For cyclists, the daily commute or casual rides around the county will be safer, soon. The Ada County Highway District says it will make a key change to keep drivers and cyclists apart.
ACHD will revamp how it approaches bike lanes on so-called “arterial” roadways – building separate pathways, detached bike lanes or detached bike lanes with sidewalks. That means fewer bike lanes directly attached to vehicle lanes, separated by nothing more than a painted line.
Arterials are streets like Fairview, Ten Mile, Capitol Blvd. or Deer Flat.
“Historically on arterial roads… we would have attached bike lanes right there adjacent to travel lane,” ACHD’s Planning and Programming Supervisor Tom Laws said. “Moving forward, the direction we received, and it really best practices nationally is to provide some sort of separation between the bicycle and pedestrian users and the vehicular movement. So, what we are looking at with any arterial project is some sort of separation.”
The lanes would go in as roads see updates or revamps in future years.
Joe Jaszewski an ACHD Pedestrian Advisory Group and local who uses his bike as his primary form of transportation called this a “game-changer.”
“I think it is underrated how big of a difference it’s going to make to people who want to get around on bikes,” Jaszewski said. “Currently to ride a bike along an arterial, which obviously serves a bunch of businesses and homes and workplaces, you’re really taking your life in your own hands. Because those bike lanes, the only thing separating you between 40 miles hour traffic in a lot of cases, is a strip of paint.”
Laws said determining which separated bike lanes ACHD installs is “context-sensitive.” The arterial streets associated with land use and public involvement will be a factor but going forward there will be no more standard attached bike lanes on these streets.
Several things prompted this change, Laws said. This includes traffic congestion and the safety of cyclists.
“What we found with looking at best practices, nationally, but then also with our advisory committees and what we heard from public is having that separation really can make the environment more comfortable, whether you’re eight years old or old 80 years old,” Laws said.
Cost of the lane changes
Laws says the cost of the detached lanes will be case by case and it’s hard to say how much it will be at this point. But Laws says in a lot of instances the detached sidewalk will already be there. Essentially ACHD will move the bicycle area and combine it with a multi-use path, raise it, or combine it with a sidewalk. These factors will affect the cost of the detached bike lanes.
You might be familiar with the detached bike lane along a few blocks of Capitol Blvd. in Downtown Boise. It’s one of a small number of detached lanes around the area.
“We haven’t really built these yet and really no one has nationwide,” he said. “So we’re still doing a lot of that due diligence in terms of the best practice but give us a year or two and we’ll have a much better understanding of how much differences this is in terms of construction costs compared to the traditional approach.”
Jaszewski said arterial roads with attached bike lanes such as Curtis Rd. aren’t safe for cyclists.
“I am a very comfortable, experienced rider, and I’m not going to ride down Curtis Road or any of the other arterials,” he said. “Really I mean sometimes Emerald but that’s fairly narrow and traffic’s a little bit slower. But everything else is it’s clearly designed by people who never ride their bikes anywhere. Almost feels like it’s just a checkbox for traffic engineers to say that there’s a bike lane there.”
Jaszewski hopes the change to attached lanes will help people move away from cars and start biking more places.
“Once they do it on one road and people see how much safer it is, and it feels I think that they really will drive some behavior change in a positive direction, which is away from cars,” he said. “And that’s the only way we’re going to get relief from congestion here is people basically riding bikes or walking because public transportation isn’t happening anytime soon with the legislature.”
ACHD will look for public feedback on these projects as it is a new design.
“While this is the new direction I’m sure there are always opportunities to improve upon and continue to evolve like we have today,” Laws said. “So it’s a really exciting time and really exciting to be the leaders in some of these designs that we really haven’t seen anywhere else both throughout the state and nationally.”