Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Another crash...and another lesson in path design

Last week saw another crash between car and bicyclist, this time in Waukesha. Reading about these crashes makes me sick to my stomach. This time the cyclist was a 17-year old, the motorist was a police officer, and it was dark out. From the description of the crash location, it seems like the kid was trying to cross the Hwy 164 bypass on the New Berlin Trail.

Without placing blame on either the cyclist or the officer (the article does say the cyclists were wearing dark clothing, but doesn't say whether they had lights), I have to say that this again is an example of a stupid design of a bike path, much like the bike path near Dousman that I mentioned in a previous post. I think I'm going to start a category on this blog called "Design it Right the First Time"

Don't get me started with the entire design of the Highway 164 bypass: too many at-grade intersections (Wal-Mart stoplight, anyone?), too many access points for businesses along the road, no shoulder in some areas. I'm going to focus on one issue: the New Berlin Trail crossing of the bypass at an uncontrolled intersection. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a street view of it:

Consider this:

1) Multi-use paths like the New Berlin trail are most beneficial when they can be used by a wide range of users, including dog-walkers and families with kids on bikes. What parent in their right mind would choose to cross a 6-lane highway with like this with their young child?

2) See any street lights by the crossing? Yeah, I didn't think so.

3) There's no sidewalk or bike path along the side of STH 164 that allows you to access the New Berlin Trail from the highway

Two perfectly good alternatives could have provided safe crossing for the New Berlin Trail. I bet if either one of these had been built that the trail would be more popular with families and beginner riders.

Alternative #1: A bridge across STH 164. Expensive, but less-so if it would have been included in the design and construction from the very beginning.

Alternative #2: Re-route the New Berlin Path so it goes south alongside STH 164 until it reaches Pearl Street (where there is a stoplight). Paint a generous (5-foot wide) bike lane on Pearl Street. This has the additional advantage that trail users would avoid going through the rutted, potholed street by Waukesha Foundry.

Someone informed me that Alternative #2 was considered at one point, but wasn't ever implemented. The project managers chose the cheapest option, perhaps because they didn't forsee the New Berlin Trail becoming so popular? Or perhaps they didn't think about it being used at night? This is why it's so important to take the "long view" and to consider all the possible types of uses of a facility.

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