What you see above is an image of what the streets of San Jose, CA look like when mapped for ease of bike-ability. Looks like a lot of islands doesn’t it?
Peter Furth, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Boston’s Northeastern University has co-authored a report from the Mineta Transportation Institute that examines how levels of what has been coined, traffic stress, restrict where people are willing to ride bicycles. ”High-stress streets are measured as those with high speed limits, limited or non-existent bike lanes and signage, and large distances to cross at intersections,” writes Nate Berg of The Atlantic: Cities in an article on the report. What these high-stress streets end up creating are islands of bike-ability.
Although the vast majority of San Jose’s streets were measured as low-stress, it is almost impossible to find a low-stress route across the city. It’s at the intersection between high-stress arteries and and these low-stress islands that the drama lies. According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Transportation report, of the 618 cyclists deaths that occurred in that year, the majority were at intersections. Not only are these places statistically ominous, they can also be mental barriers for urban and suburban cyclists. A thought process along the lines of, “Well, I would bike, but there are several scary intersections along the way that I dread navigating, so I won’t go by bike” – is something I hear all too often.
Taking Back the Streets?
The Atlantic: Cities quotes Furth: “The difference between bicycling and other modes of transportation is that if you aren’t willing to risk your life on a dangerous road, you often simply can’t get from here to there.”
The authors of the report note that with some modest restructuring to calm traffic, such as separated cycle tracks, median refuge islands, and more bike lanes – these seemingly impassable high-stress streets could become safe bridges between the islands. The cost to the city and citizens would be higher than what is being spent now, but it is less expensive than the great transportation initiatives undertaken to support automotive vehicular traffic.
Back on the east coast, Furth examined his hometown of Brookline, MA – and arrived at a similar standpoint in regards to how the islands of bike-ability could become contiguous with a few civil engineering changes. Here in the Boston area – where both Brookline and Montague HQ are – there are several community groups advocating for such measures. From the Boston Cyclists Union, working with the city for improved cycling infrastructure; to Liveable Streets (named after the 1981 book by Donald Appleyard), working to remove a section of highway that divides two parts of Somerville, MA.
More bikes can mean: less motor vehicle traffic, increased health to the individual and the community, and money saved from purchasing less gasoline… From coast to coast (and across the Atlantic ocean) we see more people and institutions paying attention – making inroads to better our transit systems. Here at Montague we’re committed to making multi-modal transit a daily reality too. Across the world, could it be that we’re taking back the streets?