Carrboro is a progressive town in many ways, but there are a few community characteristics for which the town really stands out- and one of them is Carrboro’s commitment to bicycle infrastructure. Carrboro is currently the only town or city in North Carolina meeting the American Bike League’s “Silver Award” standard and was home to the North Carolina Bike Summit just last year.
That’s why I was quite surprised to peruse Tuesday evening’s Carrboro Board of Aldermen agenda and find the following:
In an effort to better manage the Town’s parking resources, the issue of how to deal with the needs of longer-term parking for business employees arises. Some businesses have requested parking permits from the Town to allow all-day parking for their employees in public lots…The staff has been discussing two options that the Board could exercise in the interim to help with the immediate problem of employee parking. The first option was discussed at the April 15th meeting and that is for the town to sub-lease out spaces in the Laurel and Weaver Street lots.. A second option that the Board of Aldermen could consider is to use Fidelity Street for permit-only, on-street parking, Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The street could hold an estimated 100 +/- vehicles. Permits would be issued to Carrboro business owners for use by their employees only.
This is a really bad idea for a lot of reasons that run the gamut from policy substance on bike lanes to policy substance on parking to symbolism to process. Before getting into all of that, though, here is the staff memo statement on the potential impact to the bike lanes on Fidelity St:
Allowing on-street parking on Fidelity Street would impact the bike lanes. Fidelity is a low traffic volume street and cyclists often utilize the traffic lane due to the width of the road and low traffic volume. The width of the street also encourages motorist to speed, therefore on-street parking may act as a traffic calming measure. The Town could paint the bicycle markings in the road, to increase safety. However, on-street parking does affect the Town’s overall number miles of bike lanes. Additional signage would be required to direct parking. The estimated cost of the additional signage is approximately $800.00 and street markings would cost an estimated $5000. This cost would be offset by the fees of the permits to park.
I think this is not stating the impacts clearly enough. What I think this paragraph is trying to say is that the proposal to allow on-street parking on Fidelity Street would REMOVE the bike lanes. The comment “The Town could paint the bicycle markings in the road, to increase safety” seems to suggest that after removing the bike lanes, the Town would paint a few sharrows on the street. As one of my colleagues recently tweeted after Streetsblog recapped a poor decision along these lines in Texas:
To avoid making this a very long post, I’m going to try to provide a quick rundown of a few detail-level reasons why replacing bike lanes with parking on Fidelity Street is likely a mistake, and move on to the two major reasons to try to come up with a better idea.
A Half Dozen of Reasons NOT to Remove Bike Lanes from Fidelity Street
- The Town spent years waiting to repave Main Street with last year’s road diet, completing the “missing link” of bike lane coverage in town, linking facilities on Hillsborough Rd, West Poplar Ave, West Main St past the 605 building, Jones Ferry Rd, and yes, Fidelity Street. Now that we’ve linked all these facilities together, let’s not undo the linkage!
- Removing bike lanes from Fidelity Street would be in direct conflict with the Two Guiding Principles (see Chapter 5) of the 2009-adopted Carrboro Bike Plan: “Assure safe and convenient bicycle access to all areas of the Town” AND “Promote bic ycles as a viable and attractive means of transportation.” Also not to be missed in this chapter is the plainly-stated Implementation Policy: “Provide bicycle facilities along all collector and arterial streets.”
- Issuing parking permits for Fidelity Street only to employees of Carrboro businesses is more or less the removal of an open, all-resident resource (bike lanes) to provide a closed-benefit resource to a mix of residents and non-residents. (leased parking spaces for employees only) The likelihood of the town FILLING Fidelity Street with cars is unlikely when the majority of parking in town will remain free AND be closer to all the employers. Remember, even if only 25% of the spaces are full and the town doesn’t recoup the cost of repaving the street for a several years, the residents still lose their bike lanes.
- It’s not clear the town has tried any real Transportation Demand Management (TDM) efforts with their own employees to address this issue; the fact that some of the materials in this item talk about Parks/Rec employees parking in the Weaver Street lot and sometimes even the Greensboro St lot suggest that more could be done here. There are at least 100 parking spaces at Wilson Park, which is about a 3-minute bus ride from the Century Center on the F bus. If the town really wants to promote parking space turnover downtown for local for-profit businesses, then a zero-cost step in the right direction would be encouraging non-law enforcement Town employees who work downtown to park at Wilson Park and take a 3-minute bus ride to and from downtown. I’m not sure how much parking at McDougle School is fully used during the day, but that is another right-on-a-bus-route location where downtown employees could be encouraged to park. Either of these approaches expands capacity downtown without dismantling a part of the bicycle network. Are there any incentives for town employees to carpool or vanpool to Carrboro? Does the town assist employees with bike purchases up to a certain amount? Maybe the town is doing these things already. If they’re not, they should try them.
- Best practices in urban parking management literature often encourage curb pricing to promote short-term (1-3 hour) turnover and move long-term parking to decks. Carrboro presently encourages short-term parking in its deck and the Fidelity proposal puts long-term parking on a curb. It would be wise to consider if having our incentives flipped from the best practice position makes sense.
- Random parking supply interventions without an overall strategy today are tomorrow’s grandfathered deals that set bad precedent. Let’s avoid doing these things.
But there are two BIG reasons why NOT to remove bike lanes on Fidelity Street and replace it with parking.
Carrboro Needs to Approach “Parking Problems” as “Access Problems”
The worst thing about this proposal is that it suffers from the “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” syndrome. The staff text is built on the assumption that since complaints have been lodged about long-term parking for downtown employees, they must be solved by creating new parking spaces. This orientation is part of the problem. Instead, the questions that need to be asked are:
- Can we get some or all of the employees in question downtown without a car? Yes or no?
- Can we do things to convert some of the “no” answers in question 1 to “yes” answers?
- Can we better manage parking that already exists, downtown or outside of downtown?
These questions will widen the solution set if pursued in earnest.
But here’s the other big reason to keep bike lanes on Fidelity.
The Future Growth of Cycling in the US (including Carrboro) Depends on the Expansion of Facilities That Don’t Require BRAVERY to Ride On
If we really want to expand bicycling in Carrboro, we have to grapple with the fact that the biggest barrier to this outcome is reducing both real and perceived danger to people riding bikes from cars. Roger Geller’s excellent piece on the Four Types of Transportation Cyclists breaks down Portland, Oregon’s population into the following groups by their proclivity to bike for transportation (as opposed to recreation) purposes, and puts 60% of Portland’s population into a category he describes as “Interested But Concerned,” which he describes as follows:
About 60% of the population. These residents are curious about bicycling…They like riding a bicycle, remembering back to their youths, or to the ride they took last summer on the Springwater, or in the BridgePedal, or at Sun River, and they would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride. They don’t like the cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous thinking about what would happen to them on a bicycle when a driver runs a red light, or guns their cars around them, or passes too closely and too fast.
Geller goes on to emphasize:
No person should have to be “brave” to ride a bicycle; unfortunately, this is a sentiment commonly expressed to those who regularly ride bicycles by those who do not. There are many cities in modern, industrialized nations around the world with a high bicycle mode split. They have achieved these high levels of bicycle use through adherence to various cycling-promoting policies and practices. But, one thing they share in common is they have substantially removed the element of fear associated with bicycling in an urban environment…In these “fearless” cities septuagenarians are able to ride alongside seven-year-olds safely, comfortably, and with confidence throughout the breadth of the cities. Making bicycling a more widespread and mainstream means of transportation in Portland will require substantially addressing concerns about personal safety.
The path to expanding bicycling as a pleasant and convenient choice in Carrboro (and well, most anywhere) is the path that develops infrastructure that is as safe as possible AND feels as safe as possible to people age 7 through 77. For the “Interested But Concerned” group, bike lanes are significantly better than no bike lanes, and Protected Bike Lanes are better still. Recent research has found Protected Bike Lanes have significantly increased bicycling where they have been built in several US cities.
Carrboro’s upcoming Jones Ferry Rd project will incorporate a Protected Bike Lane under NC 54 as part of the design. We need more facilities like these, not fewer.
Right now both the “Interested But Concerned” and more aggressive “Strong and Fearless” riders (see Geller’s typology) both have a choice that meets their needs on Fidelity – bike lanes for the former and riding in traffic for the latter. Removing the bike lanes damages the bike network for the largest groups of users.
So let’s work on access issues for employees who work in downtown Carrboro, and let’s give them choices to get downtown- to free up parking spaces for paying customers at our local businesses. But let’s not do it at the expense of our award-winning bike network that we’ve worked so hard to build.
Thanks for reading.