Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dual Paths on South West Corridor

By Josh Cone-Roddy


The dual pedestrian and bicycle paths that run through the South West Corridor are a prime example of a design that is good in theory, but is poorly implemented and does not work as it is intended. For this entry, I examined the part of the South West Corridor that runs along Columbus Avenue, past International Village, and then across Ruggles Street.  This portion of the South West Corridor can be seen on Googlemaps by following the link below:


Good in Theory

The dual paths are intended to give pedestrians and bicycles separate paths to provide for safe travel through this area.  The paths are clearly separated for most of the corridor by trees, grass, or medians, and both paths are wide enough to accommodate multiple users.  The pictures below show examples of the good design of the paths.

Separated Paths w/ Bikes Passing
Bike Entering Marked Bike Path
Green Space Between Paths
The first picture shows the grass separating the two paths, as well as two bikes passing each other going opposite directions.  Throughout the SWC the bike path is a fairly consistent width of about 7 feet, which gives two bikes enough room to pass each other comfortably.  The second picture shows a bike entering the marked bike path after crossing Ruggles Street. The paths are marked with stanchions at every decision point as to which path is for bikers and which path is for pedestrians.  The third picture is another example of well designed green space.  The paths are separated by trees and grass, giving both pedestrians and bicyclists a nice scenery to look at while proceeding through the paths.

Poorly Implemented

The dual paths are not used as intended through this part of the corridor due to poor implementation and the misunderstanding of user preferences.  The picture below is an example of the paths not being used as intended.

Marked Dual Paths w/ PED in both paths
Even though the paths are marked at this location, a pedestrian is still walking on the bike path.  This is because pedestrians tend to want to walk as far away from traffic as possible, so in this case they would want to walk on the outside path, but the outside path has been designated for bicycles. The picture below is another example of pedestrians walking on both the inside and the outside path.

PEDs in both paths
It is also interesting to note in the picture above that the pedestrian path is cement, while the bike path is asphalt.  This trend is not continued throughout the corridor, which can create confusion for users.  If this trend, cement for pedestrians and asphalt for bikes, were continued throughout the corridor, it would better highlight which path was meant for which user.

For the most part, bicycles stayed on the designated bicycle path.  The picture below shows an example of a  biker on the pedestrian path, but after further examination of the picture, one would realize that the biker chose to go onto the pedestrian path because pedestrians had completely taken over the bicycle path.

Bicycle in PED path
Part of the reason users do not use the intended paths is because of the misunderstanding of user needs such as the desire of pedestrians to be as far away from traffic as possible, but a lot of the misuse of paths can also be blamed on the rather poor markings throughout the South West Corridor.

Stanchion Hidden by Bike Rack
Faded Bicycle Marking
Faded Pedestrian Marking
The first of these three photos was taken outside of International Village.  A bicycle rack is blocking the stanchion the tells users which path to take, requiring users to either know which path is to use, or to guess.  Even if the stanchion were not blocked, though, the writing is so small on them that bikers would be forced to make a split second decision to get on to the right path once they are close enough to see the markings.  It is also important to note that the stanchions are not very pertinent in the scenery of the corridor.  They blend in well with scenery, making them hard to realize unless you are intentionally looking for them.  The second and third pictures were taken right before Ruggles Street next to IV.  These are faded markings that used to depict a bicycle and a pedestrian to help people decide which path to use.  Even if these markings weren't faded, though, bikers would not be able to see the markings until they are almost directly over it, rendering the marking useless.


When used properly, these paths are very good at what they were intended to do, split pedestrians and bicycles onto different paths.  In practice, though, the paths are not always used as intended, which almost makes them more dangerous than just having one combined path where users expect conflict.  I believe that the main problems with the paths is that the outside lane should be for pedestrians and the inside lane should be for bicycles and that the paths are poorly marked.  Pedestrians have a tendency to want to be as far away from traffic as possible, so they will use the path that is farthest away from traffic, even if it is not the path that they are supposed to use.  The markings throughout the path are small and unnoticeable, making it easy for users to use the wrong path without knowing they are doing so.

To improve this section of the path, the paths should be switched so that the designated pedestrian path is as far from traffic as possible.  The markings throughout the path also need to be improved.  The markings should be larger and more noticeable, and they should be located before decision points so users have time to make a decision before it is too late.  The material the paths are made from should also be held constant throughout the corridor, cement should be for pedestrians, asphalt should be for bicycles.

It should also be noted that further down the corridor, where there is less pedestrian traffic, the paths tend to be used more as they were intended to be.  It is mainly at this high pedestrian volume location that the paths are not utilized as intended.

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