So you have been trying for months, maybe even years, to persuade public officials that curbside shoulders or bike lanes are necessary in your community. You have made clear that the pavement is deteriorating and cars are always speeding, rendering the roads unsafe for biking. But little progress has been made. Read this post to add a new tool to your advocacy tool belt, one that can help quantify existing biking conditions and make a more compelling argument about what improvements should be implemented to make your roads safer for two-wheeled travelers. The next paragraph is a bit technical, so please bear with me. At the end of this post you will have gained a practical knowledge of how and why to employ a Bicycle Level of Service model in your community.
For decades, traffic engineers have used models to determine how well an intersection is functioning. A properly operating intersection allows vehicles to move through quickly, with little delay time at traffic signal devices, such as a stoplight or stop sign. This delay time, or wait time at the intersection, is quantified and labeled Level of Service, abbreviated LOS in traffic engineering circles. Intersections are rated on a scale from ‘A’ (intersection functions very well) to ‘F’ (intersection functioning poorly, long delay periods). Think about it this way: the more frustrated you are at an intersection because “this light takes forever,” the lower the LOS will be for that intersection.
This is a bike advocacy blog, so why am I getting into these details about traffic engineering? In recent years, the LOS models have grown not just to encompass Vehicle LOS (VLOS), but also Bicycle Level of Service (BLOS). BLOS is similar to VLOS in that roadway conditions are rated on an alphabetical scale, and the two models use many of the same inputs, such as vehicle volumes. The two models differ in that, where VLOS measures delay time, BLOS seeks to quantify the comfort level that a typical biker would feel while riding on a roadway with traffic.
The Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) has produced a model that is based on Bruce Landis’ report, Real-Time Human Perceptions: Toward a Bicyclist Level of Service, the 2010 Highway Capacity Manual Multimodal LOS model, and efforts put forth by CDTC. In the model several factors are included, each of which are assigned different weights, including vehicle speeds and volumes, type of traffic, number of lanes and lane width, presence or absence of a shoulder/bike lane, on street parking, pavement conditions and other relevant road features. Scores range from ‘A’ to ‘F’ with ‘A’ being ‘best’ and F being ‘worst’. The model should be used in conjunction with personal observation to determine if the results are consistent and reasonable.
*Roger Geller 2009
Sometimes it is best to illustrate technical topics with an example. Imagine a roadway with large lane widths, with two lanes in both directions (12 foot interior, 15 foot exterior). Because of the large lane widths, drivers tend to travel at average speeds higher than the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour. There are no shoulders on the road and the pavement condition is poor, with many potholes and frost heaves. Bikers may ride on this road, but their comfort level would not be very high, and the roadway would probably receive a BLOS rating of ‘E’ or ‘F’. Only the brave and fearless, the 1% of bikers, would be found riding on a road such as this.
Before, 12’ interior lanes, 15’ exterior lanes
Say an advocate in the community wants to improve biking conditions along the roadway. They are having difficulty coming up with evidence that shows that by improving certain roadway features, the road will become more comfortable for bikers and lead to increased biking levels. They learn about BLOS, and decide that this would be a perfect tool to show that certain roadway improvements would lead to more comfortable biking conditions. They change certain inputs in the model: adding a 5 foot shoulder and reducing the lane widths to 11 feet; updating the pavement rating from poor to good, simulating a road resurfacing; and decreasing the average vehicle speed to 30 miles per hour, in line with the posted speed limit. The BLOS rises from an ‘E’ to a rating of ‘B’. When the roadway is resurfaced, the results of the model can be used to advocate for a road design such as the one illustrated below.
Figure 9: After 5’ Bike Lanes, 11’ travel lanes
The beauty of the model is that the inputs can be changed to determine what combination of roadway improvements would result in the best level of comfort for bikers, without having to perform any physical changes to the roadway. BLOS models should not be used in isolation, and their results should not be seen as irrefutable. They should be used in the planning stages of roadway redesign to determine what the impact of different roadway treatments will have on the typical bicyclist’s comfort level.
The Local Bikeway Planning and Design Guide includes a Speed Volume Matrix based on a national review of on-road bicycle improvements that shows the preferred treatment for different roadways. The numbers in the body of the matrix represent the number of vehicles traveling on the road segment in an average day. For instance, the matrix indicates that a wide curb lane is not an appropriate bicycle facility on roadways with a speed limit greater than 30 mph and an AADT greater than 8,000 vehicles per day.
Speed Volume Matrix
*Local Bikeway Planning and Design Guide 2010
The data needed for the model may be available from your regional MPO, the New York State DOT, or your local municipality. Some regional MPO’s in New York State may employ a BLOS model. Keep abreast on when roads are being repaved in your communities, as this is the best time to call for the installation of dedicated facilities for bicyclists. Your regional MPO / the New York State DOT / your local municipality may be able to point you in the right direction to determine which roads are planned for construction.
Sam Piper is finishing his Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University at Albany, with a focus on transportation and multi-modal planning. He was first exposed to the BLOS model while interning at CDTC, the MPO for the Albany area, and now works for Alta Planning and Design, a multi-modal planning and design firm based in Saratoga Springs, NY. If you would like more information about this or other topics, Sam can be reached at email@example.com
**Cover Photo Courtesy: www.thelmagazine.com