Harmony on the Road

Harmony on the Road

Design Solutions Help Cars and Bicycles Coexist

Bicyclists and motorists have long had a strained relationship. Each knows, in theory, that they must share the road. But that hasn’t always meant they like it.

By designing more bike-friendly roads, bridges and trails, Burns & McDonnell is working to help the two groups peacefully — and safely — coexist. Bicycling, both as a mode of transportation and a means of recreation, is on the rise nationwide. “Cyclists now comprise between 2 and 5 percent of commuter traffic in some communities, and as much as 10 percent in some extreme cases,” says Ron Schikevitz, Burns & McDonnell municipal streets design manager. “With fewer cars on the road and more bicycles, we need to  rethink the way some roads, bridges and   trails are designed.”

Among the biggest challenges is finding ways to satisfy the needs of different types of cyclists. They range from the Spandex-wearing avid road cyclists who prefer to ride main thoroughfares to the recreational cyclists who only ride on designated greenways and bike trails. In the middle are those who prefer paths that are separate from but parallel to the roadway. “The best solutions find ways to accommodate all three groups,” Schikevitz says.

Putting Roads on a Diet

But how do you add a bike lane or a parallel  path to an existing road in an urban environment?

“One solution is to put roads on a diet,” says Dennis Koscielski, senior civil engineer in the Burns & McDonnell St. Louis office. “Let’s say you have a four-lane road,” he explains. “If traffic analysis indicates it has excess capacity, we might recommend converting it to a three-lane road — one lane going each way with a turn lane down the middle — and adding clearly marked bike lanes on either side.”

“Space availability often drives the solution,” says Koscielski. “If adding a dedicated, striped bike lane to a road is not feasible, we might instead widen the road by a couple of feet and add signage reminding drivers to share the road.”

Bridges create even more challenges.

“The Heart of America Bridge in Kansas City carries 60,000 cars and 100 cyclists a day,” Schikevitz says. “Still, some cyclists don’t always understand why cars should get priority.”

State transportation departments are listening, and they’re increasingly building provisions for cyclists into their design guides.

Harrington & Cortelyou, a Burns & McDonnell company that specializes in bridge design, has added non-traffic lanes to several bridges that link to pedestrian trails. Each one calls for a slightly different approach.

The new Missouri River Bridge in Hermann, Mo., for example, contains a single, eight-foot-wide combination bikeway and walkway that crosses the river and connects to the Katy Trail, a 237-mile route stretching across most of the state, says Kevin Eisenbeis, director of bridges for Harrington & Cortelyou. The popular trail is the longest continuous rail-trail in the country, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

“Just because we put a sign there directing  cyclists to the path doesn’t mean they will all use it,” Eisenbeis says. “Experienced cyclists often prefer    to ride on the shoulder of the road.” With that in mind, designers used special expansion joints on the roadway that would  not damage or snag  bicycle tires.

Greenways: New Community Connectors 

Among the most popular additions to many communities are greenways, bike trails that follow streams or pass through natural settings in an off-street alignment. These multipurpose trails typically carry all kinds of non-motorized traffic, from bicycles and rollerblades to walkers and wheelchairs.

“They’re one thing many people today want in their community,” Koscielski says. “They’ve demonstrated that they add  to property values and provide a connection to neighboring communities. In many ways, they’re generating the same kind of excitement that the construction of the  interstate highway system produced in the 1950s and ’60s, only on a smaller scale.”

Several cycling organizations have begun charting a U.S. Bicycle Route System akin to the interstate highways, receiving support from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Efforts are also under way by organizations such as the League of American Bicyclists to make riding city streets safer.

“What we’re seeing is a change in philosophy,” Eisenbeis adds. “Interest in cycling is picking up, and people realize the health and environmental benefits it offers. Many of the design provisions now in place are to simply help make motorists aware that cyclists are out there.”

“What we’re really trying to find is a happy medium where drivers and cyclists respect each other and are in tune with each other’s needs,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is keeping everyone safe in the process.”

For more information, contact Mike DeBacker, 816-349-6659.

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