Bump Outs and Bicyclists – A Dangerous Combination?

I heard a rumor from Dan Riggins at Blue Monday last week that the city staff and their consultants were going to recommend installing “bump-outs” in downtown as part of their Streetscape Plan. Bump-outs are the extension of the sidewalk 3, 4 or 5 feet into the street at intersections.

Dan was concerned that the bump-outs would cost us some parking spaces in downtown. As some of you know, we already have fairly tight parking situations at some times of the day along certain blocks in downtown. Losing more parking spaces would definitely not be a good thing.

When I discussed this matter with some of my board members, most of them had never heard of bump-outs before. When they went on-line to research them, what they found was of great concern.

Many communtities that have installed bump-outs have found that there is a dramatic increase in bicylcle-vehicle accidents. Apparently, when the bicyclists are moving down the bike lane and come to a bump-out, they feel forced to swerve into the vehicular lane. Sommerville, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island, and Marshfield, Wisconsin are among the communities that have experienced this increase in bicycle-vehicle accidents after installing bump-outs.

In fact, some communities are now removing bump-outs because of this problem. Ashland, Oregon initiated a study to see if there has been sufficient increase in the number of bicycle-vehicle accidents to merit removing the bump-outs. After their initial experience, the people in Oak Park, Illinois have halted implementation of their bump-out plan. Finally, the Virginia Department of Transportation now makes funding available for communities that want to remove their bump-outs because of increased bicycle-vehicle accidents.

There were also a number of entries about the incompatibility of trucks and bump-outs. Apparently trucks need to take wider turns when going around bump-outs, swinging into the opposite lane and causing accidents. One of my board members pointed out that with the lack of back-alley delivery space, many of our merchants take their deliveries from the street. He suggested that the combination of trucks parked in the street and bump-outs at the corners could cause grid-lock downtown.

I’m not saying that the evidence is conclusive. Perhaps the communities in which bikes, cars, trucks and parking happily co-exist with bump-outs just don’t make the google hit list. However, I think that we should think long and hard before installing bump-out in downtown and instead make some of the citizens’ ideas higher priority for the Streetscape Plan.