Snares and Traps for Cyclists

Snares and Traps for Cyclists

What does the photo above show? It reminds me of the traps used to ensnare animals, used by trappers who hunt animals for their fur. As the animal passes, its leg gets caught in the snare…
So why are these snares appearing all over Seattle’s bike lanes? Is it a nefarious plot by cyclist-hating drivers to kill us off?
Actually, the snares are one unfortunate byproduct of creating “protected” bike facilities. The city has been installing flexible bollards to provide a visual separation between cyclists and cars. The reasoning goes that cyclists will feel more comfortable with the barrier separating them from cars, which will encourage more people to ride bikes, which in turn has many positive effects.
The flexible posts are relatively easy to install. The company manufacturing them probably markets them heavily. I can imagine the sales rep bringing one to a planning meeting. It looks very well-made: white and black and reflective…
Alas, this is Seattle – where almost every car has dents because drivers tend to mis-judge the size of their vehicle – and so people tend to drive over these posts. Good thing they are flexible… but eventually, the get ripped off their foundations, leaving a bump and a snare.
During daytime, they are relatively easy to avoid, but at night, they are nearly invisible.
To make matters worse, the city has been installing them not just to separate cyclists from cars, but often in the middle of the cyclists’ path. It is only a matter of time until the center post in the photo above will be ripped out by a car turning out of the side street. Then a bump and snare will be right in the center of the bike lane. When you consider that this is at the start of the bike lane, where cyclists are moving from the road to the bike lane, it’s very likely that somebody will get caught in the trap!
Here is another installation, located at the end of the Ballard Bridge. It’s bad enough that cyclists have to cross the right-turn lane with fast-moving traffic barreling down on them from behind. The safest path is the shortest way across (solid arrow), yet the posts obstruct that path, forcing the cyclist to remain in the dangerous turn lane much longer (dashed arrow). Once they are permitted to cross, they compete for space with the cars turning out of the side street.
Funny thing is, a sharrow roughly indicates where it’s safest to ride, but the flexible posts now obstruct that path. When I now ride here, I actually move all the way to the left into the path of fast-moving traffic to stay out of harm’s way. I have no idea why these posts were installed at all – it’s not like cars are ever driving through that space.
All this is happening in the name of making cycling safer in Seattle. I understand that it is not malicious, but it is so incompetent and dangerous that it must stop. Take out those flexible posts, at least in any place were a cyclist might conceivably go. If a post “must” be there, then make the bases reflective, since they remain after the posts get ripped out, so cyclists can see them in the dark. And have crews go around and replace the posts that are ripped out within 24 hours, before somebody gets hurt. Let’s hope there is not a life-changing injury in the meantime…
Don’t get me wrong – I think cycling facilities are important and often appropriate. Like everything, they need to be designed carefully and maintained well, otherwise, they can do more harm than good.
Stay safe out there.

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Comments (83)

  • Erik

    Sounds like you should be on Seattle’s bike/ped committee! I assume the city must have one, right?

    June 15, 2015 at 5:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The city has two – one for bikes and one for peds. However, in the past, my impression was that they didn’t really want people asking hard questions… and the posts probably are used all over the country. So as a “public figure”, I feel it’s my duty to speak out and increase awareness of problems like these.

      June 15, 2015 at 5:56 am
      • Jeff Potter

        Even tho I’m a struggling self-emp person, I’m finding that as I become more involved in local biking that I’m drawn into these hard-questions situations, where “if I don’t do it then nobody will and it’s gotta be done.” Whew. Apparently, we folks who are “living it on the ground” daily can see the results of policy and marketing like no one else can.
        We’re being pushed to provide consulting, advocacy, media, programming, and education! All volunteer, of course, in a scene where finding volunteers is very hard.
        (In a related vein, we have a local salesperson aggressively selling expensive ADA boat ramps to our munis, saying we’ll be sued — via provocations from them? — if we don’t buy. This is an area with zero public boat facilities and nearly zero boat usage. So before we can even start to encourage general public outdoor activity in this way we’re being pushed to spend our entire budgets on huge metal and plastic Goldberg contraptions that require seasonal disassembly from dept’s that have no staff. …And many munis are totally falling for it. These rigs are popping up everywhere in our sedentary region while regular infrastructure is ZERO. 1 ADA rig or 10 regular canoe launches: take your pick. Also, these rigs are only suitable for kayaks. In mid-Michigan kayaks make zero sense yet they are what are being pushed by the Big Boxes. Canoes were the main water transit here for millennia. There are no local wind or waves suggesting kayaks. Where did the public water skills & heritage training go? We only have two tiny outdoor ed/rec centers where there used to be a dozen serving all schoolkids. I guess that’s what happens when you lose your industry. Yet it’s now bouncing back. Some regions have reinvented themselves. Community sanity seems key to a comeback. Not marketing-driven inanity.)

        June 15, 2015 at 7:33 am
  • Max Sievers

    Just ride where you would drive. It’s always the safest and quickest way. As soon as cyclist have their own lane it becomes a ghetto. How do we turn left then? The more confinement is installed the harder it gets to ride in the lane – not only in regards to the cycling skill but also to the drivers who try to not let cyclist into “their” space. Cities: Please do nothing for cyclists!

    June 15, 2015 at 5:55 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree that often, it’s best to just “take the lane”. However, on the Ballard Bridge shown in the bottom example, that isn’t a great idea. Car traffic moves at 40+ mph, and you’d greatly inconvenience the cars. If that is necessary, I’ll do it, but needlessly holding up traffic is neither polite nor does it foster goodwill toward cyclists.
      And realistically, once these segregated facilities exist, drivers expect you to use them, so with every cyclepath built, we de-facto lose the right to ride on the street.

      June 15, 2015 at 5:58 am
      • Greg

        “And realistically, once these segregated facilities exist, drivers expect you to use them, so with every cyclepath built, we de-facto lose the right to ride on the street.”
        This is the scariest part of the entire equation. It is a small step from having the segregated lanes exist to requiring their use….

        June 15, 2015 at 7:19 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          It’s already de-facto the case. If you get hit while riding in the road next to a cyclepath, the driver’s attorney will have no trouble convincing a jury that you really should have ridden on the cyclepath, and that you brought this on yourself.

          June 15, 2015 at 7:25 am
      • marmotte27

        That’s the main reaon why all those second (or third, fourth…) best facilities have to be fought against tooth and nail. Either give us first rate facilities or let us cycle on the road.

        June 15, 2015 at 8:24 am
    • Chris Lowe

      Much of the surface of the Ballard bridge is a steel grate. It’s not something you’re going to ride on, especially when wet! I made the mistake of trying to ride over it one time and only one time! Personally, I avoid that bridge like the plaque. The Fremont bridge or locks are far more pleasant to cross over.
      Also riding as you drive is flawed thinking. The top speed of a bike is pretty much limited by the fitness of a rider whereas the top speed of a car is limited by traffic and roads. For this reason I find it’s almost always faster to rude doe neighborhood streets than major arterials as the neighborhood streets have no traffic lights. It’s also safer and more scenic. In my car taking these streets would add considerable time because I’d be forced to drive at least 15mph slower in order to be safe.

      June 15, 2015 at 8:29 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        The Neighborhood Greenway concept is a great example of a home-grown facility that is perfectly suited to our conditions. It makes your approach of riding through the neighborhood more practical by giving you the right-of-way, which decreases the risk of intersection conflicts. It doesn’t get popularized much in the media, because there isn’t much money in it for the consultants…
        However, I think you misunderstand “ride like a car”. How I view it, you operate your bicycle as if it was a vehicle participating in traffic, not that you ride where you would drive in a car. Finally, the steel grating is fine if you have wide tires. Yes, on 25 mm tires pumped to the max, it used to be scary. Last night, I crossed the Fremont Bridge, and there were many pedestrians on the sidewalk, so I rode in the car lanes. The steel grating (in the dry) was no problem with 32 mm tires. There were few cars at 8:30 p.m., so the car lanes were a better option than trying to weave my way through the pedestrians on the combined sidewalk/bike lane.

        June 15, 2015 at 9:19 am
      • PatrickGSR94

        The problem is that most suburban communities have very few connections between neighborhoods. Most are accessed by arterials and neighborhood collector streets only, which all have higher traffic volumes and speeds and 35-55 MPH speed limits. That’s how it is in my town. I can get to a few areas using mostly neighborhood streets. But beyond that I have no choice but to use the arterials. And many of those arterials are still 2-lane with no shoulder, and high traffic volume, which is VERY unpleasant on a bike.

        June 15, 2015 at 1:51 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The conditions you describe are perfect for putting in separated cyclepaths. High speeds, few intersections – I’d rather be off the road, too.
          Unfortunately, most cyclepaths are installed in dense urban neighborhoods, where car speeds are low and intersections frequent. And at every intersections, the cyclists pop “out of nowhere” and suddenly come face-to-face with turning cars.

          June 15, 2015 at 1:58 pm
  • Julian

    I think part of the issue is that much of our bicycle infrastructure is designed by well-meaning people who do not actually ride bicycles regularly. Asking for a “riding meeting” with those in decision-making positions might help them to understand why these sorts of things are not as wonderful as they believe them to be. I think it is also important to be as positive as possible (praising efforts, intent, etc.) in order to reduce the perhaps inevitable defensive response.

    June 15, 2015 at 5:57 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I think your point is a good one. In the last example, the sharrow was put there by a previous administration, which had an experienced cyclist as the cycling coordinator at the Seattle Dept. of Transportation. The new people then blocked that off that path with well-intended, but dangerous, flexible posts.
      One problem is that as soon as you indicate your preference for riding on the road under certain circumstances, you are labeled a “vehicular cyclist”. The consultants who make money planning these facilities have done a great job of painting “vehicular cyclists” as the enemies of the women, grandmas and children who really want to ride bikes but aren’t comfortable riding on a freeway.
      It always amazes me how easy it is to stir up resentment toward cyclists with more experience and (often) speed. Most of us want to make cycling safer and more pleasant, and we welcome everybody who wants to ride bikes…

      June 15, 2015 at 6:11 am
      • Julian

        Sadly, this is a problem even within the activist cycling community — I was at an event for a local cycling advocacy group and “lycra riders” were repeatedly presented as a group to be disparaged. Not much response when I pointed out that this was not helpful and that I wear different clothes depending upon what type of cycling I’m doing, but I’m still a cyclist, and that it minimized advocacy efforts to assert that most needed to conform to some presupposed ideal — regardless whether it’s as a “go-fast” or a “hipster” or a “granola beard.”

        June 15, 2015 at 7:07 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Yes, it’s very discouraging. It’s been fostered by those who make money designing expensive segregated facilities. They face some resistance from experienced cyclists, and rather than deal with the issues, they resort to ad-hominem attacks.

          June 15, 2015 at 7:23 am
    • Jeremy M

      I agree with you. The intent is well-meaning and the benefit of hindsight (look how poorly these bollards hold up!) or objectively superior knowledge of how people actual ride (which the majority in a forum like this likely possess) shouldn’t be turned on people just trying to help. All too often it is, the gloves come off, the defenses mount, and the stalemate over what (or what not) to do to increase ridership continues. That said, Jan is right to point out these issues.
      I actually am of the mind that really well done (and usually prohibitively expensive) dedicated infrastructure is a good way to increase ridership among beginners. And hell-no-infrastructure vehicular cycling seems daunting (or dangerous) to most and is a very difficult starting point. But these bollards and other half-measures are just a waste. They wouldn’t seem to lessen the angst of newbies and, for the reasons mentioned above, actually encumber and endanger experienced cyclists. So, who are they aiming for with these things? Somewhat experienced riders who place a value on false safety?

      June 15, 2015 at 6:25 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        I totally agree that facilities are important, both to entice new cyclists and to make riding safer and more pleasant for experienced riders. However, poorly designed facilities not only are a waste of money, but also endanger cyclists. New cyclists face the greatest risk, because to them, the dangers of riding on cyclepaths that hide them from cars until they pop out at intersections are the least obvious. A false sense of safety is perhaps the most dangerous thing…

        June 15, 2015 at 6:29 am
      • Edwin Williamson

        You write “really well done (and usually prohibitively expensive) dedicated infrastructure is a good way to increase ridership.” The Netherlands spends 30 euros per person per year on cycling infrastructure, which doesn’t seem prohibitively expensive to me, depending on your priorities of course! We spend about $3.
        As for vehicular cycling vs the “8-80” movement, I think they share a lot of goals. The big difference is that one allows for children in the 8-10 year range to cycle by themselves around town, something that is probably not common in Seattle and is definitely not common in Nashville!
        Thanks for this good article,

        June 15, 2015 at 12:09 pm
      • B. Carfree

        Four decades ago, a small city with a University that I lived in decided to respond to the “energy crisis” by encouraging people to ride their bikes instead of driving. While they did manage to put the first bike lanes in the nation in, these were very few and far between. They also put in one segregated bike path. However, what really made the difference, and got ridership to levels never seen before and not seen since (a modal share that is estimated at 75%) was a serious commitment by both the city and the university police departments to zero-tolerance traffic law enforcement. Sure, it was a pain to have to stop at the stop signs while riding a bike, but that was more than made up for by the fact that all the motorists were forced to obey the speed limits and actually stop behind the limit lines at stop signs and red lights.
        My point is that segregated facilities are not the best way to increase ridership. It is both more effective and cheaper to simply enforce the traffic laws. I should mention that starting in the late ’80s, the police departments decided to complete this experiment by ceasing to enforce traffic laws. The result was that people abandoned their bikes. It was so bad that my family became known as “the bike family” simply because we persisted in riding everywhere we went just as we always had. Starting in the ’90s, the city drank the segregationist Kool-Aid and built scores of miles of bike paths and added even more bike lanes, but the cyclists stayed away in droves (although there has been a slight recovery over the past decade).
        By the way, the single most dangerous intersection was where the bike path was crossed by a freeway on ramp. Motorists just can’t handle scanning these side-paths for traffic; they are inherently dangerous because they are sub-standard.

        June 15, 2015 at 3:10 pm
      • Jeremy M

        The ‘usually prohibitively expensive’ comment was US-specific (the location of the silly bollards and their remains), an unfortunate political reality, and a generalization. The stomach for even small bike infrastructure improvements is usually low, though your mileage may vary across municipalities. Seattle–I would think but do not know for sure–would be one of the more hospitable US places for spending public dollars on infrastructure. But, even then, the on-the-cheap half-measures are still what’s on offer. Prohibitively expensive was certainly not a reflection of my personal priorities or beliefs concerning tax dollar appropriations.
        Jan and Carfree,
        Excellent points, all. Particularly the (auto) infrastructure band-aid over the lack of (auto) training problem. Jan mentions airbags, but even more applicable is the engineered-to-the-margins road lane widths; turns and intersections designed with the most distracted or speeding drivers in mind; etc, etc. And driver training/traffic law enforcement is frequently lacking. I feel much more comfortable mixing it up with traffic among the highly-trained, highly-aware, and rule-abiding drivers in Germany though I do suffer from some worry (mentioned elsewhere here) riding by some compulsory yet ill-suited cycle paths. But I think those paths serve their purpose for much younger or older riders.
        Point is – I’ll concede that training (much more so for drivers due to the disproportionate destructive force) and enforcement act much more directly on the ridership and safety problems. But the disparity is so great (all this concrete and auto-centric built environment and mentality) that true, good bike infrastructure might be necessary to get us to a place where training and enforcement measures can finally take over and achieve results.

        June 15, 2015 at 11:05 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Jeremy, we need both: better training and better infrastructure. Unfortunately, what is being built in many cases is worse infrastructure. Like who came up with the idea of putting cyclists on the wrong side of the street on so many of the new cyclepaths in the U.S.?

          June 16, 2015 at 5:36 am
    • djconnel

      Nicole Freedman is moving to head the Seattle Active Transportation program. She’s extremely experienced, was national champion on the road, and came from a similar transportation position. There’s nobody more competent for the role. I think you have a lot to look forward to in some of the issues like those documented by Jan being improved.

      June 16, 2015 at 10:01 am
  • Willem

    There really was no need to reinvent the wheel. As you will all know, the Netherlands has many cycle paths and other provision for bikes. Their layout is the product of decades of careful emperical research on the best way to design them, and integrate them safely with the rest of traffic.
    Last autumn I could experience what happens if that research is not used. I was living and working in Bonn in Germany. There, cycling is massively on the increase, and the city authorities are making an effort to improve conditions. However, they too seemed intent on reinventing the wheel, and the result was pretty scary at times.
    Interestingly, in the Netherlands we are now discovering that we also have to redesign many cycles paths/lanes, because the traditional facilities are no longer able to cope with the hugely swollen numbers of urban bikes, and the rapidly increasing number of ebikes (often used by elderly who cannot quite handle the speed of these machines).

    June 15, 2015 at 5:58 am
    • ORiordan

      It does seem that people designing cycling facilities are very prone to “not invented here” rather than seeking out and applying best practice from elsewhere. Or they take practice from elsewhere and misapply it.
      In some streets in London they have installed “armadillos” (small plastic bollards) as cycle lane separators. However the armadillos got damaged so they installed planters to protect the armadillos. Now the planters are getting damaged… Eventually they may design it properly but it looks like they need to go through this learning curve.
      I can understand the rationale of a cheap and quick implementation as in some places, the battle is to provide ANY separated space for people on bikes. Many view that taking space from motor vehicles will result in the world coming to an end. If space is provided and surprise, surprise, the world doesn’t come to end then there is scope to improve. However an expensive scheme may not have got approval in the first place.
      Sad to say, maybe each city does need to go through their own learning curve and make their own mistakes in order to improve standards. The Dutch have taken decades of learning and experience to arrive at their current standards but even in the Netherlands, there are differences in quality from place to place.

      June 15, 2015 at 7:11 am
    • Joshua Putnam

      While it’s true the Netherlands has a very well-developed system for cycletracks, it’s important to note that copying physical infrastructure across national borders also requires copying the legal infrastructure that makes those facilities work.
      Many Dutch designs assume cyclists have the right of way in situations where U.S. law would give motorists the right of way and require cyclists to yield. Simply copying those designs on U.S. streets without changing our rules of the road not only increases the risk of car/bike collisions, it makes the cyclists liable for those collisions.
      CROW is an excellent source of concepts and minimum design standards for bicycle facilities, but when building facilities in the U.S., it’s vital that we look at the rules that will apply on those facilities, rather than just copying CROW.

      June 15, 2015 at 10:44 am
      • Joshua Putnam

        One specific example: in Jan’s photo from the Ballard Bridge, a cyclist who crossed the bridge on the sidewalk and intends to cross that intersection is not yet in the roadway. The law imposes a burden on the cyclist to avoid entering the roadway so close that a motorist is unable to safely stop. Once a cyclist is already in the crossing, an overtaking motorist must slow or stop to avoid hitting the cyclist, but that applies only after the cyclist has entered the roadway, not while waiting for an opening in traffic.
        Any design that assumes the cyclist may simply continue in a straight line is inviting collisions.

        June 15, 2015 at 10:48 am
      • B. Carfree

        Not just the legal infrastructure needs to be copied, but the social infrastructure needs to be imported with the concrete and paint. There is a world of difference both qualitatively and quantitatively between traffic law enforcement and societal acceptance of scofflaw driving between the Netherlands and the US. As a result, their physical infrastructure would be deadly here.

        June 15, 2015 at 3:17 pm
  • Mike

    Is the picture just misleading, or is the obvious solution to get rid of that weird wall blocking direct access to the lane?

    June 15, 2015 at 6:34 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The “weird wall” is there so that cyclists don’t just ride straight, right into the path of turning cars. The turn is beautifully radiused, so cars can turn at 25 mph or more… and they aren’t looking for cyclists who are on the sidewalk. So the offset cut forces most cyclists to stop, look behind and then wait for a gap in traffic. Of course, since you are stopped, you need a much bigger gap in traffic to get across than if you continued at speed…
      Hopefully, the city will redesign the bridge some day, but for now, everybody seems to have different concerns. Many are concerned about the narrow width of the sidewalk, but, of course, for experienced cyclists, that is less of a problem. Widening the bridge is expensive, which seems to hold up the project. In the mean time, they installed the posts which make things a lot worse… I now avoid that route.

      June 15, 2015 at 6:40 am
      • Bill Gobie

        I’m glad to hear you’re avoiding the Ballard Bridge. I used to ride it several times a week. That bridge has so many dangerous features that I decided it is far better to take the time to ride to the Fremont bridge or walk through the locks.

        June 15, 2015 at 10:34 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I still use the Ballard Bridge, just don’t continue straight at the south end. Now I continue on the sidewalk to Fisherman’s Terminal and then cross the rail line there. It’s a bit longer, but much more pleasant. On a low-trail bike, I am not too worried about the narrow sidewalk, and all the other approaches are fine if you anticipate the movements of the cars around you.

          June 15, 2015 at 10:38 am
      • Bill Gobie

        Here is a You Tube video of cycling on the Ballard Bridge which should help non-Seattle readers understand the risks one takes crossing the bridge. [Link included this time!]

        June 16, 2015 at 3:15 pm
      • Jeff

        Thanks, Bill Gobie, for posting that video. The wall/exit from the bridge is really awful.

        June 18, 2015 at 1:54 pm
  • Ely

    Jan, I’ll take some photos of Market Street here in SF for you, it’s the same thing. Many of the flexible street markers have been run over and smashed by cars, who usually use the bike lane for deliveries or to pick up passengers, despite the flexible pole/markers. It speaks volumes of the mentality of society here in SF.

    June 15, 2015 at 8:19 am
  • Paul Glassen

    How about concrete filled steel posts as used to protect gas pumps in filling stations? No, that would hurt cyclists.
    There is a sad and long history of well-intended but misguided cycling infrastructure. Around 1970 or 71 a protected lane was created along Alki Beach in W. Seattle. The parallel parked cars were between moving traffic and the lane. BUT the lane was full not only of beach goers, but parked cars with their doors open so their sound systems could be cranked up for the ‘enjoyment’ of beach users. I was riding with the slow moving traffic on the road, i.e., not in the ‘protected’ lane. Police pulled me over and told me I had to ride in the lane provided. I pointed out its obvious dangers. The officer conceded I was keeping up with traffic but said the law required cyclists to use a provided lane and not ride on the roadway.

    June 15, 2015 at 10:34 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The police officer most likely was wrong. I don’t think WA law ever required cyclists to ride in the bike lane… We’ve been pulled over for riding two abreast, even though that is legal in Washington, too. I am surprised how little many police officers know about the laws they are supposed to enforce. Unfortunately, that pertains not only to traffic rules, but also more serious issues like domestic violence…

      June 15, 2015 at 10:42 am
  • Luis Bernhardt

    You guys hit the nail right on the head with regard to 1. the false sense of security of some facilities, 2. activist hatred of cyclists in lycra, 3. the ignorance of non-cyclist planners, 4. bike facilities, while encouraging growth of cycling, become ghettoes for cyclists. To counter this sort of ineptness, we need to lobby for 1. Repeal of any “mandatory sidepath” laws – even if there is a bike path available, cyclists must still be free to use the adjacent roadway (unless it’s a controlled access freeway, of course, and that entails additional requirements); 2. Liability for any collision between driver and cyclist must ALWAYS be assumed to be with the driver (the driver has the “duty of care” and is the one that must be licensed to operate the vehicle, so has the privilege of operating that motor vehicle, but also bears any responsibility for his actions) unless they can prove otherwise.
    I could never figure out this hatred for cyclists in lycra thing. It could be caused by the consultants who make money from the facilities, as Jan says. I also think people just get too hung up on their own fashion statements, making how they look define who they are, delineating their own class-consciousness, which is totally at odds with their supposed egalitarianism. Animal Farm on two wheels. Anyway, it makes me far less inclined to work with these “Friends of the Bicycle” that John Forester warned us about back in the 70’s.

    June 15, 2015 at 10:44 am
  • eliasross

    The bollards on Cowen Park Bridge. A couple of points. One is, it’s not clear they were put there as bike lane separators as there’s no marked bike path on the bridge, nor is there any signage. I’m not completely sure the intent but I appreciated the gesture.
    The bollards were also broken pretty much immediately after they were installed, probably while they were being installed, as I noticed they were fixed, but after a few times after somebody gave up.

    June 15, 2015 at 10:48 am
  • Bill Gobie

    This the first time I have seen those springs. In SODO the posts are run over by heavy trucks which demolish the entire post, spring, and usually the base.
    For another ridiculous installation see the intersection of Spokane and East Marginal. The city has built a 50-yard long sidewalk on the east side, beginning at the corner and ending with a ramp merging onto the street. The merge and beginning of the bike lane is “protected” by a diagonal line of those posts. The city apparently expects cyclists to use the crosswalk, make a sharp 90-degree turn on the sidewalk and ride to the bike lane. This is only obvious in hindsight. The natural maneuver is to turn left on the street. Then you are blocked from the bike lane by the posts and forced left into the lane, similarly to your picture from the Ballard bridge, except on East Marginal the line of posts runs all the way to the curb so you have no choice but to ride out in the lane.
    I always thought East Marginal was perfectly safe. The road is about 1-1/2 lanes wide there, plenty of room for a bike and a heavy truck. At least at this intersection the posts are merely laughable rather than dangerous. If you make the turn with the green light there is almost never any vehicular traffic behind you.

    June 15, 2015 at 10:56 am
    • Al Dimond

      Yeah, the old way on East Marginal was fine. We might hope the new way attracts some of the people that had previously been riding north of the west sidewalk, then cutting across the street at the crosswalk, often without looking properly… but a lot of them are fast riders (though not necessarily skilled or sensible ones) that wouldn’t want to wait at the light.

      June 16, 2015 at 5:29 pm
      • Bill Gobie

        The light is reasonably quick. Plus the sightlines are very good and the crossing distance is short, so it’s quite safe if you choose to jump the light.
        The city has done nothing to promote crossing at the light, which I think is scandalous. The bike counter on the West Seattle Bridge is recently showing 500-800 outbound trips a day. It’s a fair bet most of those riders straggle across East Marginal in various unsafe ways. The rebuild of the Spokane/East Marginal intersection was finished several months before Lance David was killed crossing East Marginal. If the city had made the slightest effort to direct riders to the safer crossing might he still be alive?

        June 16, 2015 at 11:01 pm
  • Michael Hooning

    The pictures at the top of the article show bollards on the 15th Ave. NE bridge over Cowen Park. These were not installed to create a bike lane, nor is it marked as such. SDOT needed to limit the bridge to one lane in each direction to limit the weight of vehicles on the bridge, and this is how they did it. It’s unfortunate that it looks the same as bike lanes in other parts of the city; and the problem with those flexible posts was obvious from the first week they were in place. I don’t understand why they keep fixing them, when it’s clearly not viable long term.

    June 15, 2015 at 11:01 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Yes, it’s the bridge over Cowen Park. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a bike lane, but whatever it is, it’s dangerous to cyclists. The bollards on the Ballard Bridge soon will be reduced to slings, too, and those will be right in the most logical path of cyclists – as indicated by the sharrow.

      June 15, 2015 at 11:16 am
      • Michael Hooning

        I agree. And other than the danger of the decapitated bollards, there’s the perception by drivers that the bicycling community had something to do with taking away capacity in this corridor, and that bicyclists should therefore use the non-facility.

        June 15, 2015 at 2:50 pm
  • Gert

    As a bicyclist in Denmark, where there is bike paths almost everywhere, and it is compulsory to use them. I must say that my experience is that it is malicious intent. It looks incompetent, but it is the same all over the country. If it was only incompetence, then some municipality would because of their incompetence by accident hire somebody with half a brain, and then that municipality would stand out from the rest. And in Denmark that is not the case. It seems there are three priorities:
    1. It should be annoying to cyclists and slow them down.
    2. Cars should be able to go as fast as possible without having to care about cyclists having right of way.
    3. The solution should always make it more dangerous for cyclists.

    June 15, 2015 at 11:37 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I understand your frustration… Denmark is a cycling paradise only if you travel at low speeds and for short distances… just like the U.S. has more cars than almost any other country, but if you are an avid driver, it’s the most frustrating place to drive. Still, the bad designs we see in many places probably are just incompetence and an unwillingness to question the status quo.

      June 15, 2015 at 12:16 pm
      • ORiordan

        However Denmark has a cyclist injury rate of 1.7 per 10m km cycled while the US is over 20 times worse at 37.5 per 10m km.*
        I’m sure they do have bad designs in Denmark but it is still a lot safer for cyclists there than the US.
        US roads have an appalling cyclist safety record. It isn’t a case of being marginally worse than countries like the Netherlands and Denmark – they are orders of magnitude worse.
        *Pucher, J., and Buehler, R Transport Reviews, Vol. 28

        June 15, 2015 at 1:30 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          There are many reasons for the different injury rates. Driver training is one, cyclist training another. Also consider that many, if not most, U.S. cycling injuries involve impaired cyclists. Bicycles are the only mode of transportation for many people who lose their licenses due to multiple drunk driving convictions. These riders often ride at night, on busy highways, without lights, while under the influence of alcohol… The data indicates that even in Denmark, cyclist injuries go up (not down!) when separate facilities are installed.

          June 15, 2015 at 1:57 pm
    • Patrick O'Riordan

      Both Denmark and the Netherlands have a higher consumption of alcohol per capita than the US so I doubt that all the people cycling there are stone cold sober.
      Given it is safer there for sober cyclists, it will be safer for drunk ones as well.
      If you are referring to a Danish study that purports to show cyclist injuries go up with separate facilities, this has come up before and some Danish speakers in the comments of the “Bike to Work 3: Separate or Equal?” discussion from 2013 said that the study didn’t show an increase in cyclist injuries
      I know there are a whole range of factors behind the difference in safety records between different countries and it would be incorrect to point to a single cause why some countries are massively safer than others. But infrastructure is clearly one of the factors.

      June 15, 2015 at 2:36 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        All I was trying to do is point out that the high injury rates of U.S. cyclists are much-reduced if you eliminate riding drunk at night from your cycling repertoire. In most European places, the bars are within walking distance of the villages and towns, so there is less incentive to riding drunk.

        June 15, 2015 at 3:08 pm
  • Lar Davis

    Thanks for exposing yet another flawed design – magazines I get from England regularly feature even more bizarre examples, usually in London. I destroyed my “good” bike and helmet to a traffic control barrier post a few years ago, traveling at no more than 6 mph on a nice local rail-trail, while closely following my late-friend who veered around the post that was not visible to me in time to avoid it. Down tube and top tube both bent, with only the fork salvageable. Helmet cracked as I did a slow-mo header onto the paved trail. Got a CAT scan and Xrays, and a few stitches – but the story of my $10K Waterford due to medical and bike replacement costs is well-worn and probably annoying to everyone.

    June 15, 2015 at 2:32 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Sorry to hear about your misfortune. I’ve often wanted to do a study that assesses whether the risk of an occasional car straying onto the cyclepath poses a smaller risk than the many cyclists who get hurt on the posts… I doubt that analysis has been done – the gut instinct is to keep the cars out at all costs… but alas, there is a cost. I know several people who have come to harm on those mid-trail posts. One regional trail even alters between two and three posts, just to keep you on your toes… Sometimes, you have to ride far to the right (3 posts), at others, that very trajectory will have you hit the post (2 posts).

      June 15, 2015 at 3:06 pm
      • Joshua Putnam

        A useful reference on bollard hazards, from the FHWA.
        “Even ‘properly’ installed bollards constitute a serious and potentially fatal safety hazard to unwary trail users. In addition, no bollard layout that admits bicycles, tricycles, and bicycle trailers can exclude single-track motor vehicles such as motorcycles and mopeds. For these reasons, bollards should never be a default treatment, and should not be used unless there is a documented history of intrusion by unauthorized cars, trucks, or other unauthorized vehicles.”

        June 15, 2015 at 10:32 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Thank you for providing that reference. Hmm, I wonder whether there really have been that many intrusions on all those trails where these bollards are installed… And even if there has been an occasional intrusion, one wonders whether keeping them out is worth the considerable risk from the bollards.

          June 15, 2015 at 10:49 pm
      • Joshua Putnam

        FYI, current guidance calls for an odd number of posts, starting with one in the centerline of the trail, and minimum opening widths of 5 feet between bollards. Using two bollards channels traffic from both directions into the center gap, resulting in head-on collisions.
        There really shouldn’t be a need to reinvent the wheel, the hazards of bollards are well documented and there are solid design standards to reduce the threat.
        In case you’re interested, here’s a cheat-sheet I use when commenting on hazardous bollard installations, with references to FHWA/MUTCD, AASHTO, and WSDOT safety standards and design guidance.

        June 15, 2015 at 10:44 pm
      • Joshua Putnam

        FYI, Seattle DOT has stated they are in the process of reviewing all trail access-control bollards in the city and removing those that are unjustified. (In response to a complaint I made back in February about newly-installed bollards on the I-90 Trail, made of dark wood, without reflectors, hazard striping, adequate sight distances, or proper opening width. Some parts of the city know what standards bollards are required to follow, but other parts of the city are apparently the ones actually doing the work…)

        June 17, 2015 at 2:27 pm
    • Joshua Putnam

      Here in the U.S., FHWA recognizes these “second user” crashes as a serious risk of bollards on trails.
      To reduce the risk, if a bollard within the traveled way is necessary, they call for a yellow center line stripe visible well before the bollard itself, plus a yellow diamond striped around the bollard, so that a following rider is warned of the hazard well before the post itself is visible.
      FHWA says, “Markings as shown in Figure 9C-2 should be used at the location of obstructions in the center of the path, including vertical elements intended to physically prevent unauthorized motor vehicles from entering the path.”
      I’m not sure how these “flexible” delineator posts don’t constitute an “obstruction” in the path, they certainly have enough resistance to crash a bicycle.

      June 15, 2015 at 10:39 pm
      • Joshua Putnam

        Here’s one example of a properly-marked bollard on a local trail. Good sight distances, set back from the roadway, reflectorized and hazard-striped.

        June 15, 2015 at 10:47 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        The Centennial Trail north of Snohomish has the yellow center stripe and diamond, which does decrease the risk somewhat.

        June 15, 2015 at 10:50 pm
  • Gert

    I do not disagree that we have a lower injury rate, but it is as Jan writes, more due to cyclists being much more common than in the U.S.
    The study that Jan had in one of his posts previously shows that only on major roads outside of towns do injury rates go down with separate facilities. But then the municipality makes a double lane bicyclepath on one side only, where cars coming from side roads have to stop for cars on the road, and cyclist on the bikepath have to stop for cars coming from the sideroads or coming from behind and turning right unto the sideroad. Try streetview between Boeslunde and Korsør.
    Sometimes You ride for some kilometres on one side, then have to change to the other side. Try Streetview on road 207 from Frederikssund towards Slangerup and look how a cyclist has to pass the roundabout.
    I can understand the municipalities save money by only making one bicycle path, but try riding it at night with rain on your glasses into the lights of the uncoming cars. You can see nothing at all.

    June 15, 2015 at 2:39 pm
    • djconnel

      The key factor in reducing injury rates of cyclists and pedestrians is reducing driving speeds In the United States there is an obsession with driving fast, even if it is for only very brief periods. Yet “smooth” is much more important than “fast” for travel time — high peak speeds mean longer cycles at traffic lights, more traffic lights as opposed to uncontrolled intersections, and greater “turbulence” from drivers who slow to exit the roadway. So keep peak speeds down on mixed use roads, improve safety, and travel times won’t increase much or more likely will actually get shorter.

      June 16, 2015 at 10:26 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        I have had no incidents with fast drivers, but many with inattentive, hostile or otherwise impaired ones. I’d gladly accept higher speeds if the drivers then focused exclusively on the driving. The people who don’t see me as they turn left in front of me aren’t going fast, but they could be just as deadly at 25 mph as they’d be at 35.

        June 16, 2015 at 12:45 pm
  • B. Carfree

    These substandard implementations are the product of designers thinking the primary risk to cyclists is being hit by overtaking traffic (coupled with a desire to keep cyclists out of the way of cars).
    Locally for me, that has resulted in several somewhat functional bike lanes being illegally changed by the local traffic planner (Reed Dunbar of Eugene, OR, if anyone is interested). He has ignored the fact that Oregon law mandates that bike lanes be a minimum of six feet wide (although they can be as narrow as four feet if and only if the right of way is too narrow to support six feet, which is a very rare situation). He has taken eighteen to twenty-four inches out of the bike lane and filled it with thermoplastic to create a “buffer”. The problem is that with Eugene being a flat city that receives a fair amount of rain, the outer four feet of the road are extremely crowned with drops of over half a foot over that four feet. With these illegally “buffered” bike lanes, one has a choice of either riding on the thermoplastic (and technically out of the bike lane) which is slippery as can be in the wet, or riding on the severe slope of the gutter, which is quite unpleasant and compromises bike handling.
    More and more, I choose to ride on roads that don’t have any “bikey” treatments when I am in town. This allows me to steer clear of such wonders as door-zone bike lanes (no, I don’t ride in the door zone even in these mandatory use states since I am not required to ride into a hazard) and narrow, buffered/sloped bike lanes. Obviously other people are choosing likewise, since a couple of years ago Mia Birk was reported to be lobbying the legislature to amend our mandatory use laws to require us to ride on streets with bikey treatments if they are within a quarter mile of where we are. Thankfully, our legislature declined to act on her suggestion.

    June 15, 2015 at 3:39 pm
  • sarah

    Ditch the plastic. Plant trees! They make wonderful barriers, shade for cyclists, help combat the crappy things about cars, clean O2 for starts.

    June 15, 2015 at 4:39 pm
    • kweeket

      That’s what I would like to see too.

      June 16, 2015 at 8:03 pm
  • Jeff Potter

    They’re gonna recruit you, Jan! Or events will push you into it, inexorably. Your planning advisory days are coming… : ) …and Seattle will be the better for it!

    June 16, 2015 at 9:13 am
  • Jeff

    Thanks for that post and its very good photos. The wrong-headed People for Bikes blog just a few days ago touted these as some sort of cycling facility savior:

    June 16, 2015 at 10:20 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      To their credit, the People for Bikes did post a link to this blog post, so at least they are open-minded.
      However, I wonder about the Seattle City engineer who is shown in the People for Bikes post as showcasing these flawed designs, apparently unaware that they have been failing all over the city…

      June 16, 2015 at 12:46 pm
      • Joshua Putnam

        In his defense, Dongho Chang is a daily cyclist himself, and has been very responsive when I’ve contacted him about infrastructure failures. (He’s also an associate member of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.)
        But he’s only one person, he’s only been with SDOT three years, and SDOT has never been a particularly nimble or communicative agency.

        June 17, 2015 at 2:38 pm
    • Michael, PeopleForBikes

      For what it’s worth, I agree – good photos and critique.

      June 16, 2015 at 12:57 pm
      • Jeff

        Time for a retraction of the endorsement in your blog, then?

        June 16, 2015 at 1:52 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I actually prefer to have both sides of the argument visible to all, especially since the blog refers to the post here…

          June 16, 2015 at 2:23 pm
      • Michael, PeopleForBikes

        That’s not an endorsement, it’s just positive coverage. Now it’s positive coverage tempered by negative coverage. I’m with Jan on this – better for folks to make up their own minds. I think we can all agree that the hooks he documents are undesirable.

        June 19, 2015 at 10:37 pm
  • David Feldman

    I am forwarding this to the appropriate people in my city’s government so that Vancouver, WA might be spared these.

    June 16, 2015 at 12:24 pm
  • dilinger0000

    A number of points regarding the 15th Ave bridge:
    1) That’s not a bike lane. It’s meant to reduce car traffic to 1 lane and slow down drivers.
    2) But it soon WILL be. See this for details:
    3) There are plastic posts that can take abuse. SDOT doesn’t use them, for some reason. For example,

    June 16, 2015 at 1:50 pm
    • dilinger0000

      I stand corrected; apparently SDOT does use them, but in this particular instance they aren’t attached the normal way.
      The permanent plastic posts will be attached better:

      June 17, 2015 at 1:44 am
      • Joshua Putnam

        Looking at Jan’s photos, though, it doesn’t appear the mounting of the base has any relevance to the failure mode — the bases are all intact, with the tubular element cleanly removed from the base.
        The mounting bolts for the tube are still in place. I suspect the tube itself deforms under the crushing load of tires and cracks around the bolt heads.
        Has anyone seen one of the tubes on the roadside after separation?
        If you spot one, get a picture of the failure mode.

        June 17, 2015 at 2:46 pm
      • dilinger0000

        I took some pictures, just for you! 😉
        There appear to be at least 3 different failure modes. There’s the adhesion problem that Dongho described:
        A large number of the posts were just hanging out there, kept in place by gravity. The adhesive had failed, and someone had put them back upright in roughly the same place. One strike from a car, or a strong gust of wind, and they’ll be back on the ground.
        The second appears to be an installer error. There are bolts that keep the glued-on pad attached to the black post base. Most posts had bolts + washers, except for this one:
        There might have been more missing washers that I didn’t notice, but I didn’t check every one. The 45deg tilt was how I discovered it that post with the missing washers.
        And finally, the black post base itself seems to be failing:
        That’s what is leaving behind the “snare traps”. There appeared to be an equal number of those failures and adhesion failures. There was only that one post laying on the ground. It’s hard to see from the picture, but there’s part of the black post base sandwiched between the inner and outer layer of the post, still held in place by metal bolts. I’d guess that’s where it’s failing, but who knows.
        One more point: these posts have been here for 6 months or so, including when construction crews were doing bridge inspections. Construction vehicles were parked on top of the posts, so I wouldn’t be surprised of that sort of thing does a number on the plastic base.

        June 18, 2015 at 7:31 pm
  • John Duval

    These posts all claim surviving 50 hits at 50+ mph, but they are designed for highway use only. In an urban setting, vehicles not only run over them, they stop and back up. The post then goes up into the vehicles undercarriage, snags, and gets ripped out. One hit will do it.
    A safe routes to school project created a paint buffered and post protected bike lane on Wardlow at El Dorado Park, Long Beach. Apparently done to satisfy young children and parents. Street sweeping halted and conditions rapidly deteriorated. The posts made the bike lane very confining, forcing users into several unsafe positions, and passing meant swerving sharply between posts and being trapped between the posts and 50+mph traffic.
    Fortunately the posts were soon removed and debris swept away. It is now one of the more pleasant streets to ride.

    June 16, 2015 at 11:53 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I’d like to test those claims – in the situation shown, it’s unlikely that anybody has backed over the posts. I suspect that the posts may withstand a direct hit fine, but if car/truck wheels roll over them, it’s a different matter. I suspect that is what happened here.

      June 17, 2015 at 5:51 am

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