Every fall the Provincetown Board of Selectmen hold their annual traffic hearing where town residents, town boards, selectmen and town staff can submit requests for changes within a town road right-of-way.
This year’s hearing on October 25 had the usual requests for signs and crosswalks as well as a number of bike-related items.
Here’s how the bike requests fared:
The Provincetown 365 request for bike racks was partly approved, with the selectmen agreeing to swap out three parking spaces at the Johnson Street lot for bike racks. They also approved a rack for the Gosnold Street landing near the Julie Heller Gallery and provisionally approved a rack in front of the Police Station on Shank Painter Rd. pending the police chief’s review. The approved bike racks will provide year-round parking for over 40 bicycles.
The Bicycle Committee request to add a fine to the parking regulations for “Obstructing a marked bicycle lane” was approved, with the fine set at $100. There was surprisingly little discussion about this.
The Bicycle Committee request for clarifying signage for the 2-way bike travel on Commercial Street got mired in discussions of prior efforts to put sharrows on the street and in the end the entire proposal was voted down. This was despite staff support for adding “except bicycles” to the “Do not enter” signs and two “no turn” signs along the street. The general attitude seems to be that any sign is unwelcome despite the vast sign clutter that already exists. I was specifically asked if there were signs that could be removed, and indeed I do have a list of outdated, confusing, or plainly unnecessary signs that I will bring back to a future selectmen meeting.
The Bicycle Committee request for climbing lanes on the section of Bradford Street from Franklin Street to Prince Street was tabled. Department of Public Works director Richard Waldo said earlier in the meeting that this section of road will be repaved and the sidewalk repaired in 2017, so there will be an opportunity to consider a new layout as that project moves forward. I asked specifically for guidance from the selectmen on removing parking to make the street safer and was asked to locate alternate parking spaces for those vehicles. The Committee attempted a similar project back in 2012 and had support from over 300 people on a petition, but it never went anywhere.
Finally, a citizen request to restripe the section of Bradford Street Extension where it meets Province Lands Road was supported by the selectmen. There are signs at this location that say “Private Parking” even though the cars are parking in the town right-of-way. The selectmen voted to remove the parking and define the wide bike and pedestrian shoulder with paint.
The next annual traffic hearing will take place in the fall of 2017.
At the spring Traffic Hearing on Wednesday, the Board of Selectmen approved the proposal by Provincetown 365 to stripe a bike lane and paint sharrows on Shank Painter Road. This will be the first marked bike lane to be installed by the town.
Town staff recommended the proposal with some changes to the size and placement of the sharrows, citing the narrow road width and speed of traffic on the road as factors. Both the town Bicycle Committee and the Cape Cod Commission were in favor of the proposal.
A bike lane will be painted southbound from Route 6 to Province Road, sharrows will continue southbound to the second Stop & Shop entrance, and then the bike lane will continue to Bradford St. Sharrows will be painted along the entire road northbound from Bradford St. since the existing pavement, while wide in some places, is broken and unsafe for riding.
No budget was identified to pay for this improvement, so that puts into question when it will actually be executed. The selectmen didn’t specify a timeline for the project, either, but in the past the changes approved at the spring traffic hearings tend to get implemented before the summer tourist season begins.
You can watch the entire traffic hearing (including the Cape Cod Commission’s presentation of its Parking & Circulation Study) here on Provincetown Community Television:
The selectmen also approved sharrows in both directions on Conwell St. from Bradford St. to Cemetery Rd. where the planned bike lanes will continue to Route 6. They also directed the DPW staff to request permission from MassDOT to paint sharrows on the section of the road that is controlled by the state.
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.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) recently released a forward-looking design guide for bike infrastructure. It’s really a big deal, since MassDOT is in charge of lots of roads and intersections all over the state that have pretty meagre bike provisions.
Here in Provincetown, the biggest opportunity to apply the new guidelines are at the three crossings of Route 6, a 50-mph highway with one signalized crossing and two completely cross-your-fingers and run intersections. When Route 6 was cut through town in the 1950s, is was laid out as a 4-lane highway with a wide median. And little has changed since then. Even the single traffic light has no bicycle detector loop, so it’s easy to get stranded in the intersection at a red light (Note: Our intrepid deputy director of public works managed to include a bicycle detector in the upcoming Conwell St. Bicycle Improvements Project).
At last week’s Outer Cape Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan workshop, it was clear that the master plan process isn’t delaying near-term bicycle improvements. Martha Hevenor, planner for the Cape Cod Commission, said that the master plan is expected to be completed in the winter of 2016-2017.
Cape Cod National Seashore
Lauren McKean, a planner at the Seashore, provided an update on the plans for installing motion-activated bicycle crossing beacons at five locations in the Seashore, three of which are in Provincetown. She also announced that the Seashore is in the process of obtaining funding to rehabilitate the Head of the Meadow bike trail in Truro and that the project may also include a 0.6-mile extension of the trail. Funding will be in place next year so construction could possibly commence in 2017.
There were a number of great updates at the Outer Cape Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan workshop in Provincetown on November 12.
Route 6 Multi-Use Path Option Martha Hevenor of the Cape Cod Commission revealed that MassDOT is willing to look at putting a separated multi-use path alongside Route 6. This is a big shift, and hopefully shows a change in direction now that MassDOT’s separated bicycle facility guidelines have been released.
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.