Category Archives: Engineering/Facilities

AB 1193 being confused by amendments

To Assembly Member Phil Ting

The California Association of Bicycling Organizations, the association of California’s bicycle clubs, would like to register its support of your AB 1193 provided it is amended, as proposed, to change the term “protected bike lanes” to “separated bikeways.” We are greatly concerned, however, about another amendment to make the minimum safety design criteria established in Streets and Highways Code §890.6 optional, and to eliminate the experimental process associated with them. This amendment resembles the bill as introduced, and our objections to it are the same as they were then. Eliminating this requirement would be an enormous mistake. If this amendment is included, our position changes to strong opposition.

The bill’s sponsor, the California Bicycle Coalition (CBC), asks why local agencies shouldn’t have the same latitude with respect to local bikeways as they have with respect to local roads. But this comparison, while it may seem attractive, overlooks a number of important points:

• Much as local agencies might prefer to have complete control over their own streets and roads, this is not the case. For instance, cities and counties may enact traffic regulations only as expressly authorized (Vehicle Code §21), and they must adhere to uniform standards and specifications for all traffic control devices (signs, signals, and markings) (Vehicle Code §21401). These provisions are important to insure uniformity, predictability, and best practices, but innovation is not neglected. The California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices includes a well-defined procedure for agencies to experiment with new or improved devices. The committee that oversees these experiments, and advises Caltrans generally on traffic control devices, gives local agencies a say by including representatives from the League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties.

• When it comes to physical design of streets and highways, nearly all California agencies voluntarily adopt the Caltrans Highway Design Manual as their design guide. The HDM’s standards are well-established, and traffic engineers are thoroughly trained in their use. The outcome is therefore generally uniform and consistent, and there is no need to mandate compliance (other than through funding mechanisms).

• With bikeways, on the other hand, the situation is much less predictable. Most traffic engineers receive little or no training in designing bicycle facilities. Many may be qualified to do so, but it cannot be assumed that all are or that they are familiar with proper standards to follow. That is why the Legislature enacted the California Bikeways Act in 1975 (now called the California Bicycle Transportation Act, Streets and Highways Code §§890 et seq). This act begins: It is the intent of the Legislature, in enacting this article, to establish a bicycle transportation system. It is the further intent of the Legislature that this transportation system shall be designed and developed to achieve the functional commuting needs of the employee, student, business person, and shopper as the foremost consideration in route selection, to have the physical safety of the bicyclist and bicyclist’s property as a major planning component, and to have the capacity to accommodate bicyclists of all ages and skills. The Legislature implemented this intent, among other ways, by directing Caltrans, in cooperation with county and city governments, to develop minimum safety design criteria for bikeways, and to develop uniform signs and specifications for traffic control devices for bikeways. It further directed agencies responsible for bikeways to use these minimum safety design criteria and uniform specifications.

• These standards and specifications have been enormously beneficial in insuring that bikeway designs adhere to accepted safety standards. But there is no enforcement mechanism other than funding procedures or liability. A few traffic engineers who may be either unaware of or indifferent to these standards have consequently been responsible for thousands of examples of California bikeways that violate basic minimum safety principles, either in geometric design (widths, routing, especially at intersections) or in traffic controls (signs, signals and markings). Often, for no valid engineering reason, or worse still, for reasons contrary to sound traffic movements, these bikeways deviate from mandatory standards in ways that expose cyclists to greater crash risk. What’s needed is better compliance mechanisms for standards, not greater latitude to deviate from them arbitrarily. We don’t need more such bad designs.

• The California Bikeways Act, however, had one important shortcoming. Until recently, cities and counties were not permitted to deviate from mandatory bikeway standards in order to experiment with modified, improved, or new designs. This issue was successfully addressed in the last session by AB 819 (Wieckowski), co-sponsored by CABO and CBC, which directed Caltrans to create an experimental process similar to the existing one for traffic control devices. This process would simultaneously have allowed for creative and innovative design improvements, collected valuable data for evaluating them and eventually incorporating them into standards, and relieved local agencies of the threat of liability for experimentation. Unfortunately, Caltrans has refused to implement the experimental process in any meaningful way. -2-

• Furthermore, Streets and Highways Code §890.6 requires bikeway design criteria to be updated biennially, or more often, as needed. But this has not been done, despite repeated requests to Caltrans from CABO, CBC, and the California Bicycle Advisory Committee (CBAC) (appointed by Caltrans to advise it on bicycle matters). State bikeway standards have fallen behind those in other documents such as the nationally accepted AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities. It seems that Caltrans may finally be embarking on such an update process, but it is critical that it be founded on evidence-based technical review whose outcome is not predetermined. Among CBAC’s responsibilities, as chartered by Caltrans, is to “provide input to Caltrans on designs, concepts, standards, and manuals related to bicycle facilities and for consideration to incorporate into existing Caltrans standards or manuals.” CBAC is also the body that provides the “cooperation with county and city governments” specified in Streets and Highways Code §890.6. It is therefore vital that CBAC play a role as bikeway standards are revised.

Proponents of this amendment might anticipate that deregulation will unleash a torrent of creativity and innovation. CABO and CBC have significant disagreements over bicycle facility design, but that is not even the issue here. The danger is the license granted to substandard, poorly conceived designs that neither CABO nor CBC would approve of.
We therefore urge you and the Legislature not to include such an amendment in AB 1193, and instead to influence Caltrans to update its design standards and to implement an effective experimental process. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

We don’t know what position Caltrans might take on this bill. But we feel obligated to point out that in several recent decisions involving bicycling policy, Caltrans and its consultants did not seek the opinion of CABO or CBAC, and may therefore not be fully aware of all sides of these issues. Furthermore, it is also CBAC’s chartered responsibility to “Review proposed legislation related to bicycling.” Caltrans has not yet sought CBAC’s opinion on the radical changes that might be included in AB 1193. Decisions of this magnitude should not be made hastily, in a final policy committee hearing, over amendments that are not yet even in print.

CABO Support of Assembly Bill 819

In our letter to Assemblymember Wieckowski, we expressed opposition to Assembly Bill 819 unless amended. AB819 will be amended, and CABO is now in support.

AB 819 would have permitted local agencies to follow “innovative” bikeway design guidelines from sources other than the Caltrans Highway Design Manual, as currently mandated by law. The reasoning for our opposition is in the Assembly Transportation Committee analysis, quoted from our letter:

We are always open to innovative ideas, but a number of facility innovations that initially seem attractive also appear to present significant safety issues. The available research on these facilities is not always reliable, despite being cited in a guide produced by a private organization. Legitimizing these designs, in effect, by statute, rather than by technical review, could expose bicyclists to potentially dangerous facilities.

We agree, however, that Caltrans has been too conservative in its approach to bikeway design, and we would enthusiastically support an alternative approach that would provide an efficient process for experimenting with new designs. A Caltrans sanctioned experimental procedure would relieve local agencies of liability for nonstandard designs; it would enable experimentation with innovative and improved designs in a controlled and rigorous manner that would be consistent across jurisdictions; and it would provide reliable information for revision of the Highway Design Manual.

As indicated in the bill analysis, the Assembly Transportation Committee recommended that AB819 be amended to specifically require procedures allowing local agencies to request Caltrans to consider innovative and modified bikeway project designs, and the author and sponsor of the bill have agreed to these amendments. This addresses our concerns above, and so CABO is now in support of AB819.

CABO Opposition to AB819 Unless Amended

State Assembly Member Bob Wieckowski
State Capitol, Room 4162
Sacramento, CA 95814

SUBJECT: CABO opposition to AB 819 unless amended

Dear Assemblymember Wieckowski:

CABO is the association of California’s bicycle organizations. In our meeting last week with Ed Imai of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition, and Heather Falkenthal from your staff, we heard proposals that AB 819 permit local agencies to follow “innovative” bikeway design guidelines from sources other than the Caltrans Highway Design Manual, as currently mandated by law.

We are always open to innovative ideas, but a number of facility innovations that initially seem attractive also appear to present significant safety issues. The available research on these facilities is not always reliable, despite being cited in a guide produced by a private organization. Legitimizing these designs, in effect, by statute, rather than by technical review, could expose bicyclists to potentially dangerous facilities. Continue reading

CABO Comments on Santa Ana River Trail

Below are comments from the California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO) on the RRTAC July 19 agenda items relating to the Santa Ana River Trail (SART):

1. First and foremost, we applaud the county’s efforts in reaching out to and working with the cycling community to come up with a SART detour well in advance of the widening of the 91 freeway.  Furthermore, we appreciate the county’s commitment to come with a long term solution that will most likely be more attractive than the original concept of a bikeway adjacent to the freeway.

2. When cyclist access to State Route 91 was severed due to conversion to a freeway in the 1970s, the section of the SART between Gypsum Canyon and Green River was constructed to provide an alternate transportational route for cyclists in accordance with Streets and Highways Code Section 888. Continue reading

Ask the traffic engineer: How are speed limits set?

Most people think that motorists base their speeds on the speed limit. But while that may be true on freeways and other high speed highways, it’s not true on lower speed roads and streets. On lower speed roads and streets, motorists base their speeds not on the speed limit but on how the road feels.

If you’re typical, that doesn’t feel right to you. You may be thinking to yourself, doesn’t everyone pay attention to the speed limit like I do? Continue reading

Signal Timing Issues

AB1581, which became law in 2008, requires all new or replaced traffic signals to respond to the presence of bicyclists. In addition, a requirement to develop signal timing guidance was also a part of AB1581. Both are incorporated in Policy Directive 09-06 from Caltrans.

The video clip below is of a cyclist making a left turn from a residential collector onto a six lane arterial. Although it’s a bit difficult to see in the video due to the wide angle lens, the cyclist’s position when the light turns green for traffic on the arterial is in the middle of the number two lane.  The cyclist reaches the bike lane on the other side at about 12 seconds after receiving the green.

Problems with Bike Lanes Striped Solid to the Intersection

Some of our friends in other states, as well as some local advocates have asked me about why bike lanes shouldn’t be striped solid at intersections. Here’s a picture of just such a facility in Florida, care of our friends at

Bike Lane Striped Solid at Intersection in Florida

Bike Lane Striped Solid at Intersection in Florida

Here’s a slide that gives a visual representation of the problems created by this bike lane treatment (and even a wide lane under Far To Right law guidance):

Incompatible-Destination-Lanes-Draft-600x450 Problems with Incompatible Destination Lanes

And here’s a detailed explanation in terms of Engineering and Planning and the Legal/Operational issues that result: Continue reading

Bike Lanes and Motorist Right Turns

Here’s an interesting article discussing how motorists should legally and safely make right turns in the presence of a bike lane (with no separate right turn only lane):

California law requires motorists to merge into a bike lane before turning right.  This is consistent with destination positioning traffic principles (right turning traffic turns from the rightmost part of the roadway) and thereby minimizes the chance of a “right hook” crash, where a right turning motorist turns across the path of a cyclist proceeding straight.

A few years ago, Oregon was dealing with conflicting laws – one that required motorists to make right turns from the edge of the roadway, and yet another required them to stay out of bike lanes.  The police proposed a California-style law which would require motorists to merge into the bike lane before turning.  That did not gain traction, and so the net result in Oregon is that motorists are required to turn across bike lanes when turning right.

Oregon has been moving in the direction of installing “bike boxes” to address the right hook problem.  Here is an animation that shows they don’t work as intended in all situations:

As the Mercury News article illustrates, there is often confusion among motorists and cyclists about the California law regarding motorist right turns and bike lanes.  In my (Brian’s) view, part of the confusion is that motorists are being asked to occupy two lanes at once (the bike lane and part of the travel lane) – which runs counter to the concept we’ve all learned about only being in one lane at a time. But what other solution is there when bike lanes are striped to the right of lanes where motorists may turn right? Since there seems to be little desire to drop the bike lane stripe before intersections (even though the design standards allow it), the California law appears to be the best way to address the potential conflicts.

See also this post:

City of LA Draft Bicycle Master Plan – Engineering Policy Problems

The current draft of the City of Los Angeles Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) gives up on bicyclist use of the vast majority of the roads in the city and focuses on bikeways. In effect, this plan allows LA Dept. of Transportation (LADOT) to simply ignore the overwhelming majority of roadways as facilities that bicyclists will use and relieves them of any obligation to make the surface standards, intersection designs, and signal detection support bicycling on this majority of roadways. What follows is a re-write of the top level policies with existing policies augmented and a small number of important new goals and policies added. My changes are identified by [square brackets]. Continue reading

Proposed Bikeway in Long Beach – Letter to CBAC

September 29, 2009

Ken McGuire, Secretary
California Bicycle Advisory Committee – MS1
P.O. Box 942874, Sacramento, CA-94274-0001

Subject: Proposal by City of Long Beach to Experiment with Separated/Protected Bikeway on the Left Side of Two One-Way Streets

by email to (email address deleted)

Dear Mr. McGuire:

The California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO) has reviewed the documents prepared by the City of Long Beach in support of a “protected bikeway” and notes that it fails to comply with the guidance and standards in the California Streets and Highways Code and Vehicle Code and in the Caltrans “Highway Design Manual”. In light of this noncompliance and the resulting potential problems of traffic safety, traffic operations, and the failure by the City to address the status of bicyclists as legitimate highway users, CABO hereby requests that CBAC adopt a finding that the Long Beach proposal fails to comply with these references and to forward this finding to the City of Long Beach. The reasons for this request are detailed below. Continue reading