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Bicycle Boulevards for NYC

We’ve seen lots of new, innovative bikeway designs appear on New York City streets over the past few years. But, there’s one very promising concept we haven’t seen – bicycle boulevards. Bicycle boulevard design uses a variety of techniques to create low-traffic, low-speed streets where cyclists mix comfortably with cars. They’re very popular in Portland and Berkeley, two cities with high bicycle mode-share. Here in New York, though, they don’t seem to be part of the playbook yet. In this Streetfilm we ask: Why not?

We spoke to Mia Birk, who helped introduce bicycle boulevards to Portland. She’s also the co-author of a new guidebook to bike boulevard design. Here we explore some of the concepts in the guidebook and show how they might be applied to New York. Outside Manhattan, especially, important cycling routes could benefit from the bicycle boulevard treatment.

[intro music]
Mia Birk: [0:06] A bike boulevard is a high priority bicycle street.
Man 1: [0:10] It's low traffic, slow traffic and it's a direct route for bikes.
Mia Birk: [0:17] There's so little knowledge out there about how to design bike boulevards, how to plan them, how to select the right routes. It's a relatively new concept in terms of American cycling cities. It is a very common concept in European cities, lots of different names. The Dutch call it the Woonerf for "living street"; in Germany you have a fahrrad strasse, that is a "bicycle street." But in the US, in our design guides that we have at the national level and at the state levels, very few of them say anything about bicycle boulevards. [0:52] So we felt that given the knowledge that we had gained in Portland as well as in other cities that have tried bike boulevards, that we had something really important to share, that we needed to pull together and get out there.
Eric Andreson: [1:04] One of the lessons that we've really learned from bicycle boulevards is to look not only at the operational and engineering characteristics of a road, but to look at the experience of the road. One of the critical things about a bike boulevard is that it's pleasant to ride on. And I think a city that's looking to lay out some bike boulevards, starting with an easy success, picking the low hanging fruit, that'll set the groundwork for moving on to more challenging projects.
Man 1: [1:31] This is Dean Street. They have a bike lane. They have a lot of bike traffic. Dean and Bergen, they go all the way from near the Brooklyn Bridge all the way out to East New York, and that's kind of the highway of Brooklyn for bikes. [1:43] The problem is they're full of cars, they're full of double parked cars, they're full of truck deliveries. And the route of this problem is that there is nothing diverting along the way. So cars can drive five, 10 miles along this route and never have to turn. And they use it because it's two, three blocks away from Atlantic Avenue, and Atlantic Avenue gets backed up and they come and divert here through this street.
Mia Birk: [2:06] So some of the key features of the bicycle boulevard are devices that move traffic off the bike boulevard and onto other streets, devices that slow motor vehicle traffic, markings and signage to make the bike boulevard really visible, and intersection treatments so that cyclists can safely cross major streets. We slow traffic on the street with speed bumps, and mini-traffic circles, and chicanes and other devices that lower the speed of traffic so that bicyclists and motorists can safely share the road at a very low speed. Less than 25 miles an hour is ideal, and less than 15 miles an hour is really the optimal. [2:45] If the bike boulevard has created a very circuitous and illogical route for cyclists, then you have not made a good choice in your bike boulevard routing.
Lily Bernheimer: [2:56] This diverter and a lot of the ones like this have been in place for a long time. The bicycle boulevard network and its formal nature is a little bit newer. When I was growing up on this street this was here and so the basic groundwork was laid. And then later on they started putting in large paintings on the street of a bicyclist with the boulevard sign, they put in the really nice purple signs.
Mia Birk: [3:20] The bike boulevard signs that we've got in Portland show a number of destinations and then they also show the mileage. And probably the most critical thing they show is the amount of time. So it's like a little mental trick. You're biking along and you see that it says "Hollywood 13 minutes," and in fact because it's a slow cycling speed at 10 miles an hour, most people cycle a little faster than that, you arrive there in only 10 minutes. And it says to you, wow, cycling is a really fast and easy means of transportation.

Elizabeth Press is a Filmmaker for Streetfilms. She joined Streetfilms in 2007 to focus her video work on advocating for better biking, walking and mass transit.

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  • Brooklyn Biker

    Nice job! We should get us some bike boulevards here in Brooklyn. Come on DOT!

  • Mike

    I would love to have bike boulevards here in New York!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/edpino Ed Pino

    Lets get it done! Europe is way ahead of us

  • JJ

    Why is it always brooklyn, brooklyn, brooklyn... there are other boros, other neighborhoods.

  • Mike

    Why it's Brooklyn in this case:

    - I live nearby
    - The Dean/Bergen corridor has a huge number of bikes on a residential one-way pair that is also heavily affected by thru traffic; this is a rare typology for NYC
    - There is an existing planning study that has already concluded that these streets are in need of traffic calming
    - You need a critical mass of bike commuters to help sell the need for a bike blvd-style upgrade

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/trorb Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    At one point, we discussed profiling a street each in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, but as you can see the video already is long enough, and as Mike pointed out this street already has a ton of commuters on it plus a story to make it the right choice in this case. (Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Study is over 10+ years in the making.)

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/CrankMyChain Dan Kaufman

    Great work, Elizabeth!

  • Peter Frishauf

    Of all the Boroughs, Queens and Staten Island have footprints, street grid, and housing density and style (many 2 family homes) most similar to Portland's. Bike Boulevards would be a natural fit there.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/hourback05 Michael

    Great video....now how bout a bike boulevard on the UES?

    Did someone say Park Avenue?

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/OneStreet Sue Knaup

    What a natural addition to the recent bike network and pedestrian space triumphs in New York. Great video!

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.
  • http://flickr.com/antiphonfotos Hart

    Streetfilms, you make us look so sexy here in Portland! Keep up the great work. I post your videos all over Facebook.

  • Jonas Hagen

    Wonderful video, Elizabeth. Bike Boulevards have a huge amount of potential, especially in NYC's outer boroughs and the suburbs. This video will help show decisionmakers and residents the potential bike boulevards have to transform their streets at a very low cost.

  • http://transportehumano.com.br Luis Patricio

    Congratulations ! Bike blvds are really an effective way of transforming our streets.

    I hope we could have some of these in Curitiba...

  • mateo

    She was my college prof. Go Mia! and let there be blvds for the bikes.

  • http://bougezautrementablois.over-blog.com CARL

    Hello
    Depuis quelques temps nous suivons avec beaucoup d'intérêt vos films et nous permettons de les faire connaître en France.
    Bravo pour ce que vous faites.

  • http://www.mundovibe.com jc tripp

    Why wait for government to do this? If you live on a block, get everyone involved and close it to through traffic.

  • http://gmail.com dave

    i love the idea but as long as NYErs dont want to use their large bodies, they will not let anyone else take their right to free tax maintained roads. We must toll all the bridges equally and use the extra funds for light rail and other non auto projects.

  • Tawn

    Thanks for the great film. We're in Santa Cruz CA and there is a lot of contention about turning a local street into a bike blvd. This helped me understand them better.

  • Bill

    Nice Job! I have forwarded the information the Worcester, MA city planning board and offered to present your information to the commission. "If you build it - they will come"