Talking Bike Lanes With Transpo Engineer Rock Miller, Ex-President of ITE

At an event last week for traffic and transportation engineers hosted by the Congress for the New Urbanism, I had the chance to talk to Rock Miller, who served as president of the Institute of Transportation Engineers last year. ITE and CNU teamed up in 2010 to produce a new guidebook, Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares, which Miller was promoting to other engineers at the event.

In the past, ITE has been criticized – deservedly – for being slow to adopt modern (and safer) designs for pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented streets. It’s an encouraging sign that Miller spoke to fellow ITE engineers to promote the guidebook’s message. Our streets, intersections, sidewalks, and bike lanes are all designed by engineers who are likely members of ITE. “It’s very difficult to get consensus from 70-80 percent of your members to accept a change in policy,” Miller said.

Miller is a consultant for Stantec in Irvine, California. He designed the green priority lanes for cyclists in Long Beach (below), which place a wide green strip down the middle of a travel lane. It’s not a bike lane, but a very enhanced shared lane. In Chicago, this type of treatment could have been used on Wells Street, in place of its “enhanced” sharrows.

Providing a safe place for people to bike was a frequent topic of the discussion among the engineers at last week’s event. Attendees noted that shared lanes and door zone bike lanes attract only the “serious,” “confident,” and “experienced” cyclists, who aren’t a large share of the population in any city.

Long Beach: Green Lane & Sharrows
A green strip in the middle of a travel lane makes this shared route in Long Beach feel like a de facto bike lane. Photo by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
  • CL

    How is the green shared road in Long Beach is different from a regular road? Do cyclists ride in the green strip instead of to the side?

  • Scott Sanderson

    I think only the paint is different from a regular road. But this can make a big difference. For example, crossing Division Street on Elston is much easier now that the paint shows where a bicycle goes. There is no physical change, but cars tend to avoid this area where before it felt more likely to be run over here. It gives a sense that the bicycle belongs on the street.

  • Instead of using sharrows, you use a strip of green paint. This doesn’t make a bike lane, but makes a “bicycle priority lane” that essentially acts like a bike lane.

    It helps increase a cyclist’s confidence in taking the full lane (allowed by law in California and Illinois, with or without special markings or signs).

  • Just like the crosswalk signs and the Wells street signs, these strips of paint don’t alter the law but are an attempt to remedy drivers’ ignorance of the law. Why we don’t just require drivers to regularly demonstrate knowledge of the laws they should be following is beyond me.

  • CL

    Interesting, thanks.

  • CL

    I’m afraid some people will think that cyclists are only allowed to take the lane when they hit a green strip, just like I worry that the pedestrian signs make drivers think they only need to stop at crosswalks when there is a sign. But crossing the street with those signs makes me feel safer, so I can see why this can help in dangerous places. I would like to see a public information campaign about laws that nobody seems to know (starting with the one about stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks). If a cyclist takes the lane, there’s not much drivers can do about it — it’s not like they can just run them over if they don’t like — but I still think knowledge of the law increases safety because knowing what to expect makes everyone safer. If drivers are aware that cyclists may cross in front of them, they’ll be more likely to react in plenty of time.

  • I have the same feeling.

    In a year or two or three, we’ll have some crash data to work with that might be able to show us the effect of the “stop for pedestrians” crosswalk signs and the “enhanced” sharrows on Wells Street (which are accompanied by the sign “bikes may use full lane”).

    Since the law allows bikes to use full lane anywhere in the state, then sign should be posted anywhere and everywhere, just like sharrows.