A recent story on WCAI radio claimed that there were over 65 bicycle crashes in town this year through September and that there has been a 25 percent increase in crashes over the past five years. The Bicycle Committee requests crash data from the Provincetown Police Department on a calendar year basis, so we can’t yet verify this. I’ve reached out to the committee’s police liaison to find out what numbers were provided to the reporter.
Here’s the data we do have:
If the 65 crash number for 2016 is accurate, that’s a whopping 88 percent increase from last year.
A draft of the parking and circulation study prepared for the town by the Cape Cod Commission has been making the rounds, and it includes a number of recommendations for improving bicycling.
The report is long at 80 pages and goes into detail on a number of questions that have been asked about traffic flow in town. It also addresses the need for more analysis of parking demand and developing a complete parking management plan.
The short-term suggestions for improving biking are primarily paint:
Paint sharrows on Shank Painter Rd. from Bradford St. to Route 6
Paint sharrows on Bradford St. from Commercial St. to West Vine St.
Continue installing bike racks as recommended by the town Bicycle Committee
Medium term suggestions:
Survey Conwell St. from Bradford St. to Harry Kemp Way to see if it’s possible to squeeze in a sidewalk or bike lane
Construct the Conwell St. Bicycle Improvement Project as designed
There are lots of ideas that have been kicked around for a number of years, and the Commission evaluated a number of them to provide recommendations.
What it says town shouldn’t do:
Don’t make Conwell St. one way
Don’t reverse High Point Hill Rd.
Don’t reconstruct the intersection of Route 6 and Howland St. to allow left turns onto Route 6
Don’t connect Alden St. to Route 6.
Don’t paint bike lanes on Commercial St.
A couple of things were surprises:
An engineering design to reconfigure the intersection of Bradford St. and Standish St. makes its first public appearance
A suggestion to a sidewalk along Route 6 from Dunes Edge Campground to Race Point Rd. to provide better pedestrian access to town from the north side of Route 6.
Some detail was missing that I expected to see:
No data on bicycle counts (not even the counts that the Bicycle Committee completed in 2015 or the Commission’s own counts)
No suggestions for regularly counting traffic to keep an eye on how it changes over time
No data on pedestrian counts
Nothing about developing a comprehensive sidewalk plan despite recommendations for a pedestrian wayfinding system
No mention of extending the sidewalk on Harry Kemp Way or improving the sidewalk on Howland St.
No analysis of the free on-street parking in the East End, on Bradford St., and elsewhere, though this is recommended as part of a parking management plan.
The report included the results from an online survey that about 125 people completed.
The projects that received the most “strongly supported” votes were:
Improve Shank Painter Road for vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians
Shuttles to/from remote parking areas
Parking maps and apps.
Overall, the study focused on circulation to/from the entrance to town from Route 6 to the MacMillan Pier parking lot and overall utilization of the town parking lots.
Much of the results reinforce what residents already know from experience — there’s too much traffic on Conwell St. in the summer and the downtown parking lots fill up quickly, causing visitors to drive around looking for parking spaces. That results in lots of cars milling around, causing congestion.
The short-term, bike-specific recommendations are simple, inexpensive things that can be done quickly without any changes to the roadway layouts. My hope is that the study report will kick-start town into prioritizing some of these transportation projects rather than waiting for the results of yet another study.
It’s not clear how town will move forward once the study is presented (which I expect to happen at the Traffic Hearing on March 15 but don’t have that confirmed yet). Does the Board of Selectmen need to vote to adopt the study’s recommendations? How will potential projects be prioritized? Will there be a follow-up public process to get more input from residents? It will be interesting to see how the study is received and whether town takes this as an opportunity to act or sticks the study on the shelf to gather dust.
The study’s title is “The Relative (In)effectiveness of Bicycle Sharrows on Ridership and Safety Outcomes.” I was curious about the conditions that the study’s authors looked at and wanted to find out the road configurations (lane widths, number of lanes) and the speed limits on those streets. The blog post didn’t mention those details and didn’t link to the actual study, so I reached out to Nick Ferenchak — one of the study authors — to find out more about the study’s details.
I asked specifically about his perspective on putting sharrows on low-speed (25 MPH) two-lane roads with narrow travel lanes (11 ft), which are the conditions on Shank Painter Road, and he said: “If shared lane markings are used on bicyclist-friendly roads (it sounds like your narrow and slow roads may be bike-friendly) or as way-finding, they may very well be beneficial.”
In looking at the Chicago data used in the study, it was interesting to see that the rate of bike commuting here in Provincetown is 4x that of Chicago (we are at 8% and Chicago is at 1.6%).
I tracked down the study online for more details. In short, the study looked at wide, multi-lane urban roads with 35 MPH speed limits. And it compared sharrows to on-street bike lanes. Their analysis was based on census commuter data, not actual observed trip counts, and didn’t account for destinations or bicycle-friendly locations with bike parking.
The authors recognized the limits of their work and gave a caution about misinterpreting its conclusions. Here’s the section on page 15: “While the conclusions of this work may be misconstrued by some as primarily a call to reduce the number of sharrows, the true goal of this research is to instead ensure that resources are focused on providing more bike infrastructure that has been proven to be effective at meeting its goals. This will most likely translate into more bike lanes in many scenarios.”
The study didn’t say sharrows were unsafe. It said that they weren’t safer than bike lanes. That’s like saying walking in the street isn’t safer than walking on a sidewalk. Seems like common sense.
The sharrows and bike lanes proposed by Provincetown 365 are a tactical, interim solution until the road can be reconstructed with sidewalks and permanent separated bike lanes. (The town’s FY2017 Capital Improvement Plan has funds earmarked for this in 2021.) The Cape Cod Commission’s 2012 Shank Painter Road Corridor Study and the 2015 DART Report both recommend adding bike lanes and sidewalks, but those improvements are years – and millions of dollars – away.
It’s important to note that the current proposal isn’t just sharrows. It’s a combination of marked bike lanes, sharrows, and “bikes may use full lane” signs. It’s a baby step toward a goal of making town more bicycle-friendly through simple, inexpensive improvements that take our local context and experience into consideration.
Adding sharrows makes no change to the road’s current layout. All that sharrows do is help educate everyone to expect bicycles. The proposed bike lanes fit in the existing layout where the road’s fog lines were repainted a number of years ago. So adding bike lane markings helps reinforces the existing use.
I’ve discussed the idea of sharrows on our local roads with Lou Rabito (MassDOT’s Complete Streets Engineer), Glenn Cannon (Technical Services Director at the Cape Cod Commission), Barbara Jacobsen (Program Manager at MassBike), and Josh Zisson (a lawyer who specializes in bicycle law).
These experts all concur that sharrows are appropriate on our local roads where posted speed limits are 25 MPH or less. And from a technical standpoint, all current guidance from AASHTO, NACTO, and MassDOT indicates that sharrows should be placed in the center of the lane where lane widths are 12 ft or narrower.
Demand overrides conditions
I’ve been surprised at how people characterize some of our roads as “fast” or “highways” or “unsafe”. Shank Painter Road, where we proposed this combination of bike lanes, sharrows, and “bikes may use full lane” signs, is used by lots of people on bikes and on foot despite its current configuration. It’s not a comfortable street if you’re not in a car, but people use it anyway.
There are numerous destinations here with lots of bike parking — Stop & Shop alone has six bike racks for customers. The dog park has bike parking, as does the bank, church, the two housing developments, the gym, and most of the restaurants. (Oddly, the police station, fire station, and municipal pay parking lots are devoid of any public bike parking.) According to the property manager at Province Landing, the largest housing development on the street, residents own many more bikes than cars.
It seems that sharrows are an effective tool when used to remind everyone to expect bicycles on our streets. Most of our year-round residents took their drivers license exam decades ago before these treatments became common, so they seem foreign (they’re in the current Massachusetts Driver’s Manual). But to our hundreds of thousands of visitors from out of town, sharrows and bike lanes are part of the streetscapes they experience every day.
If town wants to increase biking and walking (which the Local Comprehensive Plan and town-wide policy goals do indicate) and educate everyone that biking is welcome here (which is an objective of the town’s Bicycle Committee), pavement markings are a cheap and easy way to get started while continuing to plan for more substantial and permanent road improvements.
After years of starts and stops, bike lanes are finally coming to (part of) Conwell St.
On Monday, November 9, the Board of Selectmen approved the “preferred alternative” design for a sidewalk on one side and bike lanes on both sides of Conwell St. from Cemetery Rd. to Route 6. The vote was 5-0-0 in favor of this design.
Sharrows (formally, “shared-lane markings”) are on-street pavement markings that are intended to remind people in cars to expect people on bikes on a street. They help to indicate bike routes, and they are useful to help people on bikes position themselves in the road and encourage them to “take the lane.”
There are three important bike-related meetings coming up in November, all in one week.
Conwell Street Bicycle Improvements Project Monday, November 9, 6 PM, Judge Welsh Rm. at Town Hall
This is the public hearing on the long-delayed Conwell Street Bicycle Improvements project, which seeks to add bike lanes on both sides of Conwell Street from Route 6 to Cemetery Road.
The “preferred alternative” design also includes a sidewalk on the western side of the road that would connect to the signalized pedestrian crossing at Route 6. Discussion of improving safety on this stretch of roadway have been ongoing for at least 15 years, so it’s great to see something actually getting close to construction.
I’ve often felt that the “share the road” message has done little to make roads any safer for anyone. So it was heartening to read of a new study from North Carolina State University that looked at whether people actually understand what those signs mean.