Open Letter: Improve Boulevard Resurfacing to Achieve Vision Zero

View this open letter as a two-page PDF document

To: Town Engineer, Pedestrian & Bicycle Commission, and Vision Zero Task Force, Town of West Hartford

From: Bike West Hartford Board Members: Jack Dougherty, Ethan Frankel, Tracy Frankel, Jim Head

The Town Engineer recently described a proposal to resurface a portion of Boulevard (about 0.7 miles between Mountain Road and Riggs Avenue). We applaud his decision to recognize the Town’s Complete Streets policy and to request feedback from the public and the Pedestrian & Bicycle Commission. While the process is encouraging, we do have serious concerns about the proposed design, which could create serious dangers to pedestrians and bicyclists. (To date, we have only seen a brief description of the proposal in a March 1st CT Insider story by Michael Walsh, with no diagrams.) Instead, we’d like to offer two alternatives (using our own diagrams) that will help to achieve the Town’s Vision Zero goal to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries by calming traffic on this high-speed street in a residential area.

The Current Boulevard design (from Mountain to South Main) has two underused parking lanes and two auto lanes, with sharrows (“shared arrows”) that dangerously place cyclists in high-speed traffic. Yet bike lanes currently exist at both ends of this section of Boulevard. Furthermore, no traffic-calming infrastructure currently exists, despite a pedestrian fatality further east on Boulevard in December 2022.

The Town’s proposal calls for eliminating the east-bound parking lane and for slimming motor vehicle lanes from 12 to 10 feet, which we support. But the proposal would create a poorly-designed and dangerous 2-way “cycle track” with no protection against oncoming traffic for west-bound cyclists, and no safe transitions for cyclists entering or exiting this configuration. Also, the proposal would not create any traffic-calming infrastructure to achieve Vision Zero goals, such as a raised crosswalk. Finally, the proposal would only resurface Boulevard from Mountain Road to Riggs Ave (0.7 miles), and would ignore the remaining portion from Riggs to South Main (only 0.3 additional miles).

The Town misuses the term “cycle track” in a way that does not meet professional design standards. According to the Urban Bikeway Design Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a “cycle track” provides more protection than paint-only bike lanes. “A cycle track is physically separated from motor traffic… If at street level, they can be separated from motor traffic by raised medians, on-street parking, or bollards.” One example of a two-way cycle track that uses bollards to physically separate autos and bikes exists on Edgewood Avenue in New Haven CT.

Two-Way Protected Cycle Track with Bollards,  Edgewood Ave & Forest Rd, New Haven, Google Maps

We offer two alternative options to make more efficient use of the Town resurfacing budget to achieve Vision Zero goals and safer transportation for all. Option A shows a better-designed 2-way protected cycle track, with bollards to physically separate cyclists from motor vehicles. But this approach also would require bicycle signals on stoplights to ensure safer transitions for cyclists entering and exiting this configuration, which would be an additional expense. Also, it calls for placing raised crosswalks where needed to calm traffic and protect pedestrians, since this would be more cost-effective during resurfacing. Finally, it calls for extending the resurfacing by 0.3 miles to align with South Main St.

Option B offers another safe and cost-effective approach, by replacing the 2-way protected cycle track with two conventional bike lanes. The parking lane would serve as a buffer for west-bound cyclists, and bollards would serve as a buffer for east-bound cyclists and also calm motor vehicle traffic by physically maintaining the Town’s proposed 10-foot auto lane. Once again, this option recommends raised crosswalks where needed and also extends the resurfacing all the way to South Main St.

For the final design, we also recommend that the Town start painting bike lanes green, or at least striped green leading through intersections, as shown in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.