Designing for Bikes at UC Davis

UC Davis bike circle at Shields Avenue and West Quad Street image: UC Davis Strategic Communications
UC Davis bike circle at Shields Avenue and West Quad Street
image: UC Davis Strategic Communications

Traveling by bicycle is the one of the easiest ways to traverse the sprawling University of California, Davis campus. Located in the Central Valley of California, the campus is topographically flat and weather is mild—perfect for bike riding. Average annual rainfall in Davis is 18 inches, therefore it is a rare day when you cannot easily get to your destination by bike. With 900 acres in the core campus and another 4,400 acres for agricultural and other natural science research fields, this growing campus with a current student population of over 33,000 is too spread out for walking alone to provide an efficient mode of transportation for most. The campus core area is generally closed to vehicular traffic, significantly enhancing bicycle safety. There are hourly bike traffic rushes during breaks between classes. During that time delivery and facilities vehicles are required to yield the right of way to thousands of cyclists or risk a ticket from the campus police.

Pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicular circulation are integral components of any design at UC Davis; however, designing bicycle infrastructure is a unique and complex exercise typically driven by the Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture (CPLA) and Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) Units on campus.

In the summer of 2014, one acre of a five-acre vehicle parking lot was reconfigured into a 600-space bike parking lot serving a gymnasium that was converted into a large lecture hall. This project was designed by CPLA and funded by TAPS. The design involved rethinking and redesigning all modes of transportation in the area to safely and efficiently accommodate the anticipated influx of cyclists. Circulation design for bike lanes, bike paths, bike circles, and bike parking throughout campus is a major component of the CPLA Unit’s workload. Typically CPLA deals with four major bike design situations on a regular basis.

Typical campus bike path image: Skip Mezger
Typical campus bike path
image: Skip Mezger

Bike Lanes, Paths, and Streets

There are generally three types of bike circulation routes on campus: bike lanes, bike paths, and bike streets. Bike lanes are striped on streets shared with cars and other motor vehicles. Bike lanes are typically 4 to 8 feet in width. Green painted lanes have been introduced in several locations where potential conflicts between bikes and cars been identified. These have been well received and we expect many more as trouble areas are identified. Off-street bike paths are generally asphalt and can range from 10 to 20 feet wide. Signage prohibiting all but emergency vehicles access is incorporated into bike path networks at key locations. Bike paths often end up functioning as mixed use paths. Pedestrians frequently use bike paths, particularly if there is a lack of pedestrian infrastructure in the area, and commonly because bike paths often provide the shortest distance to a destination. A big part of successfully designing bicycle infrastructure is providing efficient and direct pedestrian infrastructure in conjunction with it to reduce the pressure on the bike paths and the potential for conflicts.

Bike circle at Hutchison Drive and California Avenue image: Skip Mezger
Bike circle at Hutchison Drive and California Avenue
image: Skip Mezger

Bike Circles

UC Davis bike circles are a wonder to see at rush hour. Ranging from small minor circles to those that were once car intersections, the circle is the safest way to manage large volumes of continuous bike traffic. Although many a freshman has frozen up on the first day of school trying to figure out how to navigate a bike circle, most students figure it out fairly quickly. Circles are so common now that a new one is constructed about every year on campus. The most difficult traffic circles to design are those that are shared by both a large volume of vehicles and cyclists. A two lane shared bike/car circle was constructed in 2012 outside of the main campus core, but is in the process of being re-designed. The double lanes in the circle coupled with a high rate of speed and large volume of cyclists has caused safety concerns.

Mid-block road crossing design for bikes and pedestrians image: Skip Mezger
Mid-block road crossing design for bikes and pedestrians
image: Skip Mezger

Street Crossings

Mid-block street crossings have been a challenge at several locations on campus. These crossings require that the bikes have the right of way. Bikes generally do not want to stop (or slow down). These crossings must be designed to slow bike traffic, create long sight lines for all parties, and stop vehicle traffic. Signage, striping, and shared space with pedestrians have to be carefully incorporated into the design of these crossings. Use of textured paving can help separate pedestrian traffic from bike paths.

Bike parking at the Recreation Center image: Skip Mezger
Bike parking at the Recreation Center
image: Skip Mezger

Bike Parking

Every new project has to include bike parking and connections to the bikeway system. Bike parking is placed for convenience near building entrances. Bike racks are considered attractive, not something that should be hidden in the back of a building. Years of trial and error have helped refine the bike design details. When a new dormitory is built, one bike rack space is provided for each new bed, with ten extra spaces for every 100 beds for visitors (1.1 bike slots for every student). When new lecture halls are developed, bike parking lots must accommodate a bike space for each seat in the hall.

Temporary bike parking area built in car parking lot image: Skip Mezger
Temporary bike parking area built in car parking lot
image: Skip Mezger

A new bike parking lot near the main library will have a build-out rack count of 800 spaces. The design for ingress and egress, and circulation inside the lot must be carefully considered. Details such as bike-friendly curbs, paving surfaces, shade, bicycle rack layout, and bicycle rack standards (to protect a bike from theft and also not damage the bike) are carefully considered. Bike parking lots are as carefully designed as car parking lots.

Bike parking image: Robert Segar
Bike parking
image: Robert Segar

by Skip Mezger, ASLA, Senior Campus Landscape Architect, and Christina Reyes, Associate Campus Landscape Architect, UC Davis

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