give cyclists at least 3 feet of clearance when passing in the same direction.