Sunday, April 11, 2010

Contraflow bike lanes on Netherlands Rd and Parkway Rd, Brookline

Submitted by PETER FURTH

Netherlands Rd and Parkway Rd are one-way streets with contraflow bike lanes, installed in 2009. That means while cars can only go one-way on those streets, bikes can legally go both ways.

Parkway Road is a strategic link in the Emerald Necklace greenway. It connects the west-bank Muddy River path just north of Parkway Road with the path next to Brookline Avenue running on top of the flood control dike (and continuing, with a few more interruptions, to Jamaica Pond and Forest Hills). Now that there's a contraflow bike lane, bicyclists coming north on the Brookline Ave path can ride north on Parkway Rd and then continue onto the Muddy River path.

Netherlands Rd is an important access link to the Muddy River path, connecting it with Brookline Village. For bicyclists heading south to get to Brookline Village, it's a lot shorter and safer to go contraflow on Netherlands Road than to ride, as a car would have to, down Parkway to Brookline Ave, and then go right on Aspinwall.

Before the contraflow lanes were installed, bikes rode contraflow on both streets already. One pre-installation count (9/22/2009) showed 48 contraflow bikes between 5 and 6 pm on Netherlands Rd., and 13 contraflow bikes on Parkway Rd between 8 and 9 a.m. There haven't been any good weather after-install counts done yet.

The main features of the design are signs (Do Not Enter EXCEPT BICYCLES) and markings (a yellow centerline and white bike silhouettes followed by a heavy arrow). There's a cute miniature Stop Sign where the one of the contraflow lanes ends -- the designers were afraid that a full sized Stop sign might encourage wrong-way car traffic.

Bicycles going in the same direction as traffic don't have a bike lane (there isn't room for it); they share the lane with traffic, which is OK, because general traffic is slow, since these streets are only one short block long and end at Stop signs. The signing for the bikes going with traffic seems a little overdone (2 such signs in each short block).

Where the contraflow lane on Parkway reaches the place where Parkway and Netherlands merge to become a 2-lane road, there's a new curb bulb-out meant to slow southbound motor traffic going left onto the one-way section of Parkway Rd. But nobody meant for that bulbout to slow northbound bikes. So they installed a bike path (a "cycle track") passing through the bulbout! Because the US doesn't have a sign for "Bike Path Ahead," the sign says "Bike Lane" -- but really, it's a bike path, not a bike lane. In the photo, the arrow marking is obscured by sand (wintertime photo).

For the most part, the contraflow lanes seem to work just as intended. Everybody keeps to the right - contraflow bikes use their lane on one side of the yellow centerline, and with-flow bikes and cars stay to the right on the other side. The operation appears low-stress and very safe. People using the lanes include bike commuters, older people going for a ride, and families. The contraflow lanes and accompanying signs certainly give a message "bikes are welcome and valued here."

There are two minor ways in which the design might be improved because actual use doesn't match intended use. One is that while the bike path through the bulbout is meant only for northbound bikes, sometimes southbound bikes use it because it makes for a nice shortcut. I suppose that's OK as long as they check to see that no bike is coming in the other direction, but if there is, the path is too narrow for them to meet head-on. So it would be a good idea to install a "Do Not Enter" sign at the northern end of the bike path, along with a wide arrow marked on the pavement to indicate direction of travel.

The other minor problem is that where Parkway Rd reaches Brookline Ave., corner bulbouts were built to force cars to veer a bit to the left as they approach the intersection so that they won't zip around the corner (see first photo). Well, many car drivers resist: instead of keeping to the right and then veering left at the last moment (as the curb and lane lines guide them), they they encroach into the bike lane. If a contraflow bike arrives while an encroaching car is waiting at the Stop sign, it can be a squeeze to pass by.

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