BAC concerned about streetcar’s impact on popular bike routes (with video)

Members of the Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee expressed their concerns about the modern streetcar during a presentation by the streetcar’s planners during Wednesday’s BAC meeting.

The streetcar team presented the lane layouts throughout several sections of the route.

The new tracks will be placed in the roadway in each direction rather than one track down the center turn lane. The streetcars, automobiles and bikes will all share the lane along Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard, two of Tucson’s most popular bike routes.

The designers said they are planning to use a newer track, which is slightly better for cyclists, but has a 1 and 5/8-inch gap between the track and the edge of the road — still wide enough to allow a tire to slip into the gap. The designers did not know how wide the gap currently is.

The design calls for narrowing the center turn lane and the the parking area along Fourth Avenue and University.

The narrowing leaves 15 feet for the travel lane. The streetcar will utilize eight feet of the 15, which allows cyclists six feet of space.

Several BAC members expressed concern about the space when a motorist opens a car door, which would limit the area for cyclists to manuever to three feet.

The team didn’t have numbers about how much room there would be if a streetcar passed on the left and a car door was opened on the right.

They did say that the streetcar drivers would not pass a cyclist if they could not give them three feet. They said they would work with the city to place sharrows in a location that would keep cyclists in a safe location.

Additionally planners showed various intersections with pavement markings designed to illustrate how cyclists should cross the tracks.

The planners gave a brief presentation about the streetcars’ general route , which will start around Congress west of I-10, wind through downtown, up Fourth Avenue, west on University Boulevard, through the UA and end near UMC.

The approximately 4-mile-long route will have cars that run every 10 minutes and take 26 minutes to travel the entire stretch.

The streetcar will be a part of Sun Tran’s system and will charge the same amount as the bus and accept bus transfers.

Check out the video to see what the planners and BAC members had to say.

YouTube version here.

Other streetcar points:

  • The design utilizes stops located in the center of the street to minimize pedestrian/bike conflicts.
  • The Fourth Avenue underpass is a separate, completed project and will not receive the more bike-friendly tracks.
  • The route was selected by citizens and the city council.
  • They have ordered eight cars and will have 17 stops along the 4-mile route.
  • The streetcar construction is scheduled to start in 2011 and start moving cars in October 2012.
  • There are not additional funds to create alternative bike routes to help cyclists avoid the streetcar routes.

Support for TPD bike police

The BAC approved a motion to allow the committee chairwoman to write a letter to the city council and the Tucson Police Department’s chief of police expressing their concern about substantially reducing the bike patrol program.

BAC members said the bike police often rotate through officers and teach them about issues that face cyclists in Tucson and don’t want to see the program eliminated.

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11 comments
Sjbraun
Sjbraun

I was at the meeting, too. It struck me as odd how the planners kept taking about all the things the design offered to cyclists, things like green stripes to show the best place to cross the tracks, or "sharrows." But what it really seemed to me was that they were taking away much more than they were providing. We get what will be essentially a 3 foot lane. The turn from 4th to University will be fraught with peril and all this for what the planners describe as a people mover, not a full fledged commuting solution. I wonder of restricting parking to only one side of the street along University was ever considered? Doing that would give us enough room to safely cycle.

Frank Tellez
Frank Tellez

If it's a modern streetcar why don't you put rubber tires on it and get rid of the tracks. It'll save money and cyclists. It can still be electric with the wires and such and have an old timey look. Then add the tracks as a decorative element but bury them to the edge so they don't cause problems.

Collin Forbes
Collin Forbes

I remember the planners mentioning a couple of the streetcar stops on 4th Ave were going to be removable so the 4th Ave Street Fair wouldn't have to give up so much tent space. This means the streetcar won't be running during the street fairs (or any event which closes down 4th Ave), which keeps it firmly as a hobby endeavor rather than real transit infrastructure. As for cycling content... if I'm not mistaken, the streetcar will be considered a motor vehicle and will be obligated to give cyclists 3 ft or more while passing. Since it can't move over to pass safely and cyclists will be in the door zone for parked cars otherwise, cyclists need to simply take the lane along the streetcar route.

Cyclelicious
Cyclelicious

The trolley tracks in SF are a hazard to cyclists -- I see people catch a wheel in the tracks *all the time* up there, but in downtown San Jose I never see that happen; I don't know why the difference. Otherwise in San Jose, we're usually able to share the trolley right of way without problems. It's not incident free, however -- I know of one pedestrian death and one cyclist death in recent years. Mostly, we use the trolley ROW as a nice, car-free de-facto cyclepath, and to be honest the cyclists who use them like them. Trains are limited to 10 MPH in the downtown so it's easy to keep up. How fast are these trains expected to run in the shared space? In Denver, the portions of light rail on the street are reserved exclusively for trains, and they don't slow down for any pesky cyclists that might get in the way.

zz
zz

■There are not additional funds to create alternative bike routes to help cyclists avoid the streetcar routes.... This is what I don't understand. Why wasn't bicycle traffic on this widely used route considered legitimate enough to be incorporated into the plan. As part of the whole transportation picture. The BAC needs to protect this route and call for a provision that provides the greatest bicycle safety consistant with this project at its current stage of development. Otherwise any and all bicycle amenities are subject to 'bulldozing' whenever a really 'big and important' project comes along.

bb
bb

Trolley can't pass a cyclist (very slow). Infrastructure is great, but who gets stuck footing the operating bill? Phoenix has a county and a city sales tax on transportation. Most of that funding went into rail infrastructure and LRT operating costs. The bus scheduled suffered and ticket prices increased.

zz
zz

Eliminating parking would allow cyclists to travel further away from the tracks, that's for sure. At the meeting, the talk was about the type of track as being so important, but it's the gap between the track and the pavement that matters - and the gap is the same for all the track types. If the designers were bike riders they would know that and quit trying to get riders to believe that 3 feet is all we'll ever need. The further away you can ride from any track, the safer it is.

Collin Forbes
Collin Forbes

I guess in this case "taking the lane" will be moving over enough to be comfortably away from the door zone, but not worrying about getting caught on the tracks. The planners said the tracks should be about 18" inside the edge of the streetcar, so you could go be 9" deeper into the lane. This gives you more room outside the door zone, but the streetcar drivers will really need to be trained to never pass cyclists.

Mtngoat
Mtngoat

I was at the meeting last night. As I understand it, the funding for initial construction came largely from a federal TIGER grant ($63m-ish), with additional funds through the RTA's 2006 sales tax increase approved by voters. Maintenance costs were not discussed, other than to say they made many of the materials and design selections they did in an effort to minimize future maintenance needs. There was some mention of removing duplicative service. The streetcar rep didn't mention specifics, but she must be referring to the #1 bus that runs along Park, University and 4th. Hope that helps clarify things.

BB
BB

I was just giving you what happened in Phoenix. With out dedicated funding in place for operating expenses (not sales tax) you will be deducting these from the bus system. AKA Phoenix

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