- Report Published -
|Report on Bicycle Lane Conversion - December 1, 2015|
|Secretary of Transportation|
|Chapter 722 Enactment Clause 3. (Regular Session, 2015)|
|As communities make their desires for more livable spaces known, cities and towns are exploring public policies which promote multimodal transportation, including those policies that encourage greater reliance on the bicycle. Converting underutilized multi-purpose travel lanes to bicycle-only lanes is one approach that several Virginia municipalities are investigating. However, when a multi-purpose lane, which receives urban street maintenance payments from the state, is converted to a bicycle-only lane, current Virginia Code (§ 33.2-319) necessitates a loss of those payments for that travel lane. Recognizing the apparent incongruity in the state policy, the 2015 General Assembly passed HB 1402 directing that the Secretary of Transportation “…report to the Chairman of the House and Senate Transportation Committees by December 1, 2015 on an appropriate formula or allocation for the maintenance of bicycleonly lanes and how such a conversion may reduce congestion, improve commuting options, and improve safety, mobility, and accessibility.”|
The growth of bicycling, particularly functional or utilitarian bicycling, in the United States is undeniable. Bicycle commuting, which provides a useful indicator of this trend, has grown by almost 50 percent in the United States since 2000 (Gunther, 2015). Urban localities in Virginia have seen a similar increase. Commuter bicycling in Richmond, Virginia, for example, increased from 0.5 percent in 2005 to 2.1 percent, relative to total commuters, in 2013 (United States Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2015). However, the perception of safety is a particular concern of the urban bicyclist. Without actions to improve real or perceived safety by potential bicyclists, continued growth in bicycling may be significantly hindered.
One approach to accommodating increased bicycling in the urban environment is the process of road lane conversion, often referred to as road lane reconfiguration or road diet. A typical road lane reconfiguration converts an undivided four-lane roadway into a three-lane undivided roadway, made up of two through lanes and a center two-way left-turn lane, as illustrated in figure 1 (page 4) of the full report. The reduction of lanes allows the roadway cross section to be reallocated for other uses such as bike lanes, pedestrian refuge islands, and transit (Tan, 2011). Such modifications, which separate the bicyclists from the motorized traffic, can reduce dangerous conflicts between the bicyclists and the motorized traffic. This addresses the potential bicyclist’s desire for increased safety, which will encourage new bicyclists. While a road lane reconfiguration addresses the safety concerns of urban bicyclists, it can also improve traffic safety without increasing congestion. FHWA has found that an appropriately designed road lane reconfiguration can reduce crashes between 19% and 47% (FHWA, 2014). As an added benefit, FHWA also indicates significant safety improvements for pedestrians as well an increased mobility and access while improving a community’s quality of life (FHWA, n.d.).
Funding for the continued maintenance of any traffic lane converted to a bicycle-only lane is a central concern of local governments. In accordance with of the Code of Virginia, VDOT provides state payments to eligible urban localities to support maintenance on qualifying streets. Those state payments are determined based on the number of moving lane miles available to all traffic in those localities. Accordingly, when a multi-purpose travel lane is converted to a bicycle-only lane, the locality loses a proportionate amount of state funding. As a whole, Virginia localities which maintain their own streets typically spend approximately 32% more on their street maintenance than is provided through state payments. For example, from 2009 to 2014, urban localities expended $2,479,673,912 on street maintenance while VDOT provided those urban localities $1,874,787,703 during the same time period. Furthermore, maintenance payments may only be spent on eligible maintenance activities, and each locality must, annually, have those expenditures independently audited and report their findings to the State through the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
The actual cost associated with maintaining bicycle lanes is a confounding aspect of this issue. Reliable maintenance costs for bicycle lanes are difficult to obtain. Generally, this is because localities maintain on-road bicycle lanes as part of their routine street maintenance and do not track the expenditures associated with the bicycle lanes separately. Costs expended maintaining bicycle lanes are typically attributed to the streets parallel to the bicycle lane. VDOT functions in the same manner. As a result, it is very difficult to find accurate data associated with the additional costs associated with maintaining bicycle lanes, so that those costs can be compared to VDOT street maintenance payments to localities. However, data obtained from localities across the United States (including Richmond, Virginia, Long Beach, California, Bethlehem, New York, Wichita Kansas, and Hennepin County, Minnesota) indicates that costs for the annual maintenance needs of bicycle-only lanes range from $1,300 for unseparated lanes to $8,500 for separated paths. State payments for multi-purpose travel lanes, in fiscal year 2016 were $11,719 and $19,958 per moving lane mile for local/collector roads and arterial roads, respectively (VDOT, n.d.).
The report recommends that the State provide continued state maintenance payment for any moving travel lanes converted to bicycle-only use. The maintenance rate would be such that the locality’s maintenance payment pursuant to § 33.2-319 of the Code of Virginia would not be affected, up to a certain percent (e.g. one percent) or a specific number of miles (e.g. five), whichever is greater, of the locality’s lane miles eligible for such payment on July 1, 2016. No such conversion would be made on routes of significance such as any Primary Extension, National Highway System, or Strategic Highway Network route without further approval of VDOT. VDOT would establish process and procedures to approve, where necessary, and track such conversions.
As further detailed in this report, the following information provides support for this recommendation:
(1) This recommendation would provide localities the opportunity to implement innovative practices, such as road lane reconfiguration, which can improve corridor safety and improve livability in the community, without the concern of losing state funding. In this manner, the State would not be monetarily penalizing these innovative and effective approaches.
(2) As a whole, localities maintaining their own streets spend significantly more funds (32%) on their street maintenance than is provided by the State. As such, any additional funding that may be gained from this recommendation would likely be directly utilized to support street maintenance activities in the locality. Furthermore, the annual independent audits currently required of each locality will ensure that localities spend all their state maintenance payments only on eligible maintenance activities. This will also ensure a continued maintenance of effort of street maintenance activities by any locality receiving funds for bicycle-only lanes resulting from this recommendation.
(3) On June 12, 2015, VDOT held a meeting with various stakeholders to obtain input regarding this Report’s recommendations. During that meeting the stakeholders indicated their primary concern was that, under current Code, if they implement a road lane conversion/reconfiguration, or a road diet, to either make the corridor safer and more efficient or as part of a larger complete streets initiative, they will lose maintenance funding because these initiatives typically result in loss of moving travel lanes. The consensus of the group was that any modification to the current process of state maintenance payments to locality should hold localities harmless for moving travel lanes converted to bicycle-only lanes. The group also believed that the state should support the development of multi-modal travel options in the urban environment. This recommendation supports the consensus of the stakeholder group.