Sunday, September 1, 2013

UPDATED: Staircase with Runnel for Bikes: Helpful? Maybe.

UPDATE:  I often carry my bike up a different staircase - the one on 26th Ave. East at Prospect near the Arboretum.  Today there was a sign at the bottom announcing that the staircase will be closed for repairs, with a number to call for more information.  Karen, who answered the phone, told me that this staircase is being updated to meet ADA requirements.  No, she said, it will NOT have a bike runnel.  "We've built some of these, but we haven't really figured out how to make them work.  So for now, we're not going to build any more...We're the do-ers , not the designers here.  The engineers told us they got complaints from bikers and they figured it was better not to build them than build something that doesn't work."

Well, I guess it's good to be heard - but I would have preferred a well-designed runnel on my route home.

The long staircase that takes East Thomas Street across Madison between 25th and 26th has been rebuilt, and I was excited to see that a runnel for bikes was added.

But does this really make it easier to get my bike up the stairs?

I have seen pictures of runnels (also knows as bicycle stairway channels), notably in bike-friendly Copenhagen, but I hadn't ever tried to use one.  So today I took my bike over to the newly rebuilt stairway and tried out the runnel.

I'm sorry to say I'm disappointed. 

First of all, there's only one runnel, on the left side of the staircase when going up.  If someone were trying to walk down the stairs, with or without a bike, while I was going up, we would run into each other.  That's a minor problem, since there isn't a huge amount of traffic on that stairway.

More annoying, the metal railing is very close to the runnel and is just at the height of my handlebars.  My handlebars catch on the railings on the landings, my mirror gets whacked out of alignment, and my pedals catch on the support posts unless I lean the bike over as I push the bike up the runnel.

I didn't have a pannier on my bike for this visit to the runnel, but a load of groceries would make it even harder to avoid getting caught up on the railing.  

For anyone with a shorter bike, or with drop handlebars, or a fat well-loaded pannier, this runnel will be extremely difficult if not completely useless.

In summary, nice try, SDOT, but please take a bike up and down the Thomas Street runnel before you design the next one.


  1. The one at SW Spokane/Avalon/Harbor that goes up to Admiral Way has the runnel on the right side, and works pretty well. Right side seems right. Don't most people push their bike on the left away from the chain, and mount single panniers on left? And in North America, pedestrians stay right on walks and stairs?

  2. That looks basically like the runnel for the 41st Street stairs over the Aurora Bridge, which has similar problems. I'm not sure it would be easy to get right on a relatively narrow staircase like this. Aren't most useful runnels located in the middle of wider staircases?

    1. I've seen pictures of both kinds - off to the side or in the middle. I've read that design standards relating to railings, width and "tripping hazards" present challenges but I don't know the details. In any case, if they're going to be built they should be functional!

    2. I was thinking the same thing. I walk over the Aurora bridge one all the time, and noticed that they added railings on both sides when they fixed up the bridge. I think it makes a lot more sense to add a runnel right down the middle. Paint it orange so folks don't trip over it and you are done. When the Aurora one was first put in, they asked for comments (it might have been Karen) but I never commented, since I never bike there (I just walk). But I think it would make sense to let SDOT know about the middle runnel idea.

      That being said, I could easily picture myself using the runnel as opposed to picking up my bike, especially if I had a heavy bike. At worse you angle the bike a bit (to avoid the railing). If you encounter someone you are no worse than you were before the runnel.

  3. bikefish where on Thomas Street is the runnel you are talking about?

  4. in Brussels we have runnels made of metallic plating which are installed independently from staircases. This seems to reduce margins for such error.