Re-envisioning East Washington Street

Way back in March 2014, the City of Bloomington held a public meeting to gauge interest in various corridors for potential bike-friendly road reconfigurations. More than 100 cyclists showed up and one of the top requests was East Washington Street. Throughout the process of developing the City’s Bike Master Plan, staff slowly turned away from high-quality bike lanes on Washington in favor of combined bike/parking lanes on East Grove Street.

Bike BloNo believes combined bike/parking lanes on Grove would be more dangerous than doing nothing at all (since people would end up weaving in and out of the travel lane) – and they wouldn’t solve the connectivity problem, since Grove ends at Mercer. People riding bikes for transportation want to go to all the same places people driving cars for transportation want to go, and low-quality bike lanes that dead-end at a busy street without the prospect of any future bike accommodations really wouldn’t help anyone.

We’ve also heard from residents on Washington that they feel people drive much too fast along their street. Speed and safety are almost always at odds; when a car is going 40 MPH and it hits a pedestrian, there’s a 90% chance that pedestrian will die. At 30 MPH, the pedestrian has a 50-50 chance of surviving – and at 20 MPH, the pedestrian has a 90% chance of walking away.

Fast-forward to October 2015, when Bike BloNo held a meeting of its members to discuss project priorities from the Bloomington Bike Master Plan. We split the 30-or-so people into four or five groups, and all but one of those groups asked that we work on Washington Street, despite the fact that it wasn’t actually in the plan.

So we went back and looked at the original plan for bike lanes on Washington, before City staff removed it from the plan, and found what we thought was a perfectly workable solution:

A potential redesign of Washington St, which would include buffered bike lanes on either side of the street

Instead of the current 18.5′ travel lanes – which, by the way, are 6.5′ wider than Interstate standards – Ed Barsotti of consultant Ride Illinois had suggested 5′ buffered bike lanes with 11.5′ travel lanes. This would effectively slow down traffic without reducing capacity. What Ride Illinois hadn’t anticipated, however, was the need for on-street parking; the signage along the street is confusing and could be interpreted at first glance as saying that parking isn’t allowed anywhere. In talking with neighborhood residents, we learned that people do park, regularly, along the north side of the street. So we came up with another option, which would retain parking along the north side of the street:

Another layout for Washington, with 5-foot bike lanes, 10-foot travel lanes, and a 7-foot parking lane

We’re still actively seeking feedback from neighborhood residents about whether or not they’d like to move forward on this project, but in our meeting with the Founders Grove Neighborhood Association on April 21, we received mostly positive feedback; of the eighteen written comments we received:

  • ten people categorized themselves under “I love this idea, and I support it wholeheartedly!
  • four people chose “I think it could work, but I’m not passionate about it.
  • one person selected “I think it could work with some modifications.
  • two people said “I’d rather it not happen, but if it did, I’d like some tweaks.
  • nobody chose “I vehemently oppose bike lanes on Washington no matter how they’re designed.
  • and one person wrote in “Mixed feelings. I think I would be more enthusiastic if this section were part of a full downtown to Veterans Parkway stretch. (or at least downtown to Regency)

Digging into the written comments further, we were very pleased with the amount of thought people put into their responses. Some of the comments included:

  • A Washington Street resident who said s/he supports it wholeheartedly said:
    Very important to retain parking on the north side of E Washington – so I support a parking lane plus a north side bike lane there and clear striping/signage so people will be less likely to use the parking lane as another traffic lane. Thanks for listening. P.S. For the configuration w/ a parking lane, what about having a combined bike/parking lane on the north side – 12 ft wide – but w/ parking next to the curb? Then if someone was parked, a bike could weave around it but not go into the drive lane. This would be safe but involve less re-education of the public.
  • The person who wrote in “mixed feelings…” said:
    I’m in favor of bike lanes connecting all parts of the community. Really like the idea of putting bike lanes next to the curb with a parking lane buffer – as long as the pavement markings are clear and regularly maintained with fresh paint.
  • A Washington Street resident who said she thinks it could work, but she’s not passionate about it, said:
    I don’t love the idea of paint all over the streets and the idea of extra vehicles to look for while backing out of my driveway. But, in general I would be fine with bike lanes on Washington as long as we are still allowed to park on the street at all times.
  • The person who said he thought it could work with some modifications said:
    – Ensure parking where possible.
    – I like the idea of diverting bikes at Kreitzer + Perrin – State to Kreitzer as part of the original plan gave the same concerns. Thank you for altering.
    – Mercer to Regency: I would be interested about the potential of bottlenecked traffic at the 4-way stop @ corner of Washington/Mercer if that stretch were 2 lane.
  • A Washington Street resident who said s/he would rather it not happen, but would like some tweaks if it did, said:
    My concerns are related to the traffic. The children already cannot cross, play, etc. – adding bike paths may only increase the drivers frustrations as traveling on Washington Street. Second concern is parking – yes I have a driveway however, sometimes street parking is needed on occasions. Thank you!

We’re cautiously optimistic that, as we work to refine the plans further and continue to take resident feedback to heart, we’ll be able to find a workable solution that will end up making the street a much safer, more vibrant neighborhood street. By retaining parking on the north side of the street and adding high-visibility crosswalks and signage reminding drivers that state law requires them to stop for pedestrians, we think the vast majority of neighborhood residents will end up loving the re-envisioning of Washington Street that we’re helping to shepherd.

We’ll continue to move slowly and gather as much feedback as possible; we really don’t want to do anything the neighbors don’t support. So if you have any thoughts (positive, negative, or in between), please share them with Michael Gorman at michael@bikeblono.org. If you don’t mind, please include your street address for some additional context.

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