Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
22 Focus Group Findings The focus groups held in the three treatment communities (Anniston, Opelika, and Chattanooga) were intended to provide insight into the unique problems cyclists face. The focus groups provided valuable perspective on their own regarding preferences among cyclists and potential cyclists and were also used to refine the survey, the results of which are discussed in later chapters. When presented with different configurations of roadway characteristics and facility types, focus group participants were asked to state their comfort levels for bicycling (from very comfortable to very uncomfortable). In general, participants felt they would be more com- fortable bicycling on facilities that were more separated from both parked and moving cars. Barrier- or buffer-separated bike lanes with no curb parking were rated as most comfort- able, followed by bike lanes with no curb parking. The presence of curbside parked cars and associated dangers from opening doors, and from cars parking and leaving the curb, were the most consistent concerns noted. Hazards from turning cars at intersections and hazards from moving cars were less acute concerns, although all participants (regardless of experi- ence level) noted an increase in comfort when a buffer or barrier was introduced between moving cars and bicycles. Differences in Comfort for Various Bicycling Facilities Many participants felt cautious about sharing a lane with the sharrow marking, the most minimal of the facility types, with vehicular traffic. Many were unfamiliar with the sharrow marking, and others felt that the marking was essentially useless. Sharrows were viewed as a cultural disaster in a city where few people bike. Many perceived the marking as an indication that cyclists belong on that particular road (despite cyclists being allowed on the road by default), but the sharrows do not address the behavior of drivers who think bicycles are interfering with through traffic. Several participants also felt uncomfortable with the idea of having cars waiting behind them, with one stating, âThere is no room to get out of the way,â and another preferring a place to get out of the way every few hundred feet. This lack of comfort led some to prefer two lanes in each direction with the sharrow in the rightmost lane, in effect creating a âslow laneâ for cyclists and a passing lane for motorists. Some cyclists had experienced harassment by motor- ists, so avoiding conflict between cyclists and faster motorists was viewed as an advantage for bicycle lanes. Any sort of spatial separation was influential in increasing perceived comfort. In the case of the two-lane no parking roadway, a bike lane alone was enough to make 76% of participants (compared with 17% with the sharrow) feel very comfortable. As noted previously, bicycle lanes without adjacent curb parking were preferred to avoid dooring hazards. There was some concern C H A P T E R 3
Focus Group Findings 23 about trash and debris in bicycle lanes located near the curb, with one participant stating, âyou are guaranteed a flat tire.â Some participants also felt concerned that drivers would see the bike lane as an excuse to drive faster and pass closer, and they advocated for signage and educa- tion for drivers. Participants liked the separation from traffic the buffered bike lane provided, with one participant stating that it âbuilds in the 3-foot passing rule.â They also liked the visual barrier of the white diagonal paint in the buffer zone, though some would still like ways to increase visibility by perhaps using a brighter yellow or red pavement (such as in the Netherlands). Parents perceived this as being better for riding with kids, though they would also like cyclist education for children. Some were concerned that the added width of the buffer would make the bike lane just wide enough to be used for deliveries or other forms of impromptu parking. With only 49% responding as very comfortable, the shared-use path image was viewed less positively than all protected/separated bike lane scenarios, as well as all bike lane and buffered bike lane scenarios that did not include parking. Only 2% felt very uncomfortable, but some were not pleased with the lack of lanes and bike symbols and the potential for pedestrians to block the path. Most felt that this type of facility was more suitable for recreational riding, with one participant describing the experience of mixing pedestrians and cyclists as ânot dangerous, just annoying.â One noted âthere are too many variables, you got slow bikers, you got fast bikers, walkers that have no clue of what is going on, and you got walkers with dogs on a retract- able leash.â Another mentioned that âif the public were educated, I would be OK,â but right now everybody feels this is their own space. Overall it was viewed as good for kids, with one parent stating, âif I was riding for 20 miles, I would not choose this, but if I am going with my kids for an ice cream, this is great!â Impact of Curbside Parking on Cyclist Comfort The presence of curbside parking was one of the biggest deterrents to participants. In the scenario with two lanes and parking, the presence of parking nearly neutralized the positive effects of bike lanes and buffered bike lanes. Some primary concerns about bicycling in the presence of on-street parking were the threats of opening doors and cars pulling into and out of parking spots. Participants were less comfortable about sharrow situations when parking was introduced, citing the same reasons as previously. A minority of participants noted that the presence of parking likely would slow traffic, but this did not manifest itself strongly in the overall comfort level expression. These comments were typically limited to configurations with the sharrow marking, in which case the cyclist is expected to take the lane, increasing visibility and distance from doors. In bike lane scenarios, participants recognized that the bike lane was near the parking zone, which increased the threat of the door zone along with the hazard of the parking maneuver itself. This made participants more sensitive to hazards on both sides, increasing the perceived hazard. Some felt better with the existence of the bike lane, but not if the bike lane was located within the âdoor zone.â One participant explained that âitâs achieving the sense of safety, so I am inclined to go faster, and that would make me exposed to get doored.â Overall, when cycling next to parking, participants were split between whether a sharrow or a bike lane would be preferable. Many felt that a bike lane between a travel lane and a parking lane âsandwichedâ the cyclist between hazards. Another noted that a door zone bicycle lane made her feel âsmooshed with nowhere to go.â This varied from the effect of a sharrow, in that a sharrow theoretically allows cyclists to take the lane and get away from the parking.
24 Bicyclist Facility Preferences and Effects on Increasing Bicycle Trips The sense of comfort provided by the buffered bike lane was also reduced by the addition of parking. The buffer, which was shown either separating the bike lane from the parked car or separating the bike lane from moving traffic, made participants feel a little more comfortable as opposed to just a bike lane. One participant said, âI like it a little better than a regular bike lane, because if somebody opens the door, there is somewhere to go.â There were still lingering concerns about the actions of drivers in the parking zone. Flipping the buffer to the parking side helped ease a little bit of discomfort, as many participants felt more concerned about the potential hazard from drivers of cars in the parking lane doing something unexpected than from drivers in the travel lane. However, some noted that the extra space in the buffer zone still does not get the cyclist out of the blind spot of a driver trying to pull into traffic. Some noted this could be fine for experienced cyclists, but not others. Role of a Physical Barrier versus Buffered Lanes Interactions with automobile parking were viewed as a primary concern throughout the focus groups. None of the previously discussed facility types was satisfactory at alleviating participantsâ concerns. Some asked if there was a way to get cyclists entirely out of the way of cars trying to park (or vice versa). Compared with the best-case scenario without a physical barrier (buffered bike lane), the addition of the physical barrier was influential in participants overcoming the negative impli- cations of the least preferable roadway configuration (four-lane travel with parking). The primary concern with the introduction of protected/separated bicycle lanes to the right of park- ing was the challenge of pedestrians crossing through the lanes, with one participant stating that the setup âkills visibility for everybody.â Planters were a slightly preferred barrier for most participants because they added a sense of protection from vehicles and pedestrians, while others preferred bollards because they increased visibility and reduced risk of injury from crash- ing into the barrier. In either case, one participant said he would like to see reflectors on the barriers to improve nighttime visibility. The participants traveling with children were more in favor of the protected/separated bicycle lanes, despite the potential for pedestrian conflicts in the cycletrack, because travel with kids is slower and less predictable. Two-way protected/separated bicycle lanes were not viewed as substantially different from one-way protected/separated bicycle lanes. There was also concern about intersection treat- ments, and the potential to encourage wrong-way riding. Concerns for this facility type were mostly those of consistency and education. The higher visibility of two-way cycletracks may help noncyclists notice the bike lane. Concerns About Introducing Protected/Separated Bicycle Lanes and New Intersection Treatments Some more experienced cyclists expressed concern about the protected/separated bike lanes in which parked cars and bollards separated cyclists from moving traffic. They noted the value of having an âescape routeâ from opening car doors or pedestrians stepping into the cycle- track, which was reduced in narrow cycletrack configurations. The reduced visibility of cyclists using protected/separated bike lanes was a concern. These cyclists preferred buffered bicycle lanes, green lanes, and bicycle lanes without parked cars. Such solutions provide separation from vehicle traffic while preserving âescape routesâ to merge into traffic in order to avoid debris, merging cars, and other hazards. In Chattanooga, where there was an existing protected bike lane separated by a curb and a parking lane, there have been some challenges with motorists opening car doors into the lane and tripping over the curb.
Focus Group Findings 25 Reactions varied regarding the use of intersection treatments. Most participants felt that the purpose of bike boxes was unclear, and that drivers would not observe them without proper education. A two-stage turn box was viewed more favorably by some, as many focus groups raised concern over the difficulty of making left turns. Two-stage turn boxes have been used in the past in Chattanooga; however, when asked about them, few focus group par- ticipants knew how they should use them. Many participants still felt that they would rather do a vehicular left turn to clear the intersection faster, though this was a stronger theme in the more rural locations of Opelika and Anniston. Protected intersections with a second curb protecting bicyclists, such as those used in the Netherlands, were viewed by most participants as very comfortable. Many said that protected intersections were self-explanatory and easy to navigate for cyclists and drivers. Participants in more rural Opelika and Anniston, however, recognized that it would be expensive to implement protected intersections in the places they cycle. Impact of Number of Vehicular Lanes An additional vehicular travel lane in each direction tended to decrease comfort in most cases. Several participants noted throughout that although they felt that this change from the base condition decreased comfort, it was still more comfortable than the parking change. In the sharrow without parking case, 26% of participants responded as âvery comfortableâ in cases with an additional travel lane in each direction, which was surprisingly more than the 17% without the additional travel lanes. Some participants stated that this change made them more comfortable because vehicles had a lane to pass cyclists. This helped solve the problem of drivers being infuriated with cyclists and cyclists feeling in the way. When parking was also introduced, the additional lane in each direction reduced those responding as very/somewhat comfortable from 54% to 42%. It seemed that additional lanes increased the amount of activity beyond the threshold participants could comfortably process. Therefore, in sharrow situations, if parking was present, participants preferred a two-lane roadway; without parking, four lanes was preferred, as this configuration allowed a slow lane for cyclists. For scenarios involving bike lanes and buffered bike lanes, the number of âvery comfortableâ respondents decreased when parking was added. However, in both cases when parking was not involved, most respondents were still in the âvery comfortableâ or âsomewhat comfortableâ range. When parking and an additional travel lane in each direction were combined, respon- dents did not feel comfortable with either a bike lane or a buffered bike lane. It seemed that either additional hazard increased stress in a manageable way, but the combination of the two seemed to push most respondents to the uncomfortable side. One participant even exclaimed, âPlease donât build that!â when presented one of those cases. Other Infrastructure Factors Most respondents liked the idea of having bicycle space marked with green paint to better designate cyclistsâ space in the right-of-way. Some participants were concerned that the paint would become slippery in the rain, but the color difference was still viewed as a positive. Respondents seemed to like the idea of neighborhood greenways and bike boulevards. How- ever, there was a general attitude that the traffic-calming measures would be used to get vehicles out of residential neighborhoods, rather than to make the streets more bikeable. Respondents also voiced opinions about the importance of the general cycling network. Many felt they knew of comfortable infrastructure in their neighborhoods, but the system
26 Bicyclist Facility Preferences and Effects on Increasing Bicycle Trips was lacking. One participant noted, âA network that allows me to get where I want to go . . . itâs not there.â Another respondent who started bicycling while living in China said, âWe donât have the infrastructure and the bicycling culture hereâI donât ride my bike as much as I would like.â Cycling Comfort Throughout the course of the focus groups, the primary factor that influenced participantsâ perceived comfort was how safe they felt on the route. Although this is a typical concern, it became apparent that the responses from these focus groups were different than those from similar studies conducted in other regions. In several focus groups conducted through this study, participants shared emotionally charged stories of someone they knew who was seri- ously injured or killed while cycling; it seemed that the concerns voiced were based on this fear. Surprisingly, weather and hills did not come up in any of the focus groups. However, none of the focus group locations is particularly hilly, and the weather in the South is generally nice, apart from the midday heat during the summer. This section contains a discussion of common attitudes about the sources of discomfort, particularly driver behavior, the number of cyclists, and children and cycling. Concerns About Drivers Primary concerns for cyclists in Anniston, Opelika, and Chattanooga were driver expecta- tions, and that usersâparticularly driversâwould not know how to navigate the infrastructure. One participant, who previously lived in Portland, Oregon, stated: âI am very comfortable with riding, but I am very afraid of drivers here.â Participants felt there was little keeping drivers in check. Because cycling laws are not always enforced, participants looked to infrastructure design to maintain the integrity of cycling laws. Participants in nearly every focus group offered examples of drivers misusing infrastructure, such as parking in a buffered bike lane or using a bike lane as a loading zone. There was a real fear that blocked bike lanes would require newer cyclists to enter the general stream of vehicle traffic when they were unprepared to do so. This was cited as a reason for preferring protected/ separated bike lanes, as they become much harder to misuse. Other concerns stem from driversâ apparent inattentiveness and ignorance of laws, with one participant stating, âEvery single driver that comes up is less than 2 feet away,â and another saying he feels the need to educate drivers all the time. Many participants favored buffered bike lanes for this reason. One participant explained that he liked that the infrastructure âbuilt inâ the 3-foot rule that dictates the minimum passing distance motorists should give cyclists. This contrasts with the common complaint about bike lanes: that there is nothing to stop drivers from violating this rule. Participants also felt that drivers in the South are generally more aggressive drivers, making cyclists feel more uncomfortable, particularly in more rural settings. One participant from Chattanooga stated, âOutside of downtown, things get very sketchy very fast, with some very aggressive drivers.â This aggression, coupled with high travel speeds, made participants eager to have more separation than what may be preferred in regions with slower, less aggressive drivers. Strength in Numbers Some participants expressed that an increase in the number of cyclists could help educate drivers. Many participants felt they would like to wait for more people to bike before joining in,
Focus Group Findings 27 with one participant stating, âI would feel better if there was more density of people doing this.â Reasons for this are that many participants believed that drivers are not conditioned to expect cyclists. Some thought that the presence of bicycle infrastructure builds in an expectation, but most expressed that they would feel much more comfortable cycling on a route where cyclists are common. Another concern was that many felt cyclists were in the minority in the South. Some par- ticipants recounted harassment from their own cycling experience or from that of a friend. This was particularly an issue for women in Chattanooga, with one stating, âI donât want to go by myself.â Children and Cycling Several participants throughout the focus groups had young children at home. The study format excluded the participation of minors, so those with children were asked to voice opinions for themselves, as well as on behalf of their children. Across the board, perceived safety governed whether the parents would feel comfortable with their kids cycling, with parents being much more conservative in expressing comfort on behalf of their children than for themselves. Many participants noted the need for bicycling education for children as well as adults, with some being involved as League of American Bicyclists instructors, as youth cycling instructors, or in other capacities. Most felt that, apart from parking lots, parks, and slow residential streets, there were not ample places in their communities for children to bike. One participant stated, âThere is nowhere that is safe near where I liveâI feel so stressed when I see the kids in the street.â Another stated that they avoid all roads that have any traffic and that do not look safe. Focus Group Conclusions The findings from the focus groups provide qualitative information about the concerns current and potential cyclists have about cycling in the Southeastern United States. Previ- ous studies have focused primarily on cyclists in regions where cycling is already highly visible. These focus groups revealed that perceived safety from moving vehicle collisions and adjacent parked cars was a major factor in potential cyclistsâ willingness to use bicycling facilities, with substantial concern about unsafe driver behavior. Participants were attracted to infrastructure with a higher degree of separation from drivers, as they felt they would be safer from inattentive and aggressive drivers, both in the travel lane and the parking lane. Hazards from dooring and cars parking were among the highest concerns, followed closely by hazards from cars turning into or overtaking bicycles. Buffered bicycle lanes and protected/ separated bicycle lanes with a physical barrier such as bollards or planters were viewed as substantially improving comfort, but even basic bike lanes were reassuring, provided they were not adjacent to car parking. When curbside car parking was introduced, perceived comfort levels plummeted, and only recovered with buffering to place the bike lane outside the door zone or with physical separa- tion from parked cars and the door zone. Eliminating curbside parking next to bike lanes, as is common in Europe, appears to increase comfort, along with more complex and expensive buff- ering or protected/separated bicycle lanes. The focus groups analyzed several scenarios for buffered and protected/separated bike- ways that could reassure those with little cycling experience who may want to try cycling. More experienced cyclists noted important safety and education challenges with integrating
28 Bicyclist Facility Preferences and Effects on Increasing Bicycle Trips protected/separated bike lanes and one- or two-lane cycletracks at intersections. Respondents saw bicycle facilities such as the two-stage turn queue box as too complex to use and explain. Participants generally preferred using more intuitive bicycle infrastructure (such as the pro- tected intersection) or reverting to vehicular cycling strategies (such as merging into turning lanes with traffic). While qualitative in nature, findings from these focus groups were useful for two major reasons. First, these findings were used to inform the design of the quantitative data col- lection for this NCHRP project. Second, these results are instructive enough to be useful anecdotes in the discussion of cyclistsâ needs and preferences when it comes to cycling infra- structure design.