It was just over a year ago that the Mason Corridor, complete with both mass transit and an extended bikeway running almost the length of Fort Collins, was completed. I’ve used the Mason Trail several times since it was finished, and while I’m thrilled at some of the improvements that were made, it appears that there’s still quite a bit that needs to be done before this is a safe transit corridor for cyclists — especially north of Prospect.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Let me start by saying that there are several improvements that are incredibly cool.
- The underpass to Target is da bomb.
- The overpass to Whole Foods is a bear to ride up, but it’s a whole lot better than getting your bicycle (with kid trailer attached) stuck on the train tracks when you try to cross (which is what happened to a friend of mine once). So despite being quite a journey to get from one side to the other, for the sake of safety it’s totally worth it.
- The level intersections along Mason Street are such a low key improvement that I’m already taking them for granted. But looking back, I remember my constant frustration with trying to cross Mason without the bumps of the train tracks tossing everything out of my bike basket and all over the middle of the street — which did happen to me far too often back then. Now I cross the tracks without really noticing them. That rocks.
- The ability to get through campus in a straight shot, instead of wiggling hither and yon on CSU’s segmented bike lanes, is a plus.
- And I appreciate that the project hasn’t stagnated. Several new improvements have been added since opening day, such as the bike light at Mason and Laurel and an additional pedestrian crossing light at Prospect.
But there are some things that I find frustrating.
- While other intersections saw improvements in signage and crossing signals, the intersection of N. Mason and Cherry has seen very little improvement, and both cyclists and pedestrians continue to find crossings difficult and dangerous.
- Despite the “no left turn” signs that have sprung up along Mason street, the number of people completing u-turns while looking for parking is stunning. And it puts cyclists at risk. (It’s hard to anticipate actions of people whose intention is to break the law.)
- It is unclear whether the “trail” along Mason Street is going to be maintained. Many sharrows are faded to the point that they’re almost entirely gone.
- Despite the addition of a bike light and sign at the intersection of Mason and Laurel, cyclists heading south still seem confused about how to traverse the intersection safely.
- Despite the addition of another crosswalk and light at Prospect, the existence of a social trail on the south side show that improvements are still needed. And it’s still uncomfortable squeezing between the signage, transformer boxes, and other equipment that clutter up the intersection on the north side of the Prospect.
- The curbs around the train tracks encourage wrong-way riding on sidewalks by cyclists who are only traveling a short distance. (Not sure that there’s much that can be done about this one. But it’s still a concern.)
And then there’s an issue that I believe is so dangerous that some sort of large scale change needs to take place.
Sharrows aren’t cutting it
The biggest problem that I see on Mason is people hugging the door zone in order to stay out of the way of cars. Despite the fact that there are sharrows on the street, cyclists are reticent to ride in the center of the traffic lane. But where cars are parked along Mason, there simply isn’t room to safely ride side-by-side.
Motorists are required by law to give a 3 foot cushion between their vehicle and the cyclist’s vehicle. But where there is parking on Mason, there simply isn’t enough room to have a parked car, a buffer zone where a motorist can open their car door without whacking a passing cyclist, a bike lane, a 3 foot buffer, a car lane, AND the train in the center of all that. The city has taken this into account and instead of trying to squoosh bike lanes in where they clearly don’t fit, they’ve painted sharrows on the street.
Unfortunately the passing motor traffic has almost obliterated these sharrows. But even when they were newly painted, cyclists rarely followed them, tending instead to hug the row of parked cars. To some extent it’s an ingrained behavior that we need to eradicate. Though there are times when it works well to stick to the right hand side of the street, there are other times when it’s downright dangerous. As cyclists, we need to encourage each other to drop this side-hugging behavior when it’s inappropriate (like along a row of parked vehicles).
I take the lane on Mason. When there are parked cars, I don’t care how many motorists are lining up behind me, I’m not going to put myself in harm’s way just so they can make it to the light before I do. But I regularly experience behavior from motorists that would quickly dissuade anyone less stubborn and hard-headed than me.
Thanks to the curbs around the train tracks, there is no lane where they can pass me if they want. They’re stuck behind me. And that’s how it should be. Cyclists should not have to put themselves into danger just so a motorist can get to the red light a little faster. (And every time I’ve pulled to the right when there were no parked cars and a motorist has screeched past me, never fail, I end up pulling up right behind them at the next light. Never. Fail.)
It takes guts to ride down the center of a traffic lane when there’s a car right behind you. Don’t let that stop you from staying safe. And don’t pull right if there’s just a teeny little space that’s available for you to hide out in. The motorist can wait. Don’t give them the lane unless there’s a long enough stretch that you can keep peddling along while they overtake you. Then you can merge back into their traffic lane once they’ve passed.
Essentially this safety problem is one that can only be solved with education and clearly worded signage (which is really just another form of education). Unless cyclists and motorists both understand that the center of the lane is the only safe place to be on Mason Street, cyclists are going to continue to ride in the door zone and motorists are going to continue getting huffy about cyclists in the lane. The city needs to add some clear signage (more than just the sharrows that have rubbed off) that declares that cyclists should use the full lane. And there needs to be a city-wide campaign educating everyone (not just cyclists) that there are some situations in which bicyclists can and should be riding in the very center of the traffic lane.
That said, with a train line right down the middle of the street, motorists will never have the opportunity to pass a cyclist without the cyclist ceding their safety during times when parking is maxed out. I recommend that the city consider either removing all parking along this section of street, or removing all motorized vehicles other than the MAX line from this section of Mason. If we really care about people’s safety, and we want a strong transportation corridor, then let motorists use College and leave Mason to alternative forms of transportation.
Additional photos of issues along Mason
And just in case you missed it… did you notice the cyclist in the very first photo at the top? If not, it’s likely motorists didn’t either. Don’t be that guy. Ride where motorists will see you. They can’t avoid hitting you if they don’t even know you’re there.