U.S. DOT Releases New Guidance to Make Streets Safe for Cycling

Last month in Pittsburgh, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled a new federal initiative aimed at reducing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Despite declining overall traffic fatalities, people walking and biking are being killed more often on American streets, a disturbing trend that U.S. DOT wants to reverse.

Protected bike lanes are in the toolkit that FHWA recommends to reduce cyclist fatalities. Photo: Carl Sundstrom via FHWA

Now we’re beginning to see what the feds have in mind. This week, U.S. DOT released a new guide for transportation professionals it calls Bikesafe. The online resource includes recommendations for state departments of transportation and local governments on how to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bikesafe contains a list of 46 “countermeasures,” including chicanes, protected bike lanes, roundabouts, and “visual narrowing” of the roadway. Under protected bike lanes (FHWA calls them “separated bike lanes“), for example, the guide advises planners to pay particular attention to driveways and intersections and to “make full use of signing and marking to improve awareness and guidance of the facility through these conflict zones.”

In addition, the guide includes a primer on how land use decisions affect bicycling safety, how complete streets serve to improve safety, and other big-picture elements of sound bike planning. Another component is supposed to help agencies identify the proper intervention for specific safety problems they encountered.

Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations at the League of American Bicyclists, said national advocates are pleased that this initiative is focused on infrastructure solutions — like better bike lanes and traffic calming — rather than education alone. Whitaker also likes that the proposal laid out by Foxx calls for requiring state DOTs and FHWA field offices to study bike networks and establish strategies for improving safety.

  • Kevin Love

    What a horrible standard! It has:

    Door zone bike lanes, where the most dangerous place on the road to ride a bicycle is in the bike lane.

    Combined bus and bike lanes. There are no two more incompatible vehicles than buses and bicycles… and good luck getting my mother to play tag with a 10-ton lethal weapon. 8-80 fail.

    Dangerous intersection designs. The mind boggles.

    The Kingdom of The Netherlands was so kind as to translate their CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic into English. Now everyone can RTFM and realize just how crappy is the “Bikesafe” guide. Why not be truthful and call it the “Bike Dangerous” guide.

    Or better yet, actually be safe and just use the CROW manual. It may be found at:

    http://www.crow.nl/publicaties/design-manual-for-bicycle-traffic

  • mrebeling

    This tool is a good start. It could be improved by allowing the user to select multiple objectives/goals as well as multiple problem areas where improvements are needed. It is often the case that there is not one single issue on any particular facility.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    You have to put this in context. The Netherlands post WWII bicycle share of all trips never went below 20% at its lowest point. The United States has a bicycle share of all commuters of about .62%.

    A width of a bike lane is typically 5-feet. The width needed for a protected bike lane using cars as a barrier is 5-feet plus a 3-feet buffer where the parked car doors will swing out. Getting that additional 3-feet of space where bicycles have a very low share of trips is very difficult. Which means that there can be much more 5-foot wide bike lane miles installed than 8-foot wide protected bike lane miles. Its also likely that the 5-foot bike lanes will form much more of a network than the 8-foot wide bike lanes.

    Results of these two different approaches can be illustrated by looking at what Chicago has installed for bikeways since 2011 and Los Angeles. Chicago installed nothing but buffered and barrier protected bike lanes in that time period, while Los Angeles installed mostly installed 5-foot bike lanes. Los Angeles was able to get more bike lanes per mile of land installed than Chicago due to this smaller footprint and LA had a 20% bicycle commuting mode share increase in 2013 as a result. Meanwhile, Chicago did not get a bicycle commuting mode share increase in 2013, even though the city installed much higher quality bike lanes than Los Angeles.

  • BBnet3000

    You’re going to hit a very low mode share plateau with a low level of design though, and quite a lot of people will be injured and killed along the way.

  • Daniel

    Kevin, do you know if any of our libraries have this manual? As someone with an interest in safer bicycle lanes but no professional need for this manual it’s hard to justify spending 96 euros on it.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    People judge whether they ride a bicycle if their entire route fits within their tolerance for stress. If one link within that route falls outside of that, then the entire route can be worthless to them. Those that are less tolerant of traffic stress are much more sensitive to this. Its not doing them much good to have a one-off protected bike lane that is not a complete route of low-stress bikeways.

  • Kevin nailed the first few things I noticed. One major question is if something is better than nothing. If something means that they’ll put in poor facilities as provided for in this list of countermeasures and call it good enough and not do any more then something is clearly not better than nothing.

    Most of what is included here is stuff to make vehicular cycling better for people who already ride. This will do little or nothing to provide places that more people feel comfortable riding. How many parents would send their 8-year-old down that door zone bike lane? Or out to share a lane with buses on their way to school?

    They need to stop putting out stuff that The Netherlands tossed out decades ago as less than adequate.

  • Kevin Love

    Not in NYPL. Perhaps someone should donate a copy.

  • Laurence Aurbach

    The Pratt Institute has a copy, if that’s any help.

    http://prattcat.pratt.edu/record=b1156018~S0

  • portland

    Bus bike lanes can be alright. If the buses don’t run too often, and it’s just for a short stretch conflicts are kept to a minimum. A dedicated bike lane is of course better, but if politics won’t allow the road space to be taken it’s not a horrible solution. And since the country isn’t willing to make biking a priority, it’s a tool worth having. Look at Vancouver avenue in portland between I5 and weidler st. Without taking more streetapace is there a better solution there? It would be a terrible place to dump bikes in a general traffic lane, gets hectic around the highway ramp.

  • carsnotbikes

    Obviously none of you have lived in Chicago:

    Yes, let me ride my bike in the snow in Chicago, 5-6 months out of the year: Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Sometimes March. Or, perhaps in the rain 3 of the remaining months

    Hippies feel free ride your bike out west

  • Canonchet
  • Ralph

    One way to claim extra space on roads, more so out west, would be to reduce lane widths from 12 feet to 10 feet in towns and cities.

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