Tactical takeover

Chico State class project sheds light on bike safety

A cyclist on his morning commute rides through the portion of Ivy Street where Chico State students created a temporary bike lane.

A cyclist on his morning commute rides through the portion of Ivy Street where Chico State students created a temporary bike lane.

Photo by Kevin Fuller

Cyclists on their morning commute toward the Chico State campus via Ivy Street were greeted by something out of the ordinary on Thursday (Nov. 2): small potted lime trees and other various greenery in the road, between West Second and Third streets.

That was no accident. The plants were placed there as a temporary buffer for a makeshift bike lane that rolled through empty parking spaces on the road.

“We have this potential to make walkable and bikeable streets in this neighborhood,” Chico State associate professor LaDona Knigge said while walking the sidewalk on Ivy Street.

She and her class had spent weeks preparing to take on the effort, known as a tactical urbanism demonstration project. The idea was to re-envision a space to shed light on much-needed design improvements, and in this case, highlight potential safety improvements for cyclists on this particular stretch of road.

Knigge and the students in her Transportation Planning class, along with staff from the city of Chico and volunteers from Chico Velo Cycling Club, were out before the sun came up, using duct tape to create the bike lane. Currently, the bike lane on Ivy Street drops off about 500 feet before the intersection at Second Street in the northbound lane. That’s due to the five unmetered parking spots lining that side of the street, creating what Knigge calls an unsafe area for cyclists.

“People do go fast down here,” Knigge said, referring to drivers.

The students also used cardboard and paint to create a bike box, which allows cyclists to be in front of vehicles stopped at an intersection. Actual bike boxes would be painted directly onto the pavement.

In preparation for the project, Knigge and her students started putting fliers on vehicles parked in the spots about a week ago, asking the owners to move them. Students also went door-to-door to inform residents in the neighborhood about the project. Knigge admits she was nervous the vehicles would be there come Thursday morning.

“They all moved last night,” she said with relief.

Students set up tables at the start of the temporary bike lane as well as at the end, in order to give passersby information about the project and collect feedback. The lane was functional only until 7 p.m. on Thursday, when the students removed the barriers and opened the parking spots back up to the public.

According to city of Chico engineer Wyatt West, there have been seven collisions between motorists and either a pedestrian or cyclist at the intersection of Ivy and West Third streets since 2006. For comparison, there were 33 collisions at Nord and West Sacramento avenues in that same time frame, which was the highest count.

The project isn’t just a call to raise awareness to bike safety. It’s also an attempt to change the way public infrastructure projects are influenced, shifting to a more community-driven approach, using short-term demonstrations to present how a project would look, Knigge said.

“We wanted to do something pretty small at first to try it out,” said West, who worked closely with the class.

Knigge and her class received an encroachment permit, which cost about $240, from the city in order to build the temporary bike lane. Knigge and West said they worked as a team throughout the project. Ultimately, the results will provide the city with the groundwork for redesigning the roadway.

“To get feedback—positive or negative—is good for us,” West said.

Knigge said she’s been focusing on the south campus area for about two years. That’s about the time she and her students did a walking audit regarding the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in the south campus area and passed along a report to the Institute for Sustainable Development.

“The idea is to … somehow get this south campus neighborhood more walkable and bikeable and safer,” Knigge said.

West said the city typically installs bike lanes only when a section of road is due for resurfacing or repaving in order to make the project cost-effective. That particular road is up for resurfacing in the next three years, which will be paid for mostly with gas tax monies collected by the city. The removal of parking spaces would also need to be approved by the city.

“Taking away parking can be difficult,” West said.

Then again, Knigge and her students hope that now that there’s a good idea of what the intersection would look like, such design changes could be an easier sell.

“It’s not always easy to imagine an idea before it happens,” said Janine Rood, executive director of Chico Velo. The local nonprofit cycling club helped with the project by providing the duct tape and securing the plants for the buffer zone, which were loaned out by Little Red Hen Nursery.

Rood said the organization was eager to aid a project that drew awareness to cycling safety.

“The location is a huge area of concern for safety,” she said.

No matter what happens with the portion of road, or the entire south campus neighborhood, all groups involved in the project hope to work together on future tactical urbanism projects.

“Hopefully these kind of things, we’ll see more of them,” West said.