As Fort Collins grows within limited boundaries, the population density (the number of people packed into each square mile) keeps increasing. This is especially true around Old Town and Colorado State University. But our roadways remain largely the same. (There’s only so wide a street can be when it’s bounded on both sides already with houses or businesses.) So we’re increasingly feeling the squeeze as we try to get around town by car. That’s where multi-modal transportation comes into play.
We might not be able to increase the size of the streets in town, but we can decrease the size of the vehicles by creating a safe, connected system of bike trails, lanes, and other infrastructure that takes cyclists (and pedestrians… and Transfort users…) into account.
One area that hasn’t been so safe, but that keeps getting more and more congested, is the intersection of Laurel and College. Tied for fifth in the list of most accident prone intersections for cyclists, improvements to this intersection were targeted in the City’s Bicycle Master Plan that was approved unanimously by the city council back in 2014.
What’s Changing on Laurel
(The aerial views below were taken from Google Maps and show what was, not what will be or what was completed this past week.)
The first phase of the Laurel Street Pilot Project is already completed. The road has been resurfaced and where there was once only a bike lane on the south side of the street, there are now buffered bike lanes on both sides. Buffered bike lanes are bicycle lanes with space (a buffer) between the bicycles and cars. The buffered lanes on Laurel also have bollards (those plastic pole type things that are spaced in intervals along the way). This buffered space helps motorists maintain the three feet of cushion between cyclists and motorists that’s required by law.
Five parking spaces were removed to make this happen.
Because there are two left hand turn lanes coming from College onto Laurel, and because of the parking on the north side of the street (which isn’t being reduced) there’s no room for a bike lane through this section. Instead the lane now has enhanced sharrows.
Sharrows are symbols that are painted in the traffic lane, indicating that cyclists are to use the lane. Enhanced sharrows just have extra lines on either side, making more of a “bike lane” feel in the center of the traffic lane. (When I checked Laurel street out this morning, I saw the sharrows, but no enhancing dashed lines.)
While all of the parking spots will remain in place on the north side of the street, the six spots on the south side have been removed. In their place is now a bike lane with a buffer along part of it, then a section of cross-over where cars can turn right and bikes can go straight. (More on this bit below.)
These two blocks of Laurel are Stage 1 of the pilot project. Stage 2 will involve the section between College and Remington.
In the last year or so we’ve had several buffered bike lanes added to our city streets. So the buffered lanes along this stretch of road are welcomed, but they’re not necessarily “new and exciting.” These will be our first enhanced sharrows, but to be honest, they’re still pretty much the same thing as the sharrows we’ve had in several places around town. (And maybe I misheard on the enhanced bit, as I didn’t see the dashes this morning.) But in this segment along Laurel we’ll be getting our first protected bike lane. That’s kind of a big deal.
While a buffered bike lane adds a cushion of space, a protected bike lane includes a physical barrier between the bike lane and the travel lane. In this case, the physical barrier will be provided by parked cars, with a painted buffer space between the parked cars and the bicycles so that cyclists aren’t doored by exiting passengers.
So between College and Remington, headed east, we’ll have more enhanced sharrows. But heading west will be the protected bike lane.
This stage of the project will be completed in tandem with the work that’s happening along Remington Street. (To find out more about the Remington Greenway, click back to an earlier Pedal Fort Collins post about the project.) At the interestection of Laurel and Remington we’ll be getting a mini-roundabout. This will direct cyclists right into the protected bike lane (although they’ll be able to easily use the traffic lane as well).
The north side of the street will lose three parking spots and the south side will lose two when these changes are made.
Thoughts and Concerns
Though I’m thrilled with this project, and I’m eager to see how it’s received by motorists and cyclists, I do have a few areas of concern.
First of all, I think it’s important to remember that just because there’s new infrastructure (meaning new lanes and such), that doesn’t mean that all car/bike interaction has been stopped. As the truck turning into a driveway above shows, you still have to be aware of your surroundings (whether you’re in a car or on a bicycle).
The photographs above were taken on the westbound section Laurel between Howes and Mason where there used to be cars parked and no lane at all for cyclists. So in that regard, this is a huge improvement. However, half of this bike lane is in the gutter. Gutters tend to collect debris. With the bollards in place, I’m wondering if street cleaning vehicles will be able to fit in here (and snow plows as well, come winter). There’s also a slight lip between the cement of the gutter and the asphalt of the street. Though this generally isn’t a problem, I have had situations where I hit that little lip just exactly right and it either jolts my bicycle or tips me right over. Ideally this will be ground down to create a smooth connection between the two street materials.
The gal shown in the above photo ended up turning left at Howes. Getting from this buffered lane to the left hand turn lane involved waiting until the cars had all stopped at the light, then weaving her way between them until she got to the open left hand turn lane. She could have continued straight through the intersection, stopped at the light and waited until it changed to proceed south on Howes. Or she could have skipped this new bike lane and ridden along with the cars to get to the left hand turn lane. Both would be legal.
Between College and Mason there are now two sharrows painted in the right lane of the road. At this point, biyclists should “take the lane” (which means they should ride in the center of the street, right along with cars). Motorists should treat the cyclist as a slow moving vehicle and either ride slowly behind or change lanes and go around.
I stood at this intersection through several lights and all but one car stopped behind the bike box as it should, which is very promising. Once phase two is completed, the bike box will make more sense, allowing bicyclists to get in position to take the lane as they cross College Avenue.
The car that you can see just to the right of the cyclist had just completed a right hand turn. One advantage of this design is that most of the cars heading east at this point turn right. (At least, that’s what I saw. I’d say three quarters or more of the cars turned right.) So motorists will be able to keep moving through this intersection despite the bike box if they’re making a right hand turn.
However, that does present a problem earlier one. There’s a point at which cyclists going straight and motorists turning right must cross. With less traffic, this didn’t appear to present a problem. The vehicles crossed amicably. But there were times when there were so many cars (and this large truck, which was turning right) that the cyclist had to wait for an opening. (This cyclist ended up cutting over to the sidewalk and crossing at the intersection.)
Everyone will need to be hyper aware at this point and courteous of those who have less metal wrapped around them as protection. I don’t know that anyone has particular right of way here other than whichever vehicle is reaches this crossing point first. But with cars traveling faster than bicycles, that could become a contentious issue. So rather than relying on the “I got here first” mentality, let’s be courteous and yield to the more fragile traveler (who is also the one shrinking the vehicles on the road so that more people can fit into the space).
Remember that all of this is a pilot project. That means it’s a chance to test these various options out and see if they improve the safety and comfort level of this segment of road. The project is scheduled to run for one year, at which point it will be evaluated on several points.
Increased use: The city had volunteers do cyclist counts at the various intersections to get a “before” number of riders. If the infrastructure works well, then there should be an increase in the number of cyclists willing to use this segment of Laurel. Hopefully that will be shown in the numbers next summer.
Increased accessibility to businesses: The businesses along this stretch of road are concerned about the number of parking spaces that are being lost through this project. But studies done across America have found that improving bicycle access and parking has lead to increased revenues for local businesses. Though bicyclists might purchase less per visit, more bicycles can be parked in the space of only one car, and cyclists tend to make more frequent visits than motorists. (Cities and businesses discover that cycling pays, by Carolyn Szczepanski on Urbanful.org, explains how improved bicycle infrastructure positively affects businesses.)
Increased safety: If the College and Laurel intersection drops off the list of top 5 most accident prone intersections for cyclists, then I think these changes are going to be a huge win. We want more cyclists to get out and about – not only for their own health but for the health of the community. We want businesses to do well. But over and above all that, we want people to be safe. If these changes don’t make a difference, then it’ll be time to go back to the drawing board.
I’d encourage you to take a few trips through this area and see how it feels to you. Take note of what feels comfortable, what doesn’t, and why. Then be watching for chances to give feedback to the city. We want to let them know what works, what doesn’t, and what we think can make it even better.
To read more about the Laurel Street project, check out this page on the City’s website.