Bike Lanes in Lower Macungie by Michael Sutherland


Just recently, Lower Macungie Township announced that they were pursuing install bike lanes along Hamilton Blvd when it is repaved later in the year.

This a radical planning move from the township in order to help turn Hamilton Blvd into more of a street. This is because in its current state Hamilton Boulevard is a Stroad, which is a street/road hybrid that as my friend Ron Beitler explains perfectly as something that, “Does nothing good. If the purpose of a street is to capture value. And the purpose of a road is to move cars efficiently, then much like a futon is both a terrible sofa and terrible bed a STROAD is a bad street and also a bad road. Besides being a very dangerous environment they are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive.”

So the question now is how do bike lanes contribute to smart growth in the Lehigh Valley?

1. They begin to provide the infrastructure that is needed for a multi-modal transportation system
With plans for the lanes to be near the Hamilton Crossings Shopping Center, this will provide another transportation option for people to get there.
What will be needed along with the lanes leading to the shopping center though is bike lanes in the shopping center along with bike parking which may seem hard to do, but as seen in this article, the Dutch have accomplished this in their suburbs too.

2. When people ride bikes, cars are taken off of the road which …
Lowers Carbon Emissions

When thinking of the influence on climate that carbon emissions from cars has, taking these baby steps of getting cars off the road through bike lanes is a practical way to help fight climate chance.

 Creates a Safer Street

Something that is not noted often is how the number one killer of people ages 1 to 44 is motor vehicle accidents. Therefore, if we want to decrease the number of deaths that we see among our neighbors, the best thing we can do is create places where we don’t have to drive if we don’t want to.
Bike lanes gives people the opportunity to use a mode of transportation that is not as deadly.
And even more so, bike lanes helps to contribute to a road diet by repurposing the extra wide travel lane space for cars which thereby creates a street that is designed for traffic to move at slower speeds.

Increases Public Health

From healthier lungs to better mental health to lower stress, these are only a few examples of the health benefits of cycling as compiled by PeopleforBikes.

Challenges against the bike lanes

One word: PennDOT

Because Hamilton Boulevard is a state owned route, the township has to obtain approval from PennDOT in order install the bikes lanes.

Now one might ask why this is an issue?

Well, when looking at smart growth, PennDOT values moving car traffic quickly over creating safe streets for people. This can be seen practically a few years ago in Lower Macungie when the residents of the village of East Texas and the Lower Macungie township commissioners both supported lowering the speed limit on Willow Ln./East Texas Rd. to match it’s character as more of a town center. Now you would think that it would be passed unanimously with this kind of support, but PennDOT actually decided to ignore it altogether.

Therefore the outcome of this decision has long term effects on if bike lanes will be built on the Lehigh Valley’s state owned roads in the future. If it is approved by PennDOT, it will be a large victory for Lower Macungie township in trying to work towards smart growth.

Smart growth is not easy to accomplish, but Lower Macungie working towards bike lanes is the start of a radical transformation of a township that has had enough with urban sprawl.

So the question I want to leave you all with is if you are willing to add space on the streets of your community for bike, to help and work towards smart growth?

And even more so, what kind of Lehigh Valley do you want to live in?

Posted on February 1, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. It is a common myth that you can put bikelanes on a heavily-traveled road and, like magic, people will climb out of their BMWs and start cycling.
    We can learn from the mistakes of others. That myth made it into Florida state law, and as a result, just about every big arterial street in that state has bike lanes. Despite the fact that Florida weather is much more conducive to bicycling than Pennsylvania weather (it’s 14 degrees outside as I write this), those bike lanes are empty.
    When you shoehorn a bike lane into an existing road, you give bicyclists a terrible experience. The bicyclists get a constant stream of unnerving close passes. The bicyclists ride over debris that can and does cause very serious crashes. The bicyclists are not in the position where people scan as they enter intersections, making for a much higher instance of “why didn’t you see me” near misses and collisions.
    In almost all cases, the preferred way to encourage people to ride is to teach them how to make the rules of the road work for bicyclists. If you control the lane on your bicycle, you are out of the edge debris and you find that overtaking motorists change lanes to pass, giving you far more clearance. As you approach intersections, people in side streets see you sooner and react appropriately to your presence.
    To Michael Sutherland’s question, “What kind of Lehigh Valley do you want to live in,” I reply: One where bicyclists are safe, respected and expected participants in traffic. If bike lanes made that happen, I’d support them. But they don’t, so I don’t.

  2. I think bike lanes can make biking much safer — if and only if there is a physical barrier or separation from cars.

  3. Peter, I understand that the cry for “separation” is a well-meaning sentiment. But it doesn’t work.
    Collisions occur at intersections. And at intersections, the barrier disappears and the “separation” is gone. But what this kind of road design does is that it hides the collision participants from each other until the moment of impact. The city of Copenhagen, long praised for having these kinds of facilities, averages around five deaths per year from “right hook” collisions between right turning motor vehicles and bicyclists. In 2013, Copenhagen had seven such fatalities. And Copenhagen doesn’t allow large trucks in the city.
    Additionally, the barriers guarantee that debris collect in the bicyclist’s space. I recently had an accident reconstruction job in which a bicyclist broke his spine from an encounter with roadway debris, so I think this is a huge concern.
    The barriers themselves cause crashes. More often than you’d think, a bicyclist will wobble, scrape his front wheel on the barrier, and fall violently.
    Any bicyclist can learn to use the rules of the road to his/her own advantage, and have a safe, low-stress riding experience. See the testimonials from elderly and disabled cyclists on cyclingsavvy.org. That is far more desirable than than creating new problems with barriers.

  4. It would be a good idea to involve in your planning a professional traffic engineer who is an expert in bicycle transportation.

  5. Unless Lower Macungie is willing to put out the bucks to find the expertise to design site-road specific bike lanes, don’t even bother. In rare cases do these work, and slapping some paint lines on the edge of the roads will give inexperienced cyclists a false sense of security and motorized vehicle drivers more reason to be aggressive in claiming the rest (and best) of the road for themselves. To really increase bicycling, the Township needs to have a road and police force trained and highly sensitized to what it takes for the roads to be as safe as possible for all users (cyclists and pedestrians included) and the kahunas to enforce the laws already on the books for the protection of cyclists and peds. Put in “share the road” signs at high traffic intersections, invest in widely available how-to-ride-the-roads-safely bike ed programs for LM residents (the League of American Cyclists has such programs and there are plenty of trained and experienced local instructors available), put in a few high quality bike racks at high visibility pubic places, such as the library, police station, public parks, and encourage private businesses to do the same.

  6. I understand that East Texas Road and Willow Lane in Lower Macungie Township might get bikelanes. I understand that Hamilton Boulevard in Lower Macungie Township is going to get bikelanes. The description I read indicates that the bikelane “implementation” proposed will be very expensive. I also think any bikelane implementation along those routes will be more dangerous for bicycling.

    I lived in Lower Macungie Township for 10 years. I bicycled East Texas Road, Willow Lane and Hamilton Boulevard several times per week. They connected together to form my route to the Rosemont Hobby shop, the Trexlertown Velodrome or the T-Town Bicycle shop. On many of those trips I towed my 2 young children in a Burley bicycle trailer. They are quite safe bicycling routes.

    I still bicycle alot of (sometimes all of) of Hamilton Boulevard and (usually) all of East Texas
    Road twice-per-year when I’m returning to Bethlehem from my dental visits to West Reading, PA.

    Hamilton Boulevard is fine the way it is. It offers a wide through-lane alongside a center left turn lane. I find the roadway clean. I have good sight-lines. Overtaking motorists usually can easily and safely use part of the center left-turn lane to pass me with good margin.

    East Texas Road offers me a clean and smooth through lane. East Texas Road offers overtaking motorists ample opportunity to use the oncoming lane when they are passing me. I don’t know how bikelanes could possibly be improvised on East Texas Road without widening East Texas Road considerably and expensively.

    A bicycle is the only vehicle I have operated for many years. Bicycling is safe. I save some money by buying just a gallon of gas for my lawn mower each year; I save considerable
    money by not buying a motor vehicle.

    Respectfully,

    Gary Madine
    League of American Bicycists
    League Cycling Instructor 323

  7. Anne F, great comments. One quick note: the League of American Bicyclists course has gone downhill to a sad extent. CyclingSavvy (cyclingsavvy.org) is far better. We will be teaching classes in the Lehigh Valley this year, and I hope many planners, advocates and traffic engineers will be among the students.

  8. I agree with John that separation barriers can cause many problems, especially if not coupled with appropriate signage & signal changes — but I don’t think the traffic problems in Copenhagen are necessarily comparable to those in LMT. In calling for physical separation, I was calling not for barriers but for spacing.
    I agree with Gary that Hamilton Boulevard & East Texas Road road are OK as they are. I’ve biked both of these routes — and many others in LMT — for many years. It would be better to leave them the way they are than to install poorly-designed bike lanes.
    Steve probably has the best suggestion of all: don’t develop bicycle lanes without involving a professional traffic engineer who specializes in bicycle solutions.

  9. Hi Folks thank you for the comments.

    Gonna try to take a crack at answering some:

    The catalyst here was complete street recommendations from a recent PCTI study. You can view it here. http://www.lowermac.com/projects/all-comprehensive-plans
    The final draft should be up this week sometime.

    There are two places where lanes are proposed in LMT.
    1. Sauerkraut Lane from Rt. 100 to Brookside Rd. (designed and will be implemented this spring)
    2. Hamilton Boulevard. Entire length in LMT. Potential to continue into UMT. Currently being engineered.

    Johns comments about shoehorning. Def a valid concern. I can say these would be 5-6 ft wide lanes. Both these streets in my opinion are over engineered for the desired speed limits. On Sauerkraut that is 25 mph. On Hamilton Blvd 35. (Some sections are faster, but my hope is the whole boulevard gets reduced to 35 mph). Once we have it posted at that speed the next step is a serious road diet so design speed reflects posted speed. Now there is a disconnect.

    Also Anne’s concern these won’t be slapped together. They will be engineered by Keystone. In fact there is time for public comment on the plans once they are drafted. I hope we get feedback. I will be seeking it.

    Lastly, I know there is a debate in the biking community, sharrows, bike lanes, protected bike lanes. The issue in Lower Mac is we got bike lanes on Krocks Rd as a part of Hamilton Crossings paid for by the developers. So, we decided that lanes would make sense on the boulevard since we already have some coming.

  10. FYI I’d love to hear from people with comments. ronbeitler@gmail.com
    6107622684
    Ron Beitler – Lower Mac Commissioner.
    Ronbeitler.com

  11. I couldn’t be happier than I am today. The leadership of the bicycle-commuting, bicycle-education community is weighing in on bicycle infrastructure BEFORE the infrastructure is put in. And, the municipal leadership, one Ron Beitler, Commissioner in Lower Macungie Township, is listening. This is the realization of a dream. That it is happening on the RenewLV blog, while I’m working with this organization makes me so happy. Keep me posted on what unfolds. And, a big thank you to Michael Sutherland, for writing the original post that stirred so many good comments. Joyce Marin

  12. I agree, Joyce, that dialog is good. But it’s not a fair contest. The dialog all starts from the presumption that “bike lanes are good, unless the malcontents can prove otherwise.” Taxpayers have already paid for all the designs and comments. The momentum is all in that direction.
    That’s because the question that got asked was, “Shouldn’t we put in bike lanes?”
    What would happen if we’d started with a different question? “How can we best use our money to improve conditions for cycling and make the township a place where cyclists are safe, respected and expected participants in traffic?” From that, a part of the question becomes, “What, if anything, does each individual street need?”
    But really, I’d like to start the conversation entirely differently, by teaching you all Cycling Savvy (cyclingsavvy.org). This will give you a far better understanding of what works for cyclists. No traffic control device “works” when it instructs cyclists to ride in a manner contrary to what is best for their own safety. Riding in the gutter where the trash is, and where you are hidden from the view of motorists coming out of driveways and street intersections, is not “working.”
    The biggest difference you can make is in each individual cyclist’s behavior. That turns out to be far cheaper than the engineering costs of designing bike lanes.
    To Ron Beitler’s concerns about motorists speeds and traffic calming, I offer the following: (1) Let’s not use bicyclists as speed bumps. (2) the studies about traffic calming by narrowing a painted lane do not show strong support for the concept. (3) What works well in Upper Saucon Township and Coopersburg boro is the use of radar speed signs and the occasional use of a Ford Crown Victoria with a two-tone paint job. I live in Upper Saucon, and I find that motorists respect their community enough to change their behavior when they are reminded to drive with civility.

  13. I recommend taking the dialog that is being heard here from expert everyday
    cyclists and using it to benefit everyone in the townships involved. As noted, this
    dialog is being heard *before* public dollars are being spent.

    I am reading that Hamilton Boulevard is surely getting a bikelane implementation.
    The expert everyday cyclists agree Hamilton Boulevard doesn’t need a bikelane
    implementation: not for experts; *worse* for novices. Expert cyclists will ignore
    the implementation; novice cyclists will rejoice and (perhaps) even use the
    implementation. But novices may use Hamilton Boulevard bikelanes with *false*
    assurances. Once out on Hamilton Boulevard, novice cyclists may make
    dangerous maneuvers encouraged by the bikelane implementation. One
    example is proceeding up to the front of a queue of red-light stopped
    motorists alongside a tractor-trailer truck waiting to turn right.

    Don’t spend public dollars implementing Hamilton Boulevard bikelanes.

    Maybe the public dollars can more usefully be spent implementing sidewalks?
    Maybe cyclist “comfort” can be enhanced on Hamilton Boulevard by installing
    Pennsylvania’s bicyclists/motorists “share the road” signage? Maybe the
    (typically) 8 “No Pedestrian” crossing signs at many area intersections can be
    taken down, rotated 45 degrees, re-painted, and installed as bicyclist/motorist
    share the road signs along Hamilton Boulevard?

    Respectfully,

    Gary E. Madine
    League of American Bicyclists
    League Cycling Instructor 323

  14. I’m not sure there is agreement based on conversations I’ve had locally and the bulk of studies I’ve read. This is expert daily riders and novices. And like with any subject you can find cherry picked data to support any conclusion.

    What I can tell you about is the thought process:

    1. The decision to go the route of lanes was made by the planning commission during the Hamilton Crossings land development. They pushed hard for bike lanes. Personally, I would have preferred sharrow markings, but I also (again personally) have used bike lanes in major cities when I visit and utilize bike share programs. That’s the limit of my experience but those experiences have generally been great. (This year including DC and Minneapolis) Now that we have lanes coming on Krocks Rd. between bypass and boulevard (done deal) I feel strongly that we need to commit one way or another in the township. I think having both sharrows and lanes here and there leads to more confusion.

    2. Lanes are the recommendation of the Hamilton Blvd comprehensive plan. For better or worse this was a public process that had decent participation. Albeit mostly business owners along the corridor. 1 or 2 biking advocates came and lobbied for lanes. 1 gentleman more consistently.

    3. As for public dollars the reason we are implementing now is the road is being re-surfaced. So now is the most cost effective time. To wait would we more expensive and I think we’d have the same conclusion of lanes.

    To truly make the boulevard safe for all forms of transportation I think we need a corridor wide speed reduction to 35mph. And also emphasis on making sure it has a boulevard complete street tone. Today, it is a STROAD.

    http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2013/3/4/the-stroad.html

    This all being said there is some room for further discussions. I’m anxiously awaiting the first draft of the plan for critique. It’s my hope we have the space for a buffered lane (cycle-track type). Pro or anti lanes, most agree if you do it buffering at least or at best physical barriers make lanes safer.

    Again, here is my email. I’d like to talk more in depth with anyone who has an opinion. ronbeitler@gmail.com

  15. Ron, the physical barriers are the worst of all worlds. I say that knowing very well how popular they are. But lots of bad things are popular.
    As a bicycle accident reconstruction expert witness, I’m much more concerned with the mechanisms that cause collisions than I am with the well-meaning but mistaken belief that “separation” is possible. The so-called separation you get with physical barriers only serves to hide the collision participants from each other until the moment of impact, when a turning motorist collides with a bicyclist. The city of Copenhagen had seven “right hook” fatalities from that crash mechanism in 2013.
    The problem you get with buffers, i.e. s gore-striped area between a bike lane and the regular travel lane, is that the bicyclist is not where motorists are looking. So you increase the likelihood of a turning-movement crash with the buffer, the same as you would with a physical barrier.
    All too often, people will respond to arguments like mine by saying, “But it’s for the novices. It’s for the children.” And that’s a problem. Novices and children don’t know where the true threats are. They don’t understand the mechanics of collisions with turning motorists, and so they will obey the paint. And, interestingly, the people who fall victim to these accidents tend to be very smart people who weren’t part of this conversation, and so they were just misled by the paint brush. In recent years, the fatalities have included a medical student, an astronaut candidate, a Tufts PhD candidate, an MIT grad student, an Amherst grad, and other people with lots of higher education.

  16. I bike Hamilton Boulevard west of Allentown several times per year. Pennsylvania does
    not have a mandatory use law for bike lanes or for bike paths. So when I use Hamilton
    Boulevard, I’ll mainly be pedaling over the right half of the rightmost through lane.

    To increase understanding of fellow Hamilton Boulevard travelers, I’m requesting that a
    very very small expense be added to the total cost of the Hamilton Boulevard project.

    Please put up several “Bikes May Use Full Lane” Pennsylvania traffic signs along the route.

    Respectfully,

    Gary E. Madine
    League of American Bicyclists
    League Cycling Instructor 323

  17. 18 February2015

    (Apologies. My comment posted a few minutes ago is “awaiting
    moderation”. But from what I can see of what might be posted, it
    appears that I failed to post my introductory paragraph. So I’m
    posting again. This time I’m posting only the introductory paragraph.)

    I am reading that the bike “lanes” that are going to be implemented on
    Hamilton Boulevard are going to be separated from regular through
    traffic by some kind of barrier. Bike lanes are usually more dangerous
    for cyclists to use instead of the travel lane. Bike lanes that are
    separated from the through lanes by a physical barrier are surely
    more dangerous. Studies done over the past 40 years
    have shown they are typically 2.5X more dangerous.

    Respectfully,

    Gary E. Madine
    League of American Bicyclists
    League Cycling Instructor 323

  18. Hi Gary,
    I will pass that suggestion on to our traffic engineer. I do think if these lanes materialize that it’s important to also remind motorists that cyclists still have the right to use the full travel lanes.
    Ron
    ronbeitler@gmail.com

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