My Turn: Keep Douglas Bridge safe for everybody

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

The State Department of Transportation has designed the preliminary engineering report for changes to the Douglas Bridge, which the CBJ Planning Commission has approved. The Freewheelers Bicycle Club has appealed that decision, which will come before a hearing officer hired by the city. Although I'm not a Freewheeler, after reading the engineering report and attending hearings on this issue, as a bicycle enthusiast, I'm extremely concerned about the plan's lack of safety on the bridge for pedestrians, motor vehicles and bicycles.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has guidelines for the development of bicycle-pedestrian paths and also for roads. The preliminary report barely meets the federal recommended minimum standard width for the proposed middle traffic lane on the bridge. The situation would be hazardous if a school bus, a wide truck, and a fuel truck were all passing each other at the same time and adding windy or wintery conditions, it would be extremely dangerous.

The report also doesn't meet the recommended minimum eight-foot width for a shared-use bicycle-pedestrian path. ASHTO recommends that shared paths be a minimum of eight feet, with a two foot "shy distance" added in consideration of when there is a barrier, like the proposed railing and/or the concrete barrier. The "shy distance" is recommended as pedestrians and bicycles don't walk or ride against the railing or barrier. The planned 7.5-foot width for the shared-use path, which although legal, is unsafe and below the recommended minimum standards. With reference to bridges, most bicycle accidents with motor vehicles happen at the crossings and intersections. This plan does not provide a safe passageway for bicycles to easily access the connecting roads when entering and exiting the bridge.

For safety reasons, bicycles should ride separated from pedestrians. People walk in a variety of ways over the bridge; side by side conversing with another person, listening to headphones, with young children, jogging, with their dogs on a leash, or in other ways, while at the same time wrapped up in the awe of the beauty and sounds that surrounds them as they are crossing the bridge. Presently, bicyclists can ride with traffic on the sectioned-off shoulders on the bridge. Bicyclists follow the rules of the road as they are a type of vehicle and required to do so. Under the new plan, these shoulders will be removed.

The Department of Transportation and the City and Borough of Juneau need to set forth a plan that will be safe for all of those who use the bridge as well as integrating the recommended minimum guidelines created by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Safety is paramount to our lives.

Longtime Juneau resident Joyce Levine is an avid bicycle rider and has been active in transportation issues in Juneau.

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