Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Deadly efficient

I start most days thinking that the engineers behind the C Street/O’Malley roundabout deserve a beating. Maybe two.

And before all the pro-roundabout people spout off, yeah, I’ve heard how wonderful they are in Europe, blah, blah, blah. They work great—for cars. But every morning I ride through this thing, and every morning I mutter evil things under my breath as I sigh with relief after crossing the eastbound lane.

I’ve talked to several road designers in recent years, and they’ve all said they strive to accommodate non-motorized transportation. But I’ve never met one who was a bike commuter, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never met one who wasn’t full of shit when talking to bicyclists. They design these things to move cars and trucks efficiently, and that’s all.

There are two ways to pass through a roundabout on a bike. First, you can merge with cars and pass through on the street. Not a bad option if you can sustain the speed. On my 36x16 singlespeed commuter, it seems marginally safer to use the second option (intended by the traffic engineers), which is to ride on the adjacent sidewalk and cross roads like a pedestrian—especially since this roundabout gets a lot of large trucks bouncing across the truck apron and spilling rocks.

Of course, traffic engineers—when they weren’t in the bathroom jerking off to Car and Driver magazine—decided roundabouts should route cyclists and pedestrians away from intersections, virtually blinding us to all approaching cars because they’re behind us as we set up to make a hard left across traffic after we’ve lost all momentum. Northbound riders crossing O’Malley have it worse, because a grove of trees makes it extra difficult to look over your right shoulder and see motorists dropping downhill on C Street (which was on your left until two seconds ago) and zooming into the chute that will carry them east—the same chute you have to cross.

Focus one second too long on those cars turning east at high speed, and you can miss other eastbound vehicles coming all the way through the roundabout from other angles. It’s a good way to get mashed into the grill of a sedan, as I almost did (again) this morning. I consider it extremely dangerous, and I practice the crossing every day.

This October, a new Target store is opening several hundred yards north of this intersection. Other big development along C Street is coming in the next few years. Motor vehicle traffic will be increasing. More kids from South Anchorage will start riding to the new stores for game cartridges, fast food, and whatever else comes along.

I’ll make my prediction now: Sometime in the next few years, a bicyclist is going to be maimed or killed while riding north along C Street and trying to cross the eastbound lane of O’Malley Road.

I don’t care how many traffic engineers tell me that roundabouts are safer for cyclists. This one is a disaster waiting to happen.

30 comments:

JordyB said...

I have almost the same trouble with Dowling and New Seward every time I commute. It is like playing Frogger sometimes. I love to drive thru them but hate to cycle around them.

jeff said...

It's easier to just turn right, but I can never get to where I'm going.

61northak said...

I occasionally pass through the O'Malley / C roundabout headed north and generally just act like a car and drive through on the road. Thankfully, I'm usually on a road bike and the approach headed north is slightly downhill so I can maintain my speed.

However, when conditions are marginal or headed south (uphill), I would be really worried about traffic.

I just avoid the Dowling mix monster at all costs when on my bike.

saved by biking said...

so agree - the Dowling Seward Hwy roundy is fun - at 5:50 in the morning, and it is a bit downhill as approached from the East on Dowling. So speed is easy to come by - but that O'migodlly/C street roundy is just not right for riding through. I don't even care to drive through it.

bikegirl said...

I love roundabouts... when driving. Or when I'm in cities where cyclists are given a place in the roundabout. Or where drivers are used to cyclists, as though they aren't used to us here in Anchorage.

Personally, I ride in the roundabout traffic lanes whenever it feels reasonable and safe, as in low-traffic times. I dislike it when engineers move bike traffic onto pedestrian routes to get us through the roundabouts. If engineers treat us as afterthoughts who are in the way, drivers will do the same.

Good post, Tim. Be careful out there.

Anonymous said...

This looks like the typical American version of a roundabout -- not big enough.

Instead of putting two small ones there, they should have made one larger one. Most roundabouts I've seen over here force motorists to react far too quickly, and don't provide enough space for proper merging from the continuing around lane to the exiting lane.

With one huge roundabout in that space, there would be room (as a cyclist) to merge into the lane that gets you to the other side, while an exiting motorist can react to you and merge right to exit without taking you out.

The Google maps version isn't complete -- looks like it's under construction, so I can't tell if it has two lanes or just one. Lots of the two-lane versions I've seen in the US allow people to enter and exit right into the inside lane, which isn't how roundabouts should really function.

The worst ones I've seen here actually put a roundabout into the space formerly occupied by an intersection -- which doesn't work well. To function properly, they should be larger.

endurefun said...

The roundabouts are the worst part of my commute as well. C Street has bike paths on both sides of it, so recently I've been crossing over C St. before I reach the roundabout (whenever there is a lull in traffic), then using the Pedestrian lane to cross while facing traffic. This way, I can see the oncoming traffic in front of me.

Roundabouts do improve motor vehicle flow, so they aren't going to go away. The question is, what can be done to improve bike and pedestrian safety? Move the crossings further upstream/downstream to give crossers more lead time? Put in tunnels? Stoplights that 'close' the roundabout when a pedestrian is waiting to cross? I'd love to hear some innovative suggestions!

funhog and fundogs said...

We ride on the West side of C street when we enter the intersection and have far fewer problems than it seems you do. Getting on that west side, after riding down Klatt is a bit of pain in the arse and unsafe.

We are face to face with the traffic when we are heading south and don't have to look over our shoulder to glimpse at what is approaching.

When heading south, there isn't much traffic turning west onto O'Malley--Minnesota, although I do usually bikestand to check. When crossing the traffic ongoing onto C its usually stopped and I commonly have to zig-zag to get through.

When these projects came up for review I asked for a bike lane and that the center portion of the roundabout contain minimal obstructions in the center of the roundabout so they could plow it in the wintertime. Well none of those happened :(

As a result, riding on the sidewalk, which we do, is much more dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Hey, junior...how about this solution, get off your bike and walk through it.

I'm not a fan of roundabouts either but the only way you are going to keep from getting ran over is to use your head for more than growing hair or a place to put a cap.

Face it, if that slows you down you need to leave a few "seconds" sooner just like anyone driving like an idiot in a car because they hit the snooze button one too many times.

Besides, starting out with a remark about a person needing to get a beating due to your own incompentence is sad and pretty much proves you are nothing but a self absorbed jerk.

signed,
if a bike is on the road the owner of said bike needs to have a license to be there

J

Tim said...

Sorry, gramps, but licenses aren't required for bicyclists. When they are, I'll get one.

This is what happens when one of my posts gets linked from the ADN Newsreader: Bike haters end up on a bike blog.

Signed.
The Self-absorbed Jerk (who knows how to hyphenate modifiers)

endurefun said...

adn.com commenters: making everyone dumber and angrier since 2004

Anonymous said...

Even if a license for a bike was had, it means little. The "big truck" driver has a license and still leaves rocks on the roundabout at "C"&O'Malley! If you have a problem with a truck write Tim, he has a way to help.

Erick said...

I dislike all the Roundabouts in Anchor town luckily I don't have any on my commute and with Elmore I only face an occasional bear or moose... I heard there is a Boniface extension to Dowling might make alternate routes for cyclists. If the traffic engineers want to be good engineers they would be wise to check out Youtube and look for European roundabouts... they make an underground roundabout for bikes and peds. Also I bought a camera and use it on my commutes to videotape drivers in the act and Youtube it... theres an Idea make an AKBadDrivers cyclist related... although I do catch some bikes doing bad things like cutting off heavy Surly LHT bikes...

Anonymous said...

Tim, IMO as a bicycle commuter, I doubt that snarky comments about traffic engineers are going to help our case w/ more bike-friendly traffic patterns in the future.

Tim said...

As for being "snarky," this is a blog. That means I write what's on my mind. It ain't the New York Times. When I have to deal with a dangerous design every morning, I get snarky.

Anonymous said...

I hope no bicycles are allowed on regular roads and especially roundabouts... why do taxpayers pay MILLIONS of dollars to pave nice bike trails (Coastal Trail ring a bell?) all over Anchorage, create sidewalks and such, for people to ride their bikes?? Why is it such a hard concept for you "bike commuters" to understand that the roads are for motorized vehicles? It pisses me off to no end to see you bikers in the road with semi-trucks and cars in rush-hour traffic. When I was a kid and rode a bike everywhere, I rode on the sidewalks, on the dirt shoulder of the road like my mom taught me, to stay safe and out of the way of traffic. Don't even get me started about you bikers in the middle of an Alaskan winter!!! You people are retarded! I'm glad ADN put a link to your blog... so taxpayers can rant and tell you biker idiots how really messed up in the head you are to think you own the road.

Anonymous said...

Um roundabouts are for vehicles. Not bicycles. Duh. Use a frickin bike trail or something and quit whining. If you really think it's that unsafe, campaign with Anchorage taxpayers to approve funding to build a special bike trail or bridge or whatever so you avoid going through a roundabout. Good luck with that one.

Tim said...

I love this! I can almost see the foam spraying from your mouth!

As a matter of fact, I DO own the road, as much as you do, anyway. Mommy forgot to read you the state law when she was tucking you in at night, didn't she?

Anonymous said...

What's the deal with the moronic comments coming from assinine drivers? Read a driver's manual and tell me where it says that bikes should be on the sidewalk? Hint: they're not called sideRIDES!! The bottom line is that bike commuters pay the same taxes that you do motorhead. The real truth is that you can't drive well enough to give a cyclist room while staying in your lane because, on average, you're focused on your hood ornament, absorbed by a phone call to your buddies, stuffing your fat face full of food, or something else. Close your mouth and open your eyes.

AK Ani said...

For all of your drivers who keep complaining about bicyclist being in the road: maybe you should check up on Alaska state law. In most circumstances, it is illegal to bike on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are for pedestrians. A bicycle is considered to be a vehicle.
For those of you who need to read up on your AK bike laws, visit this handy State of Alaska website: http://www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/hwysafety/assets/BikeandSafetyManual/Alaska_Laws.pdf

Matthew Woody said...

Glad to see you are getting uninformed idiots posting comments to your blog now. Congrats, you have arrived. Obviously a couple of the "anonymous" posts were decent, I wish they would all identify themselves.

The local roundabouts here in the KC area are generally pretty well designed.

Julie said...

WTF? "the owner of said bike needs to have a license"? "I hope no bicycles are on regular roads"? bicycles should ride on the sidewalks? retarded?

where do these anonymous people come from?

ACTUALLY it's illegal in some areas of Anchorage to ride a bike on the sidewalk, but NOWHERE IS IT ILLEGAL TO RIDE A BIKE ON THE ROAD (except maybe on the highway but that's not what we are talking about here) and I certainly have never heard of a license to ride a bike.

You think calling us retarded is going to make us say "Oh Yeah! OOps these ADN commenters are really smart. I shouldn't have ridden my bike in the road and I should stop commuting by bike all together. What was I thinking?"

I love riding on paved bike trails, but the truth is in order to connect those trails you have to RIDE ON THE ROAD.

Are people really this angry and unhappy in this town? I mean it's not even winter. You're reading a blog about BIKING IN ANCHORAGE. Blogs are places where people write about their own opinions. FUCK OFF!

Linda said...

Hey Tim!
Here in Switzerland the officially approved (!) way to do it is: merge with the traffic but ride IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LANE around the roundabout like you are a car! This way you can't get run off the side of the road when the car wants to turn right and you don't.
Merge to the middle of the lane about 30 ft. prior to entering the roundabout - stake your claim. I know: cars will probably honk at you - eventhough a bike doesn't go around the roundabout slower than a car... I don't care. It's about staying alive here! Make sure you ride dead center so the cars can't pass you on either side. After you exit the roundabout sway back to the right side.
Pay attention if it is a double roundabout. Safest is the most inner circle - go in and stay there (again: dead center of the lane). Only move to the outer circle right before exiting! (It's more like crossing the outer circle).

CU
Linda

Amber said...

Anyone that is out there on a bike spring, summer, fall or winter, just be careful out there no matter what trail or road your on or crossing. Apparently there are more stupid people out there then we thought.

The only good news about biking through the roundabouts or somehow getting to the other side alive, is you get one hell of an adrenalin rush. Who needs sky diving anymore?

T_M said...

Just to help a non-local understand what the heck is going on at your "roundabout," who has right of way, the vehicles in the rotary or the vehicle entering the rotary?

gottaloveit said...

Hm seems like you bikers seemed to be a bit confused. Roads were built for cars not bicycles. How can a bike be a vehicle if it doesn't have a motor? If you say you own the road too, then it makes sense for people with wheelchairs, baby stollers and wagons to be on the road too. Those things have wheels and no motor, like a bike. Is it safe for those people to be in the road too?

ak_snowkat said...

Gottaloveit, i suspect you are confused. roads are for cars, as well as peds, bikers, etc. If it were only meant for cars there would be laws prohibiting other activities, such as biking. And your comment that those other wheeled, yet non-motorized activites are not safe to do on the roads exemplifies the exact point of this blog. That it is NOT safe to be on the road unless you are in a car, and that this is a problem because the roads are NOT meant for just cars. I seriously don't understand why motorists in A-town hate bikers so much. If you think about it, if we didn't choose to bike to our destinations there would be that many more cars on the road. And I suspect you would complain about that too

WheelDancer said...

This is more fun than watching a good tennis match. I also face a roundabout every day going to and from work and agree that it sucks. I negotiate it like Linda advises which is how MN law advises.

Isn't it funny how folks think roads were made for cars when in fact the first push for paved roads in our country was orchestrated by the League of American Bicyclists:

The League began as the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) in 1880, and was responsible for defending the rights of cyclists from its start. The League of American Wheelmen is credited with getting paved roads in this country before the reign of the automobile.

Click for the rest of the article...

Fish said...

Tim, I would like to say that i support you in whatever you choose to write. I was taught many things, like our anonymous friends here, that claim to have never ridden on the road. One of the things that I was taught was to not put up with ignorant, stupid, moronic people that presume to tell me how to live my life better. So because of this, I gladly offer up my services as the strong arm of your "snarky" comments. You keep to the writing which you do well, and I will become that guy that offers hugs as compensation for hurt feelings. If that is not an acceptable solution to the douches that try to merge me, and many other commuters, into the guardrail/ditch/other lane of traffic, than they will feel the wrath of my u-lock on the quarter panel of their excessively tricked out Cadi with the moronic spinner hubs. We will form a bicycle rights, stupidity fighting allegiance unified under studded tires, in honor of all those idiots that ride in the winter. Tim I am glad to know you and I am glad to know that you are fighting for all those that chose to ride a bike, for whatever reason.

To quote Bike Snob NYC (if you dont know of him look him up), All you haters can suck my ba!!s

Titanium said...

Hiding under the dubious cloak of anonymity sure hasn't disguised ignorance in some of these pundits. Welcome to Hell, mate. For the record, a good rant is always best uncensored, unedited and typically inspires foam-spewing hatred from a special few. Keep writing- controversy fuels conversation like nothing else!