Pages Menu
RssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Dec 5, 2010 in Smart Moves | 21 comments

Problem-solving a massive, high-speed, car-centric interchange

A week after taking the November 12-13 CyclingSavvy Weekend course, John Alexander sent me an email asking what was the best way to ride over the Lake Mary Blvd/I-4 interchange. Most people (including experienced road cyclists) regard that interchange as impossible for a cyclist. But John didn’t. He wrote, “I ‘analyzed’ the drive up Lake Mary Blvd. across I-4 and said to myself, ‘I could ride that!’”

It’s true! John learned and experienced all the basic components for driving his bike across this interchange in CyclingSavvy.

I have ridden across the Lake Mary interchange a few times. It’s an interesting challenge, especially westbound. Rather than just explain it to him, I decided to show him on the bike. I’d been meaning to go up there and shoot some video, this was the perfect opportunity. We rode it together yesterday. The video is near the end of this post.

Choosing a route


View larger map

Alternatives

The orange-highlighted route is essentially an all-trail route. Taking the Cross Seminole North, the trail is on a utility easement until just before Lake Mary Blvd. After that, it becomes a sidepath along Rinehart Rd. Crossing Lake Mary Blvd, there is a bike/ped bridge. Signs advise that cyclists must dismount and walk over the bridge. The sidepath doesn’t have too many intersections, but where it does cross roads, the gutter-crossings are bone-jarring. A mile and a half north of Lake Mary Blvd., the trail turns West and leads to a bike/ped bridge over I-4. It’s a spectacle of a bridge, but also has some challenging sharp turns on the ramp. On the West side of I-4, the path intersects with the Seminole Wekiva Trail which is a more buffered side path along International Parkway Blvd. It has the same problem with bone-jarring gutters at the intersections. Currently the crossing of Lake Mary Blvd requires use of crosswalks (which can be seen in the illustrations below). It’s a mess. Construction has begun on a tunnel there. This route is more than twice as far as the route we planned.

The pink highlighted route shows the way to intersect the Seminole Wekiva Trail at EE Williamson Rd. That section of trail is beautiful. It is tree-lined and on its own right-of-way. But as pleasant as that part of the trail is, the roads to get there are not. They are 2-lane roads inhabited by people who spend hours in their cars sitting in traffic jams and then come unglued if they have to wait 10 seconds to pass a bicyclist. (The South end of Lake Emma might be 4-lane now, it was under construction last time I was there.) But no matter, that route is even farther than the orange route.

First, let’s look at the big picture. John lives near the intersection of Green Way Blvd and the Cross Seminole Trail (Point A). He wants to go to the Seminole Wekiva Trail at Lake Mary Blvd and International Parkway Blvd (Point B).

If you peruse the Google Map on the right, you can see there is no connectivity of quiet streets. All the subdivisions are closed circuits. In addition to the massive arterials, there are a number of 2-lane roads in the area which carry enough traffic volume to make them unpleasant places to ride. There are a lot of miles of multi-use path (mostly side-paths) running parallel to I-4.

Before we rode, we sat down at the computer and looked at all the options. There are 3 potential routes to get from Point A to Point B. The 2 alternatives are described in the sidebar below the map. We determined Lake Mary Blvd. really was the best, most direct route. Then we needed to determine the best approach.

One option was to ride the Cross Seminole Trail all the way to Sun Drive, then turn out onto Lake Mary Blvd from there. But due to the odd lane configurations, it would be more complicated to set up for the interchange, requiring a lane change and dealing with the likely confusion of motorists jockeying for the correct lanes as well.

We decided it was best to take the Cross Seminole Trail to Greenwood Blvd., and take that to Lake Emma Rd. It would be easier to set up in the correct lane on Lake Emma Rd. and we’d have the advantage of entering the interchange with a smaller platoon.

The Cross Seminole Trail actually crosses under Greenwood blvd. with a tunnel, but there is one awkward little sidewalk leading up to a subdivision entrance. Greenwood Blvd is an excellent road for cycling. It’s a tree-lined, 4-lane collector with relatively low traffic speeds, narrow lanes and smooth pavement.

Lake Emma Rd. has a bike lane when you first turn onto it. We used it for a block and almost got right-hooked at the shopping center entrance (where we were turning right to get lunch before our adventure). John noted that it sure felt cramped after having so much space on Greenwood.

After lunch we turned on the video cameras and headed for the dreaded Lake Mary Interchange. You can click on the illustration below to enlarge it. There are segments in the sidebar below as well.

Riding Westbound

Heading North on Lake Emma Rd. toward the intersection, there are helpful overhead signs showing that three lanes turn left. Less helpful is the fact that the sign doesn’t tell you what happens to those lanes after you turn left. A bicyclist approaching this intersection might naturally choose the right-most left turn lane, thinking it would put him/her into the appropriate lane after the turn. Having looked at the satellite image before our journey, we knew that we wanted the #2 lane (the middle left-turn lane). There are 3 lanes on the bridge, but only 2 on the approach. The right-most left turn lane, dumps you into the I-4 on-ramps. A hapless cyclist choosing the wrong lane would have to contend with I-4-bound traffic passing on the left as s/he tried to change lanes.

Illustration segments

Lake Emma Rd. intersection

Bridge approach — new westbound lane forms on the right after the I-4 lanes split away

Westbound decision point and Eastbound exclusion zone

Plan B (yellow track)

Everything went perfectly when we turned out onto Lake Mary Blvd. The traffic flowed around us and went on their way. The platoon passed quickly and painlessly and we enjoyed 30 seconds of silence on an empty 3-lane road as we climbed the hill.

Just as we were nearing the bridge, the next platoon caught up to us. Despite our visibility for more than 1/4 mile on an empty road, one guy drove his BMW up behind us and honked. I don’t know if he was inattentive or if he just thought he could bully us into the shoulder. Neither of us flinched. The rest of the platoon had stayed in the left 2 lanes and he got trapped behind us for 15 seconds. He passed safely while making some more noise. That was the only incivility we experienced on Lake Mary Blvd.

Before riding, we identified a decision point for making a regular left turn or opting for a plan B. On big, fast roads, it helps reduce stress to have a plan B in mind ahead of time. The plan B was to make a right on International Parkway Blvd., then make a U-turn and come back across. We would execute the plan B if there was not a gap in traffic on the downhill side of the bridge before the first traffic light. By calling the decision there, we would be able to keep our attention forward through that intersection where traffic would be merging from I-4 and the right lane becomes a right-turn-only lane.

It turned out the gap timing was perfect and we were able to make an easy move to the left lane at exactly the place we wanted to. It was a seamless crossing. We stopped for a minute, reset the cameras and headed back the other way.

Heading Eastbound

Crossing Eastbound is less complicated. The lane configurations are straightforward.

There is an I-4 West on-ramp just after you turn from International Parkway Blvd. I like to enter the road with a green light, that ensures the traffic initially approaching behind me is low-speed traffic. Since we were not going to turn right on red, we pulled up on the left side of the wide right turn lane and motioned for the drivers behind us to pass on our right. They both thanked us.

The key to riding the Eastbound route is to ride in the left tire track and track along the lane line, ignoring the edge line. The right lane widens gradually for a significant distance before the I-4 East on-ramp begins. It’s important to leave that space to your right open so the motorists headed for I-4 pass on the right rather than changing lanes to your left and cutting across your path. It should go without saying that trying to use the shoulder here would not work well (the exclusion zone is highlighted on the illustration above).

Since we were turning right on Lake Emma Rd. We had to move into the right lane as it formed from the I-4 off-ramp. That was no problem. There was only one car at the time.

All in all it was a perfect ride. The following video shows our ride across the interchange in both directions.

There’s no questions that these big, fast interchanges are intimidating. It would certainly be nice if DOT didn’t blow out our roads to move more cars faster at the expense of everyone else. It would be nice if there were better alternatives, but even the bicycle-specific infrastructure is far from perfect. Bicyclists would benefit from more permeability of I-4, so it wasn’t a choice between a journey of twice the miles vs cycling on a complex road with high speed traffic. We also need better development planning. The lack of residential street connectivity is a huge impediment and it’s just inexcusable. The Cross Seminole trail runs down a large power easement behind numerous broccoli subdivisions and none of them connect directly to it. We can do better.

Regardless, we can and should stake our claim to every road, no matter how big. As John shows us, we can ride anywhere safely if we think it through and control our space. It doesn’t matter if we ride a Pinarello Prince or an Electra Townie. Confidence and safety comes from what you know, not how fast you can go.

Mighk said it best, sometimes our students inspire us way more than we inspire them. John is definitely one of those students. Some of you got to meet John on the First Friday ride. You’ll get to know him a little better, soon. He will be writing a Student Story for CyclingSavvy.

Thanks John! And Congratulations!

21 Comments

  1. Just another “boring” video of how things work so darn well, when one knows how to do it right. A most excellent instructional video, Keri and John. That three left-turn-lane intersection is a tricky one. As an out-of-towner, I probably would have picked the right-most lane. No signs anywhere to indicate that it becomes an “exit-only” lane after the turn. Of course, we don’t need more signs, we need less traffic and therefore fewer lanes anyway.

    Even the BMW driver was a non-event. I missed the enthusiastic wave in response to the horn, but it would not have been visible on camera.

    Keri, have you considered to create some instructables for publication on http://www.instructables.com? It’s not that your work is a mechanical construct, but there are people who have posted instructables of similar “construction” and received quite good reviews. The response quality of the site is much much higher than that of the armpit of the internet (YouTube) and your work is likely to reach a broader audience.

    Just a thought.

  2. Keri, John: Good work!

    This page shows how it’s possible any adult can ride even with the most super-sized arterials. What does it take, learning the basics, some bike handling, understating/using the rules of the road, confidence and just do it.

    No need for some pseudo-Dutch or Danish Uncle to say riding these road is impossible, with helmets or without special facilities. Interested readers of this blog know knowledgeable cyclists go further safely versus waiting for someone [planner, architect, bikie advocate] to help cyclists.

  3. John, you make this look so easy (and it is, when you’re an empowered cyclist!). As I noted on FB, I’ve led veteran cyclists who freaked out at the idea of riding through this busy and complicated intersection.

    Fred correctly points out a major flaw in signage. But if a Cycling Savvy graduate encounters this intersection on their own (and w/o having seen the satellite image to know what happens on the other side), they have the skills to assess the situation, communicate with drivers and safely get back to the proper lane.

  4. What’s Primera Blvd like?

    • Very nice road to ride on — 4 lane divided by a landscaped median, tree-lined. I’ve used it a lot.

      • So what about taking that trail north to Primera and riding back around so that instead of making a difficult left, you have a right turn onto Lake Mary? It’s a little longer than the most direct route, but not so bad as the all-trail route.

        • The left isn’t difficult if you know which lane to use. Lack of knowledge would pose exactly the same problem coming from Primera as you have 2 right turn lanes and must use the left one to end up in the correct lane. There is no advantage to adding the extra distance.

  5. Have you read what Forester has said when getting caught in fast lanes?
    “If you find that you have miscalculated and cars are catching up to you, get on a lane line and ride it straight. The cars will whiz by you on each side.” – John Forester, Effective Cycling, 6th edition p207

    Good luck with that!!!!?!

    tOM

    • @Tom correction page 311 (not 207). Let’s add a little context, this sentence is under the paragraph heading “Changing Lanes in High-Speed Traffic” and NOT about general lane riding position. More later.

      • Even in context, I wouldn’t set myself up to have to do that. If I don’t have a full gap by my decision cut-off point, I make an alternative left.

        I might have found that tolerable (or even a rush) when I was a 20-something road warrior, but I prefer a more sedate style of riding now. As John and I demonstrated in this post, slow, conservative cycling is possible even on high speed roads like this.

        In Florida, our lane lines have raised reflectors on them. Riding a lane line would require continuous rock-dodge maneuvers.

  6. The video shows essentially how I would ride/drive that interchange on a bike.

    However, I have to ask…. If one had to ride that interchange under less-than-ideal conditions, would the blog author change his lane positioning or use the shoulder or just walk? (I say “had to ride”, so let’s assume that there would be reasons that riding could not be avoided easily.)

    Less-than-ideal conditions include one or more of the following:
    * nighttime
    * rain (medium or heavy, but not necessarily torrential)
    * fifteen minutes after bar close
    * dawn/dusk with sun at horizon in drivers’ eyes
    * snow falling and on road (of course, not in Florida, but this exists elsewhere)

    • Good question, Tom.

      Nighttime I’m not as concerned because I’d be well-lit. I’d probably ride it the same. I’ve controlled the lane on high speed roads and find motorists to be more courteous and cautious.

      Rain would depend on the visibility (mist/heavy rain can drastically reduce visibility). If visibility was good, I’d ride it the same. If it was bad I’d do plan B (below).
      Fifteen minutes after the bars close and low sun are significant risk factors, they call for plan B. I don’t mess with the low sun. I’m usually in bed when the bars close :-)
      I have no experience with snow, but low vis and poor traction might call for a different route.

      My Plan B would be to use the longer trail route (shown Orange on the map). There’s noplace to walk on that interchange and it’s almost a mile across. The shoulder doesn’t offer a refuge from blinded or out-of-control drivers. If I felt unsafe to control the lane due to visibility or traction concerns, I would feel unsafe in the shoulder too. I wouldn’t change my position within the lane (except to steer clear of the oil stain, which I don’t worry about much in dry conditions). But I would be near center, probably slightly left. If I’m in a lane, I’m owning it.

  7. Keri,

    Here’s a reaction from someone on the APBP listserv where I linked to this page. For some reason I think you will use the word “platoon” in your response (which I can post back to the APBP listserv. — Gary

    ======================================================================

    What strikes me about this video, and many similar ones I have seen, is how they are almost always shot when traffic is fairly light and cars have no problem changing lanes to pass. I would like to see the same video shot during rush hour, when most commuter cyclists would be on the road, and when changing lanes is not nearly so easy.

    • Hi Gary,

      Yeah, I’m betting you could write the response without me :-)

      This was shot in relatively light traffic — the conditions that exist on that interchange most of the time. The thing is overbuilt for a short peak twice a day. Most people wouldn’t even ride a bike through there at 7 AM on a Sunday morning. Nonetheless, the signal timing is what creates the empty road. That 30 second gap is there in all conditions. As shown in this video, there is not a need for cars to change lanes once we get past the diverge, because a new lane forms to the right. All traffic approaching us is in the other 2 lanes. Only the oblivious BMW driver changed lanes into OUR lane only to get trapped there and become indignant.

      Another point about this interchange. At rush hour, the majority of traffic is headed for those 2 lanes on the right of the divide — to get on I-4. If it wasn’t so far away, I’d go get video in other conditions. But it wouldn’t matter to the naysayers. See, if I shot at rush hour, the traffic would be slow and they’d say “yeah but…” and come up with some other reason not to accept it. It’s a game of whack-a-mole.

      BTW, John on the Townie is significantly slower than the average cyclist. No points for that, but if I’d shot this with someone on a road bike, we’d hear nonsense about speed and the “strong and the brave” or whatever that inane “category” is.

      I have published videos shot in rush hour:

      This is the UCF bike bus at peak rush hour on the main route to the second largest University in the U.S., which is tragically surrounded by traffic sewers. This segment is from the part of the trip closest to UCF where it is most congested:
      http://vimeo.com/14273330
      The worst congestion points are caused by the traffic lights. The bike bus operators (who are CyclingSavvy Instructors) have developed strategies to make those points more pleasant by using the traffic signal to their advantage:
      http://commuteorlando.com/bikebus/2011/04/19/bike-bus-update/

      Here’s a longer video from a different day:
      http://vimeo.com/14182073
      Out of 25 minutes of video, only about 12 had any traffic in it.

      Here’s peak rush hour (with the flow) on Orange Ave… in the rain!
      http://vimeo.com/10106543
      Note how long we had the road to ourselves and how long the queue of traffic is at the light at the end.

      The bottom line is, one can watch these videos with curiosity for what IS possible, or they watch them with the intent to disbelieve and disprove. The latter is invested in a belief and they’re not going to come off it until they decide, internally, to do so. I wouldn’t waste a lot of energy trying to convince them.

      This quote Mighk used describes it best:

      ‘I’ll see it when I believe it’ is more accurate than ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ – Social psychologist Karl Weick

    • I rode this exact feature back on December 13, 2010 during lunch hour. No difference! At best, there was maybe a 15 second “delay” for me to change lanes. My ride across this interchange made me feel like I was John in the video.

      The only contentions I had with navigating this interchange that day were the brutal 24-30 mph headwinds and the 35 degree outside temperature.

      Communication by all road users is the key here. Many are just either ill equipped to lead the dance or still believe the world is flat and refuse to take the opportunity and discover the riding bliss for themselves.

  8. I understand that the Lake Mary interchange has traffic moving 55-60 mph. With John moving at about 10 mph, that’s up to a 50 mph speed differential.

    Was this speed differential taken into account in planning this route? Is there any speed differential considered too great for cyclist safety, or does it always depend on the sight lines, number of lanes and traffic volume (and whether the traffic is steady or platooned)?

    You mention the undesirability of the two-lane roads on an alternate route. What would be the speed differential there? If a route with such two-lane roads was the same distance as the chosen route, would it become the preferred route? What difference would a center turn lane make to the attractiveness of the two-lane roads?

    Lots of questions. Inquiring minds want to know!

    – Gary

    Lake Mary interchange has 55-60mph traffic, but John’s speed was sub-ten, so the differential is probably equal. You’ll notice there is a shoulder we did not use. IMO, once you’re in the lane, you should stay in the lane until you’ve passed all the interchange ramps. Going in and out is unpredictable, not to mention inconvenient when you then get trapped there by another platoon and have to stop.

    • I think sight lines are more important than speed differential. And one would hope poor sight lines would reduce motoring speeds.

      Slow speeds on arterial roads wasn’t something I had dealt with until I went to a place with hills and a loaded touring bike. I have since gained more experience pulling a loaded trailer. It was a bit of an epiphany that speed made no difference in safety or passing behavior. I’m not going to offer you any kind of qualifiers or limits, sorry. There are numerous dynamic factors which go into whether or not I’d feel comfortable riding on a given road at a given speed. I could spend hours trying to write that out and there would be more I missed. And they would be my factors, not yours or John’s or anyone else’s.

      A 3-lane road (one in each direction and a center turn lane) makes a difference to me (Provided there is not so much turning traffic that prevents motorists from using it to pass me). The speed differential is not the factor on the 2-lane roads. The problem is traffic volume, sight lines and cranky suburban motorists. John and I traveled less than 1/2 mile on one of those and got harassed — honked at and yelled at to get off the road. When they’re not honking, they’re making dangerous passes into oncoming traffic. I can’t begin to tell you how much I dislike riding on suburban 2-lane roads. I’d rather ride on a high speed arterial where motorists have 2 other lanes to pass me.

  9. From 1:52 to 3:11 there is what appears to be a nice, wide shoulder which John (the cyclist) did not use, staying in the middle of the right lane instead. This likely contributed to the BMW driver expressing his disapproval by sounding his or her horn.

    John begins moving left at about 3:03 to prepare for his left turn which at least partly explains why he didn’t use the shoulder. Would use of the shoulder be recommended if there was no upcoming left turn, or it was farther away?

    • It’s pointless to use the shoulder there. It should be apparent why.

  10. I liked your terms closed circuit and brocolli developments. John LaPlante calls these lollipop developments. I wouldn’t mind them so much if there were pedestrian and cyclist connections between them.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Just Like Riding a Bike - [...] The support and inspiration that Mighk and Keri have provided has been tremendous. She definitely “had my back” while …
  2. 1,000 Miles – The Victory Lap | Bike Speed - [...] We resumed our ride and savored the beautiful fall day, smooth pavement, and the satisfaction that comes from “crossing …
  3. CyclingSavvy Works | i am traffic - [...] speed requires about 325 feet, but motorists can easily see cyclists from much farther than that.  We’ve illustrated how …