Some Innovative Bike Facilities in San Luis Obispo

Posted on 05/17/2012


Diverter islands on San Luis Obispo’s Morro Street bicycle boulevard

Today, Bikas looks back at some excellent bike facilities we got the chance to ride during our recent vacation in San Luis Obispo. We’re happy to report that plenty of folks bike in SLO, and there’s an active San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition that’s out hosting events and pushing for facilities that make bicycling safe and convenient there. They even have their own Bicycle Kitchen.

SLO (city population 44,000) is a couple orders of magnitude smaller than Los Angeles (city population 4,000,000), but there are some lessons we can learn from SLO as we move forward making L.A. more bike-friendly. 

There’s plenty of bicycling and bike culture in SLO.  Cyclists include university students and workers, lycra-clad racers, working class cyclists, families and folks in everyday clothing getting around town. I was happy to see tall bikes, cargo bikes, tandems, and fancy city-convenient European bikes.

San Luis Obispo’s rainbow-themed May 2012 Kidical Mass

I was lucky to happen upon two different good-sized group events – both of which take place on the first Thursday of each month. SLOCBC hosts Kidical Mass: a big on-street ride where lots of very small kids bring their parents. The May monthly ride theme was rainbows! That evening I rode the Bike Happening, which was sort of reminiscent of Midnight Ridazz meets Critical Mass (though stopping at traffic lights) in a loop around downtown SLO.

Bike corral in downtown San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo has plenty of bike lanes, on pretty much all their arterials (about a dozen streets) and some smaller streets. Lanes extend from the central downtown retail district to the suburban fringe to rural roads through farmland. Bike parking is ubiquitous, especially downtown, with some bike corrals. There are a few bike paths, including rail-with-trail. The bike lanes, parking and paths were well-used.

There were two noteworthy SLO bike facilities that I’d like to bring to L.A. cyclists’ attention: a bike box and a bicycle boulevard. Neither of these exist yet in the city of Los Angeles, but they should!

A bike box is an intersection treatment where bicyclists can get in the front of the line (ie: in front of cars) at an intersection. Putting bicyclists in front makes cyclists more visible to drivers, and eliminates some turn conflicts. Bike boxes are especially useful at intersections where a majority of cyclists are turning left, but some cars can go straight ahead. This is the situation for bike boxes on San Francisco’s wiggle, in Long Beach’s Belmont Shore, and at the t-intersection of Madonna Road and Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo.

The box is on Madonna Road eastbound. Madonna ends at the T-intersection at Higuera. Most traffic turns left to proceed north on Higuera, but some folks go straight ahead into a commercial development. Eastbound on Madonna, approaching the intersection, there’s a bike lane:

Bike lane on Madonna Road, approaching T-intersection at Higuera Street. Note car lane to left of bike lane can go straight or turn left. The majority of cyclists and drivers will turn left, but when a car goes straight and a cyclist turns left, there’s conflict. Bike box isn’t quite visible, but it’s in the center of the image – right behind the green sign that says 227. Car lane on right is right-turn only lane.

When cyclists get to the intersection, the bike lane hooks left – sort of L-shaped – into the bike box, allowing cyclists to move in front of stopped cars.

Bike box – a sort of L-shaped dog-leg, with bike symbol and green paint outline. It allows cyclists stopped at the light to move in front of cars, in order to allow cyclists to turn left ahead of car traffic.

The box is outlined in green. Though this design eliminates a potentially very hazardous conflict (cars going straight colliding with cyclists turning left), I actually didn’t get to see it actually in use. I rode it, pulled over to the left into the box, made my left turn. It worked fine. Many cyclists I observed there turned right, or merged into moving traffic.

One last photo of the SLO bike box

Another innovative facility that San Luis Obispo has implemented is their bicycle boulevard. Bike boulevards are relatively quiet mostly-residential streets where cars and bikes share the same space, but, generally, cars have been slowed and bicycles and pedestrians have the priority. (The L.A. City bicycle plan calls these “bike friendly streets”, they’re also called a few other names, including “neighborhood greenways.” They have not yet been implemented in Los Angeles.)

San Luis Obispo has one bike boulevard. It’s on Morro Street extending from the train station to downtown SLO – about a half-mile. It’s a quiet residential street that dead-ends near the train station, though cyclists and pedestrians can continue through a short walkway at the end of the street. (Not sure if the dead-end and walkway were part of the bike boulevard project – if not, they definitely complement it.)

At Buchon Street and at Leff Street, there are diverter islands that allow cyclists to continue straight on Morro, but force cars to turn.

Diverter at the corner of Morro Street and Buchon Street in San Luis Obispo. Bicyclists and pedestrians can proceed straight on Morro; cars must turn right.

Here’s another view of the islands – from the cross street:

San Luis Obispo Morro Street bicycle boulevard diverter islands, viewed from cross street Buchon. The diverters are a series of five islands – or a single island with four gaps: two for cyclists, two for peds/crosswalks. Cross traffic on Buchon cannot left onto Morro. Car traffic on Morro is forced to turn right onto Buchon.

I look forward to bicycle boxes and bicycle boulevards being implemented in Los Angeles some day! Let’s make it happen soon.

(For my mostly-not-bike-related San Luis Obispo vacation sketches – see here and here.)