Where do Bicyclists Fit in this Picture?

(The following is from an email sent to Saint Paul Smart Trips and my City Council Representatives. I was asked to post it here.)

This is the lead photo from the email sent out by St. Paul Smart Trips encouraging me to support streetcars in St. Paul by attending a public meeting.

I was not able to attend the streetcar meeting but I am glad to hear that the ​proposal to study the streetcar concept got approval to move forward.

I am not against streetcars. All​ of my career I commuted by bike in the summer and Metro Transit bus in the winter. A streetcar would be much preferred to a bus. The above photo inspired me to search out​ more​ information on how streetcars and bicycles interact in other cities. In​ looking at the photos and​ links below it becomes clear that it takes really good design ​(​and probably a lot of money)​ to integrate streetcars successfully into the existing infrastructure while providing safe travel for all. ​Also, it appears that most cities forge ahead, build the streetcar, and deal with the issues later. I am definitely against that approach.​

I read through the streetcar posts on the Open Saint Paul forum and found that no one was mentioning bicycles so I thought I should comment.

This is what I found in looking around the net…

Tucson is starting streetcar service this July and even before carrying the first passenger there are lots of bicycle/streetcar problems.
Streetcar, bikes and parked cars
This is one situation – very tight  quarters for bikes​.


And this scenario could force the biker to cross the tracks at a dangerous angle causing tires to catch the rails and result in a fall.
Like this.


There has been enough controversy in Tucson to generate this TV News story on streetcar “pinch points.


And Tucson isn’t the only city having problems.

This approach has been tried in Washington DC – to me it doesn’t look safe for either bikes or peds.


Here’s another​ TV news story, this time from Toronto, subtitled “A new study says an inordinate number of bicycle accidents in Toronto are caused by streetcar tracks.


And then there’s this video “Bicycle Crashes Caused by Streetcars” which starts out with a short PSA but goes on to document problems in multiple cities.


​Taking this info and applying it to the situation in St Paul a couple of issues stand out:
– On the favored streetcar route, both East 7th and West 7th are key routes into Downtown and neither has any decent parallel alternative routes that allow for efficient point-to-point cycling. ​ Bikes would have to mix with streetcars.​
– All of the proposed St Paul streetcar routes have one thing in common – they all pass through the same traffic bottlenecks that bicycles must navigate now to get into Downtown. These choke points are the biggest deterrent to safe bicycle commuting in St Paul and having tracks and streetcars will only make matters worse.
​So…​ if streetcars are to be implemented in Saint Paul, let’s learn from experiences in other cities and do ​proper​ design and construction to ensure that we build a system that is safe and convenient for all road users. We should even take this as an opportunity to engineer ways to eliminate our multi-modal bottlenecks as much as possible and make streetcar projects a win-win situation.







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15 Responses to Where do Bicyclists Fit in this Picture?

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary July 21, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Having just returned from a trip to Oslo (which has many streetcar lines in the downtown core, and few separated cycle tracks or bike lanes), I can attest to the conflict between streetcars and bikes. The best choice in Oslo is to ride between the rails. But even then, tracks often take turns, or have an T-shaped junction with other lines. This means many awkward crossing angles, making it nearly impossible to cross in a perpendicular fashion (as safe cycling programs will usually teach you to do). Even if you’re not caught in the tracks, you’re less predictable to other traffic, since you’re focused almost solely on surface hazards.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell July 21, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

      Yep. I think Oslo is not a place we want to copy.

  2. Brendan Jordan July 21, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Great post Mark! Glad to see you posting here.

    There were also lots of complaints in Seattle about people getting bucked by the streetcar tracks when the SLUT (http://www.ridetheslut.com/) started running. I no longer lived there when it started operating, so didn’t experience it myself.

    Finding room for cyclists on Nicollet will similarly be a challenge on that relatively narrow street if they go forward with streetcars there. Should be fine in the Greenway, however!

  3. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell July 21, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Great points. Streetcars are a motor vehicle and can share fairly well with other motor vehicles (though it is best if they can be separated when possible). Bicycles and disabled mobility do not mix with these two nor with pedestrians just as pedestrians do not mix well with motor vehicles. We need 3 fairly segregated systems; motor vehicles and streetcars, bicycles and disabled mobility, and pedestrian.

    It’d be interesting to know the injury and fatality stats for streetcars in Amsterdam.

  4. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele July 22, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    This is why we need to consider dedicated center-running ROW with gauntlet track whenever we can (and we can do it with 80′ ROW).


    That said, I don’t think the bike lane splitting the sidewalk and a bus bulb is a bad idea, but that bike lane in the photo doesn’t look like a good implementation. It needs something to differentiate it from sidewalk space.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele July 22, 2014 at 9:57 am #

      Oh, and an added benefit, if we were to rebuild with center-running rail, and have storm sewers drain at that curb– we are then freed for future block-by-block configuration of the entire space from building face to median curb, allowing for adaptive and context-sensitive applications of woonerfs, patio dining, etc.

    • iNLand fIEts July 23, 2014 at 4:39 am #

      The cycletrack transit bypass as shown in the DC example is a poor example of basically the best thing to do for the stops. Ideally, it should have a height differential from the stop/sidewalk with angled curbing and the one pictured also has a horrible entry. Fix those two problems and it has good potential.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell July 23, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

      I’m with you 100% on center running trams and on gauntlet where appropriate. This seems to work well everywhere I’ve seen it. I’m not sure how much we need the space dedicated though.

      Agree on the bike lane. Bike lanes running behind bus islands is the standard in most of Europe and work quite well. The one pictured has a few problems as you and inland fiets pointed out. Ideally the cycletrack s/b a bit wider and a different color than the sidewalk and island. The curves going in to it should be shallower as well. The curbs on either side running perpendicular to it s/b angled to prevent problems of someone running off the track and doing a header (from which any kind of foam helmet would likely provide little to no protection) after hitting one of these.

  5. Evan Roberts
    Evan Roberts July 22, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    Melbourne trams are centre-running, and it seems to work well there. I’d even say it seems that center running street cars is better for traffic calming, but I’m not quite sure why.

  6. Barb Day July 22, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Willemsparkweg between Van Baerlestraat and Emmastraat in Amsterdam should be the model for all streetcars in the Twin Cities.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell July 23, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

      Perhaps, but every situation is different. I think that is only the #2 tram so is very low tram and motor traffic which works well. More of either traffic would be a problem and that’s where Matt’s gauntlet track comes in. You can see this along Leidsestraat where they widened the bridges over the canals to allow dual/passing track and then used a shared gauntlet track in the tighter space between canals so that traffic wouldn’t be congested.

      BTW, on the northern end of Leidsestraat is a good example of how bicycle paths are arranged to always cross tram tracks at a steep enough angle to reduce fall problems. You still need to be careful, but it works well.

  7. Zonderpaard July 23, 2014 at 4:11 am #

    “Very tight quarters” is pretty typical here in Vienna (not Virginia). Except here we contend with cobbles outside the tram tracks, too. 😉

    Swinging the bike path around the transit stop works fine–paint is a pretty effective strategy to alert cyclists and peds, plus a ‘rumble stripe’ where the pavement is rougher (cobbles etc) ahead and behind. The Lovejoy example would be safer if cyclists weren’t jammed up by the fence on the right–give people a place to go if there is trouble in the bottleneck behind the transit stop.

    Sometimes traffic engineering is far too obsessed with separating everybody. Bikes and peds need not be so strictly funneled like trucks and cars on the motorway.


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