Task force meeting re: Transportation Advisory Board
Tulsa City Hall
What lead to this meeting was an email from Paul Tay, stating that the new transportation committee had no cycling representative. I sent an email to all the city councilors saying that with gas prices increasing, and all the usual boilerplate, it would be a good idea to have a cyclist on the board.
One of the councilors said that we need to get more casual, recreational cyclists onto area roadways, but there was no discussion of how to implement this, and that's the hard part. Rich Brierre was generally supportive and gave a balanced view of the conflict between the facilities and education crowds. There was near-universal agreement that more education is desirable, but again, nothing on how to implement that idea. The real nuts-and-bolts will be worked out in the Transportation Advisory Board. We will not have a seat there, though Councilor Bynum said he would be our voice. There was some discussion of a cyclist's right to use the public roads.
So what follows are my rough notes from that meeting. For clarity, I've tried to group comments around common topics, so this is not representative of the actual sequence of events. Each of us spoke in turn, addressing other's comments, so the minute-by-minute version is harder to follow.
One of the first comments was a quote from a previous meeting, where a motorist said, "I don't drive on your bike routes so don't ride on my streets!" There's a lot of ignorance to overcome. Some people really believe that bicycles don't belong.
Paul Tay had a draft resolution declaring all streets and roadways as bicycle routes and all lanes as bike lanes. The intent is to treat cyclists as drivers of vehicles.
Bicyclists have an intense interest in safe streets. In Tulsa, 28% do not have motor vehicles. "Skilled bicyclists have demonstrated the efficacy and the safety of bicycle driving on major roadways and expressways without causing deaths or injuries." He said people are intimidated from using streets and seek safe routes away from traffic. Tay says bikes to be mixed in with traffic and it's necessary to educate motorists who do not know the law.
Councilor Bynum wants to have bikes as official vehicles for trips of less than 5 miles. The draft resolution is an expression of intent. Tulsa's mandatory sidepath ordinance was repealed, yet it's apparent that some officials, law enforcement professionals, cyclists, and motorists are unaware of it.
Tulsa will establish a Transportation Advisory Board as part of the upcoming comprehensive street plan. The city is still interested in getting Bicycling Friendly City status from the League of American Bicyclists. I said that Tulsa is already a bicycling friendly city because most motorists are already very accommodating toward cyclists. One councilor disagreed that Tulsa is a bicycling friendly city. He said that more people would ride if they weren't intimidated by motorists. “We rely too much on the Wheelmen, and not enough on casual bicyclists.” When he's been on the road, it's not unusual to get brushed by a mirror. He believes Avery Drive is a decent ride with its wide shoulders. Brian Potter disagreed about Avery due to gravel, debris, and other maintenance issues. Rich Brierre said that the first BFC application was rejected because Tulsa does not have many miles of bike lanes, and he noted that the establishment of such lanes is a controversial issue among cyclists.
I listed improvements on my wish list:
Bicycling master plan. It can be narrow or broad. Models are available from other cities. The usual approach is to bring in a consultant with expertise.
Remove “as far right as practicable” ordinance. I'd like to see it go away, but it's hazardous due to unintended consequences. The “slow vehicles drive in right lane” applies equally to cyclists. “As far right as practicable” leads to harassment and road rage.
BFC. As noted above, Tulsa is already a bicycling friendly city. All we just have to do is say so. There is a small town feel that we should promote.
Acknowledge that cyclists are encouraged and expected to use the streets. We need to get this message out to people.
I used an analogy. “Do you remember learning how to drive and how frightening it was? New cyclists have the same fear, much of it stemming from the unknown. That fear is the biggest element preventing people from riding on the street.” We could use more education for both cyclists and motorists.
One councilor noted, “It doesn't matter where you ride (within the lane) someone is going to send you a message - get off my street!”
We can improve the transportation system for casual cyclists. Brian recommended Street Smarts and gave Councilor Bynum a copy. He noted that the Oklahoma Drivers Manual (pdf) has a good section for motorists on how to drive around cyclists.
Another councilor noted that on the city's bike trails, frequent and busy intersections provide interruptions. Some intersections are difficult and hazardous when crossing.
Gary Parker noted, “Things are challenging for both motorists and cyclists, but in a general way, when I ride my bike as a vehicle I get treated pretty much like a vehicle.”
Paul Tay noted that a bicycle friendly city like Boulder has bike lanes. We do not have that here.
Paul mentioned the 4 Es: Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, and Education. He wants to see this discussion continue in in the Transportation Advisory Board. At present there is no capital spending on part of city on bicycling. There is nothing in the streets package for bicycle facilities. Paul noted that there are no cyclists on the board. Councilor Bynum said that we do have a voice there because he and the other councilors represent us.
Ren Barger talked about the Tulsa Wheelmen's Community Cycling Project and the mention of it in Urban Tulsa. She's working to establish a bicycling 'hub' in the downtown area in order to address problems with gentrification and to maintain a pedestrian perspective. CCP will function to rehab transients in getting jobs. The program has been successful since it's inception under Sandra Crisp. Ren sees the hub providing vehicular cycling classes, instruction in fabrication and repair, information on sustainable lifestyles. She noted that the other E is Example. As more cyclists take to the roads, it's easier to change motorist's attitudes. Knowing cyclist's rights and providing support is a key issue. Ren also noted that the local cycling instructors will assist with the Kid's Challenge events at the Tulsa Tough over the next three years.
Rich Brierre noted that at one time the city had a bicycling ordinance that was contrary to state law. The city's mandatory side path law resulted in TPD issuing tickets to cyclists on adjacent roadways. The law specifically read “bicycle trails” yet no trails for the exclusive use of cyclists existed. All are mixed use or multi use trails. He noted the apparent ignorance of state laws when a Keifer officer stopped a group ride and insisted they ride single file, “according to state law.” No such law exists. Tulsa has made significant strides. A comprehensive bicycle master plan a positive idea and it may range from minimal to substantial with costs directly related. Tulsa's on-street routes provide connectivity between neighborhoods and popular destinations. The plan favored neighborhood streets over arterials. He noted that new roadway construction requires a 14 ft wide outer lane, so sharing side by side with motor vehicles is possible. Brian asked about measurements? “Is that from the curb to the lane line? If so, the lane is narrower as the gutter area is unusable due to debris and storm drains.” The old standard was much narrower. Some streets were constructed in the 1920s and 30s, and they were 9' or 10'. Rich reiterated that LAB BFC status was denied for bike lanes, and again noted the divide within bike community. The city chose to use designated routes rather than lanes, where promoting road sharing is extremely important. It's critical to educate motorists and get the word out that sharing the road is something they should do. Three-eights of all trips are less than 2 miles so encouraging using a bicycle for those trips is important. The proposed resolution may reference expressways and may be effected by state law or other city ordinances. It must be approached carefully. Better educated cyclists and motorists are important. Rich expressed dismay at encountering cyclists without helmets, or riding against traffic, but he noted that some were told to ride that way years ago.
I invited the councilors to our Road1 Class at end of August, saying that I thought I was a skilled experienced cyclist until I took that course. I learned some new things. Gary said that uncertainty is not desirable. You don't want uncertainty. Be predictable. We teach that. Predictability is the whole point of traffic law. 'Practicable' is ambiguous.
Paul Tay said there no statutory definition of bike route or bike lane in Tulsa. The state does not have such a definition either, though OKC does. This is another subject to address in the master plan.
Brian noted that Rich's account of being pulled over in Keifer happens to bicyclist all the time and they do not differentiate between different communities. This is another application of model cycling laws. Tulsa could be the model for every other community in the state. The patchwork nature of local laws may inhibit people from cycling.
Gary said that INCOG could communicate this to member governments. “Bicyclists are full, taxpaying citizens like anyone else, though we're a little slow. Motorists successfully pass slow or stopped vehicles all the time.”
Councilor Gomez, a cyclist, noted that he's had plenty of bottles thrown at him, been doored, etc. “so as far right as practicable makes sense to me, but I'm going to control that lane. We have 3 asphalt overlays, storm grates, so to me as far right as practicable means about 5 feet from the curb.” Potholes are significant.
Councilor Bynum said that there seemed to be consensus regarding the resolution clarifying city laws about bike routes and lanes, and that a bicycling master plan should be part of the Transportation Advisory Board.
Councilor Eagleton, a former triathlete, said that bicyclists do not respect rules of the road by impeding traffic. Brian noted that Tulsa spends hundreds of thousands of dollars installing traffic calming to reduce speeds, yet cyclists do that for free.