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Public Comment Regarding: Ocean Street/Rt 77 Striping Plan

By May 2, 2016Our Position

Summary Statement

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is a statewide organization that works to make Maine better for bicycling and walking. We support well-designed development and streets that create environments that are safe and welcoming for those traveling on foot or bike.
We are writing to provide follow up comments on Sgt. Adam Howard’s letter regarding the striping plan on Ocean Street. Sgt. Howard raises concerns that the proposed design, and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s recommended revisions to it, may create situations in which bicycles are routinely passed closer than Maine Law permits. We respectfully contend that is not the case for the following reasons:

  1. An average 8 foot vehicle centered in a 10 ft travel lane passing a 2 ft wide bicycle in a 5 ft bicycle lane can safely do so with at least three feet of distance. See diagram in Project Discussion, below.
  2. Maine State Law permits passing a bicycle in a no passing zone if it is safe to do so; hence a larger vehicle crossing a double yellow to create additional space is not prohibited by state law. See MRS 29-A §2070 (1-A). This reading of the law is consistent with the interpretation of it by the MaineDOT, as their website states explicitly that “Motorists may cross the centerline in a no passing zone in order to pass a bicyclist if it safe to do so” (http://www.maine.gov/mdot/bikeped/safety/laws.shtml).

Project Discussion

In his letter regarding the Ocean St. Striping project, and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s recommended revisions to the plan, Sgt. Howard raises concerns that the proposed plan creates travel lane widths that are too narrow to permit safe passing of bicycles by motor vehicle traffic and that the design of the lanes would create conflicts with the law. We respect his concerns and seek to address them here.
Regarding the questions concerning the proposed lane widths in response to both the BCM Comments and the revised plan submitted by Sebago Tech, it should be noted that the design proposed meets all regional, state and federal design parameters.
Informing our discussion here is recent FHWA Guidance (March 2016) regarding including bike facilities in repaving projects. That guidance can be found here:
http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/resurfacing/page03.cfm

This road is a Maine DOT Priority 3 Corridor with approximately 12000 AADT. Federal guidance on lane widths does not automatically require 11 foot lanes on such roads unless heavy vehicle traffic is >8%, which in the case of Ocean Street would mean approximately 960 heavy vehicle trips per day. We have seen no data documenting that percentage of use by heavy vehicles on this stretch of roadway, and do not feel that 11 foot lanes are warranted.
It should be further noted that an 8 foot vehicle centered in a 10 foot travel lane can pass a bicycle rider in a 5 ft lane with at least 3 feet of space. And given the available cross section of the roadway, there would be no more nor less violations of the three-foot law with the bike lanes than without, as no additional width is proposed for the roadway. See the diagram below:
In the absence of parked cars or other hazards, bicyclists will usually ride to the right of center in a bike lane, and this practice is even more likely for the less experienced the proposed bike lanes are intended to aid. Riding two feet from the curb or edge of pavement, a bicycle will be passed by a typical motor vehicle centered in the travel lane with at least three feet. Motorists could create even more space by moving slightly to the left. Operational position in lanes is always variable, Operational position in lanes is always somewhat variable, and more or less space could be created by different positions in the lanes. It is impossible and impractical to engineer roads and lanes that create maximum distances between users in all cases.
Regarding the point of law that Sgt. Howard raises, that it is not legal to cross the double yellow line to pass a bicycle, Title 29-A, Chapter 19, §2070 (1-A) states explicitly that a bicycle may be passed in a no passing zone if it is safe to do so, with no additional restrictions. Our interpretation of that law is that there are no restrictions on passing a bicycle in a no passing zone beyond that it must be safe to do so, and that crossing the double yellow to do so is permitted.
This reading of the law is consistent with how the MaineDOT interprets §2070, as their website states explicitly that “Motorists may cross the centerline in a no passing zone in order to pass a bicyclist if it safe to do so” (http://www.maine.gov/mdot/bikeped/safety/laws.shtml).
Permitting bicyclists to be passed on narrow roads is a common sense provision of Maine law. Many roadways in the state have travel lanes of less than 14 feet, which is the minimum width necessary for a bicycle and typical vehicle to share a lane. Without this provision, as Sgt. Howard points out, it would be necessary for vehicles to remain behind a bicyclist in all cases unless the lane width (or lane plus shoulder width) expanded to a minimum of 14 feet total.
It should be further pointed out that whether or not the bicycle lanes are installed, the existing road geometry on Ocean Street would still require a large vehicle to move slightly left of the center line to safely pass a bicycle. The proposed bike lanes are simply demarcating where bicycle riders already operate, and neither increase nor decrease the available cross section of the roadway. Widening roadways is an expensive option that can make conditions worse (e.g. by encouraging speeding), and so Maine state law’s provision to permit the passing of bicycles in no passing zones where it is safe to do so is a simple, cost effective solution to this issue.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss our recommendations in more detail with city staff, public safety personnel, elected officials and Sebago Tech staff.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. Sincerely,
James C. Tassé, PhD Assistant Director
Bicycle Coalition of Maine