Westminster to be repaved with bike lane…BUT…

Honorable Mayor Deaton and City Council Members,

As you are no doubt aware on Monday the City is beginning a repaving and restriping project on Westminster between Seal Beach Blvd and Bolsa Chica. 

The project is funded by a bicycle grant with the intent of improving safety for bicyclists.  Yet the current plans do little more that repave and duplicate the existing, inadequate bike facilities.

While we applaud the City’s effort to add improved bike facilities…the city can do better. 

A 6 foot wide bike lane is planned for both sides of the roadway.  This simply is not adequate space for most bicyclists to feel safe when they have 60 mph vehicles whizzing by them. There is sufficient room to provide an additional 3 foot buffer between the bike land and the travel lane as is now becoming standard practice throughout Orange County whenever there is adequate room as there is on Westminster.  

Over the past 6 years there have been 20 crashes on this stretch of roadway…and 1/4 of them have been bike related.  Please help us make sure that this newly repave road, which is being funded by a bicycle grant, is indeed safe for bicyclists as well as motorists.

Below is a e-mail that I sent to the Public Works Director, Sean Crumby laying out both the need for buffer as well as how it can help slow traffic on the street and make it safer for both bicyclists and motorists.

We recognize that the project is starting on Monday and that it would have been good to have had this conversation several months ago. However, in spite of our asking to be involved in a public outreach process when this project was launched over 3 years ago, there has been no outreach.  It was not until yesterday that we found out about the final plans.  The project can still start on Monday and have the re-striping plans redone in time to keep the over all project on schedule.

Once again, we applaud the City’s effort to improve bike facilities and look forward to working with the city to ensure that the dollars that are invested in bike infrastructure provide the safest designs for all users.

I have copied several Seal Beach residents who bike this street on regular basis and know the need for truly safe facilities for all users on this high-speed arterial.

Don’t hesitate to call me or send me an e-mail should you have any questions.

Regards,

Allan Crawford
Executive Director, BIKEable Communities
310-994-1619
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Sean,

The purpose of this e-mail is to urge you to consider adding buffered lanes on Westminster instead of just the 6 foot bike lanes as you have proposed.  We recognize that this repaving project is starting on Monday.  But it will be weeks before it is ready to be stripped, which is plenty of time to have the stripping plan redesigned.

The 60 mph speeds on Westminster are too high for most bicyclists to be comfortable with only bike lanes.  And as you will see from the 
data below….these high speeds result in a dangerous and potentially fatal situation for bicyclists.  A buffered bike lane will give bicyclists added space and comfort. But the buffers will not just make it  safer for bicyclists, as I argue below it will be safer for all users as well as increasing the number of bicyclists using the roadway.

I know that your big concern is reducing the width of the center median.  However, as you will see from the data below, the big cause of vehicle crashes on this stretch of Westminster has nothing to do with median width, but is most significantly is related to speed. And of course from the perspective of the bicyclist…speed kills.  As the graph below shows, at speeds over 50 mph a vehicle colliding with a bicyclist or pedestrian is fatal.
 

speed vs injury

This is why it is so important to give bicyclists the maximum amount of room between them and the high speed traffic.  I suggest that adding buffers, reducing the width of the medians and potentially reducing the width of the inner lane will help reduce speeds.  Drivers will feel that the roadway is narrower and that they need to driver more cautiously.  They will recognize that high speeds are indeed dangerous on this stretch of roadway.  The current configuration of Westminster feels like a freeway.  If you want to encourage bicycle usage and decrease speeds, you need to change the character of the road. It has to be configured so that it does look and feel like a freeway.  Adding buffered lanes, narrowing the median and narrowing the inner travel lane will have this result.

Below are some details to back up my assertions that adding buffered lanes will make it safer for everyone.

As  a result of our conversation I wanted to look at the number of crashes on Westminster between Seal Beach Blvd and Bolsa Chica and the causes.  I pulled the SWITR’s data for this stretch of roadway for 2008-1013. 

Here is what stood out.

  • 35% of all crashes were related to unsafe speeds – suggesting reduce speeds would be a worthy goal. 
  • There were 20 accidents, 25% of them involved bikes.  This is nearly 4 times the rate of bike related crashes for the city as a whole where bikes crashes make up less than 7% of all crashes.
  • Nearly 7%  of all bike crashes in Seal Beach (5 out of 79) occurred on this one mile of roadway
  • Of severe accidents 50% (2 out of 4) were bike related
  • During this 6 year period there was one head-on collision and that was DUI related.
We can make this roadway safer for everyone.

The following diagram shows what is possible to do to make it safer for bicyclists on Westminster by adding buffered bike lanes on both 

westminster cross section

sides of the roadway.  Note this provides for 6 foot bike lanes, 3 foot buffers and an 8 foot median.  Travel lanes are 11 feet (inner) and 12 feet (outer).  See below for a similar example from Dana Point.

This type of treatment has proven to be successful in reducing bike related crashes, reducing traffic speeds and increasing the number of bicyclists using the facility.

  • Safer for the bicyclist: The reduction in bike related crashes is the result of separating the bicyclists from the high speed traffic and giving them more room to maneuver.  It also gives bicyclists the 3 foot clearance that is now mandated by California law.

  • Reduces traffic speeds: The reduction is speed is a result of “making the lanes feel narrower” for the vehicles by adding significant paint to the right side of the travel way. There are several recent studies that show adding buffered lanes reduces traffic speed, although admittedly, many of these are also associated with reducing lane width.  Since 35% of all crashes on this stretch of roadway are the result of unsafe speeds, anything that reduces speeds should be a priority. One possibility to consider is reducing the center lanes to 11 feet while leaving the outer lanes at 12 feet.  The FHWA office of Safety shows that this reduction is width will reduce speeds modestly.

  • Increases usage by bicyclists: A recent study titled Lessons from the Green Lane that was sponsored by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities showed that separated lanes and buffered lanes significantly increase the number of people using the facility.

dana pt buffered lanes

Here is an example from Dana Point where there is a similar road configuration.  Note narrower median and very wide buffer.This configuration with the wide buffer provides an effective road diet resulting narrow the lanes, which causes slower traffic. Travels lanes are 11 feet (inner) and 12 feet outer).

Sean, once again, we understand your desire to provide a safe space for drivers.  However, every bicyclist who uses Westminster is in far more in danger due to the vehicle speeds than are most drivers.  By adding buffered lanes, reducing the width of the median and reducing the width of the inner travel lanes, you will reduce speeds and give bicyclists the added space they need to be safe on this high speed arterial that should be safe for everyone to use…not just vehicle drivers.

We would be happy to discuss this with you, the residents of Seal Beach and your City Council Members.

Regards,

Allan Crawford
BIKEable Communities
310-994-1619