September 14, 2021
As a long-time bicycle commuter through the City of Fairfax, I appreciate the intentions behind the proposed University Drive Bike Facilities Project. But I fear that the proposal would do little to improve bicycle travel on University Drive, would create new hazards for bicyclists, and would absorb resources best spent elsewhere in the City.
Page 13 of the staff presentation refers to “Bicycle Level of Traffic Stress Methodology,” developed by the Mineta Transportation Institute, San José State University. (https://transweb.sjsu.edu/research/Low-Stress-Bicycling-and-Network-Connectivity) That methodology classifies road segments “into four levels of traffic stress (LTS). LTS 1 is suitable for children; LTS 2, based on Dutch bikeway design criteria, represents the traffic stress that most adults will tolerate; LTS 3 and 4 represent greater levels of stress.” Most jurisdictions consider LTS 3 facilities to be attractive to only “enthused and confident” cyclists, about 10 percent of the adult population. (https://www.ampo.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Bike_LTS_Accessibility_AMPO_2019a.pdf)
Based on my own years of riding on University Drive, and the Mineta Institute criteria, I would judge University Drive to currently present LTS 3 levels. Unfortunately, the proposed $860,000 investment would not lower that to LTS 2, and could increase the level of stress on some segments.
The segments through Old Town mostly confirm existing conditions. I appreciate the proposal to place “Bicycle May Use Full Lane” signs along the route, to remind drivers of Virginia law. I am skeptical that sharrows would have much of any additional impact, but perhaps city staff can cite research to that effect.
The real problems with the proposal lie north of North Street. On southbound University, where the bike lane would end suddenly at the Old Town Plaza Parking Garage. If a cyclist is not confident taking a lane on the hill leading up to the Garage, there is no reason to think they will be ready to take the lane south of the garage. Moreover, pushing southbound bicyclists into the bike lane will make them less visible to drivers making right turns into the garage, creating a hazard.
On northbound University, approaching Layton Hall Dr, a cyclist picking up speed on the downhill would need to occupy a narrow, unprotected lane, with cars passing to the left and right. I would consider that more stressful and dangerous than present conditions, which allow me to occupy the left lane and—thanks to the downhill—maintain a speed near the limit. Passing through the Layton Hall intersection, cyclists now find themselves suddenly forced to share a lane with cars, with both moving at around 25 – 30 mph. This design would increase, not decrease, the stress level of the route.
Given these hazards, the proposal would not achieve the stated goal of improving “Pedestrian and bicycle comfort . . . from uncomfortable to somewhat comfortable.”
To achieve LTS 2 levels, the City would need to provide a physically separate bike lane, or “an exclusive bicycling zone next to a well-confined traffic stream with adequate clearance from a parking lane,” or “a shared road where [cyclists] interact with only occasional motor vehicles (as opposed to a stream of traffic) with a low speed differential.” (Maaza C Mekuria, Peter G Furth, and Hilary Nixon, “Low-Stress Bicycling and Network Connectivity” (Mineta Transportation Institute, May 2012, p. 14). The proposal offers none of these. If the City wishes to achieve its stated goals, I hope it will explore ways to map an LTS 2 route through Old Town.
I appreciate the City’s interest in investing in bicycle infrastructure. I suggest these funds could be better spent on a traffic signal at University and Layton Hill, rehabilitating the unnamed connector between Plantation Parkway and Five Oaks Road, or accelerating the construction of the Country Club Commons Connector Trail.
Thank you for your consideration.