New Federal Guide Will Show More Cities the Way on Protected Bike Lanes

Oak Street, San Francisco. Photo: SFMTA.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Protected bike lanes are now officially star-spangled.

Eight years after New York City created a trailblazing protected bikeway on 9th Avenue, designs once perceived as unfit for American streets have now been detailed in a new design guide by the Federal Highway Administration.

The FHWA guidance released Tuesday is the result of two years of research into numerous modern protected bike lanes around the country, in consultation with a team of national experts.

“Separated bike lanes have great potential to fill needs in creating low-stress bicycle networks,” the FHWA document says, citing a study released last year by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. “Many potential cyclists (including children and the elderly) may avoid on-street cycling if no physical separation from vehicular traffic is provided.”

Among the many useful images and ideas in the 148-page document is this spectrum of comfortable bike lanes, starting with bike infrastructure that will be useful to the smallest number of people and continuing into the more broadly appealing categories:

In addition to a brief review of research on protected bike lanes in America, the new federal guide also offers renderings of many designs that remain new to many street designers, such as bend-out bike lanes at intersections:

Or a proper way to step back auto parking from a parking-protected bike lane as it approaches a signalized intersection:

Or an effective way to send bike lanes behind bus and rail stops without interfering with people walking:

The guidance comes two years after the FHWA used a public memo to endorse the somewhat similar third-party design guides from NACTO and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. It’s also a few months after a different sort of milestone: As of last November, protected bike lanes are on the ground in more than half of U.S. states.

Amid so much enthusiasm for the new designs, the federal government’s decision to create a national guide makes sense, said Betsy Jacobsen, bicycle and pedestrian section manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“They’re becoming more common and this reinforces that,” said Jacobsen, one of the technical experts who reviewed the FHWA’s project over the course of many months. “There are a lot of questions about what’s the safest way to implement them, what’s the best practice.”

The biggest winners on Tuesday, Jacobsen said, will be cities, states, and agencies that don’t yet have in-house expertise in the many nuances of protected bike design.

“I think it was really good that they jumped on it when they did and provided some direction, particularly for communities that have no idea how to approach it,” she said. “You frequently will have a local planner or engineer who may never have heard of it. It’s like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And this will help with that.”

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  • BBnet3000

    What’s in those images are even better than the NACTO designs. I hope to see some of these in New York within the next 30 years.

  • CalRobert

    Yech, I would hope we can do better than 30 years. I wouldn’t expect it (the US likes few things more than dead bicyclists), but I hope for it.

  • I haven’t read the report yet but it looks very promising and is very welcomed. I’m especially encouraged by the chart above that’s in the report and indicates a bit of the differences in different types of facilities. It’d be nice if they quantified this more in terms of the protection each offers and the likely size of the population that each will serve.

    This is quite a ways short of European design standards and of the CROW manual but appears a giant step forward from where U.S. traffic engineering has been.

  • I’ve skimmed through them and I agree. They’d be a step backwards for the Dutch, but are certainly some of the more forward-thinking pieces I’ve seen in the American microcosm. As long as local advocates are acutely in tune with a project and the unique needs of bicyclists, these standards can certainly help the engineers do a much better job than they’ve thus far done in most places.

  • “…starting with bike infrastructure that will be useful to the smallest
    number of people and continuing into the more broadly appealing
    categories…”

    What a horribly biased and completely false statement! Each one of those solutions has an appropriate place and can be equally suitable for a wide variety of cyclists. For example a Signed Bicycle Route can be a totally appropriate bicycle facility for the “8 to 80 crowd” on roads with little traffic and/or have been traffic calmed.

    This continued idea from Green Lane Project that anything but protected
    bike lanes is “Black Diamond Bike Infra” is totally false and has
    angered many bike/ped planning professionals. Now citizens and
    politicians are demanding protect infra everywhere, even when it is not
    appropriate, cost effective or even the safest option.

    And to be honest, I’m really not liking this notion that all bicycle facilities need to be usable for 8 year old. If designed for an 8 year old, the facility almost always become unusable for an adult cyclist with a modest amount of competence. There are places, like local residential streets where designing for 8yo is appropriate but elsewhere I’d prefer the idea of facilities being usable for “16 to 60.”

  • Gezellig

    For example a Signed Bicycle Route can be a totally appropriate bicycle facility for the “8 to 80 crowd” on roads with little traffic and/or have been traffic calmed.

    Yep. And many American cities already have these. But what they all too often don’t have is a comprehensive low-stress network.

    Sure, riding on that quiet residential street is nice. But what about when it ends here?

    http://media.oregonlive.com/portland_impact/photo/sandyblvd2jpeg-ceb1e663e470607d.jpeg

    Yes, yes, there are VC techniques for that. But fewer than even 1% of adults care to bike this way. And who can blame them? Sorry, that’s just not going to change if the infrastructural status quo is kept.

    This continued idea from Green Lane Project that anything but protected bike lanes is “Black Diamond Bike Infra”

    PfB has repeatedly stated the more holistic view of Low Stress Networks:

    http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/the-future-of-bike-planning-is-the-network-design-leaders-say

    Check out the first sentence!

    And there’s this:

    http://peopleforbikes.org/page/-/uploads/GLP/Build-It-Postcard.png

    They didn’t even use the word protected bike lane–it’s just low-stress networks. Isabella presumably lives on a quiet residential street more or less suitable to shared-space environments like those many American cities already have in abundance.

    However, it’s at crucial points where the low-stress network fails. The glaring points are indeed where protected bike lanes can sometimes come in. They’re super important as a part of a cohesive whole, even if they form a numerically small number of streets.

    While smartly placed protected bike lanes are indeed disproportionately important per mile, I’ve never seen PfB or even any commenter here or in person suggest protected infra needs to be on every street.

    If designed for an 8 year old, the facility almost always become unusable for an adult cyclist with a modest amount of competence.

    “8-to-80” is not synonymous with “infantilizing infrastructure.”

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Streets which have lots of motorists and a bicycling infrastructure consisting of only signs does not increase the appeal for bicycling. Residential streets alone are difficult to create into a complete network of low-street routes without having some protected bike lanes or bike paths that connect them together. Residential streets are also not what most people use for the majority of the distance of their trips. Ever notice that there are few pedestrians or motorists on residential streets? Why would people traveling by bicycle not choose, like everybody else, arterial streets which are usually the fastest and most direct way to get somewhere? At least six times more adults responded that they would be willing to ride on a busy street that had a barrier to separate them from motorists compared to a conventional bike lane. Busy streets with no separation appealed to less than a sixth of the adults who would ride where there are bike lanes.

    The chart on page 6 of this 2013 bicycle count conducted by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition in the city of Los Angeles does not show any significant increase in bicycling with the installation of signed routes compared to streets without them. The volume of bicycling increases on streets with sharrows (mainly residential streets), more so on streets with bike lanes and finally the greatest amount on bike paths.

    http://la-bike.org/sites/default/files/Websitefiles/LACBC%202013%20LA%20Bike%20Count%20Report.pdf

    The street level bike paths in the San Fernando Valley portion of the city of Los Angeles have users from preschoolers to adults in spandex on road bikes. About a month ago I rode along the Orange Line and Balboa Park bike paths on a Saturday afternoon and had different groups totaling of about 50-60 road bike riders dressed in racing gear pass me in a 15-minute time period as I headed east from the grand opening of the Reseda Blvd protected bike lane. These paths seemed to be very appealing to these road bike riders.

    It costs several time more than conventional bike lanes per mile to get a arterial street comfortable enough for a parent to feel its alright to have their 8-year old ride on it. This would have to involve at the minimum physical barriers to separate the motorists from bicycle riders and by doing this it also creates a broader appeal for potential adult users.

    “In God we trust, everyone else must bring data,” W. Edwards Deming–engineer, statistician and business consultant.

  • Again I’m not implying that protected infra is useless. It has its place as both you @Dennis_Hindman:disqus and @disqus_2xADSo7Zq7:disqus have so well articulated. However, PfB in statements like that I called out, seems to allude that only protected infra will work. Somehow this keeps popping up in their statements even though they make more moderate and measured statements at other times.

    And Gezellig, I love you man! ;), but the Hembrow video you link to seems to show these roadies being held up by the infra. That Hembrow is able to keep up with them for over a minute is VERY telling. A group this large of fit roadies should easily be able of cruising at 40kph (25mph). And I think we both agree that once you put hills into the equation, the usefulness of sidepath infra breaks down for roadie cyclists. Even by myself, I constantly found myself choosing the road when riding in Germany because even their 3 meter wide sidepaths could not be safely navigated at speeds greater than 50kph when going downhill!

    And yes, I hesitate at using the term “16 to 60” for I too have ridden with some very fit 85 year olds!

    And I agree that not all infra that can accommodate an 8yo is “infantile infra” (I like that term) but too many if the projects that PfB and the GLP have featured are just that! I have ridden some of them, found them wanting and decided to use the motor vehicle traffic lanes or other parallel roadways.

  • What a bizarre view. How does my ability to keep up with a group for a short time make that group slow ?

    You appear to somehow imagine that my being able to (almost) keep up with a group of roadies for the very short period of one minute going like hell on my town bike somehow proves that they must be going slowly. Where’s the logic ? How slowly do you imagine that I cycle ? Why do you think that I cycle slowly ? I’m not the quickest guy out there, but I’m fitter than *you* think I am !

    In other videos taken on other occasions I catch up with and overtake roadies and mopeds. Do you think that indicates that they must be going extremely slowly ? I’ve averaged 45 km/h when racing for 3/4 of an hour, and very nearly 40 km/h when racing continuously for six hours.

    Can you do better ? If so, great. But what’s with this effort to denigrate my efforts ? Take your performance related insults someone else.

  • I agree. It appears to be a significant step forward from North American standards of the past. Sharrows really should go, though, and I suspect that the concept of a “quiet” street acceptable to all is still some way removed from how quiet equivalent streets in the Netherlands are. Traffic calming is not really the point. It’s not just the speed of cars which is an issue, but also their presence. Such streets shouldn’t have any through traffic on them.

  • David, please. There was never an insult on your abilities as a cyclist in my statement. It was clear that you were going fast but it was also clear that the sharp 90 degree turn slowed down the group of roadies. That one ended up on the sidewalk was also telling.

    I like your videos and find them to be a useful teaching aid but one can come to a different conclusion than the one you are trying to make which is what I did.

    With respect and regards and nothing else.

  • Things are often not what they seem. Please note that until 2007 it was possible for car drivers to also make a left turn at that same location. It is no longer possible to make that left turn in that location by car.

    The route by car to end up heading in the same direction as you last see those cyclists going is now approximately 200 m longer than that by bike and drivers have to stop for a traffic light (with a sharp left turn on the road) and negotiate a roundabout before they can continue in the same direction. i.e. while you may think the left turn looks inconvenient by bike, and indeed it is a sharp turn which does require you to slow down, the overall effect is to actually make cycling more efficient than it would be if you cycled on the road.

    The location of the turn is here:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/search/label/blue%20bridge

  • Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly. You’re saying that 8-year-olds should not be able to safely ride to school or a friends house so that you can always ride 25 mph instead of occasionally having to slow to 20 mph?

  • Gezellig

    And I agree that not all infra that can accommodate an 8yo is “infantile infra” (I like that term) but too many if the projects that PfB and the GLP have featured are just that!

    One thing worth pointing out…just because you drive a car that can go fast doesn’t mean you should expect to test its limits on a crowded commercial arterial. You can and should go elsewhere for that. Similarly, athletic sprinters are probably not going to choose this sidewalk to go their fastest:

    http://www.economicsofplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Holland-People-on-sidewalk-Burden-38.jpg

    Why would someone on a bike expect to be able to exceed 25mph/40kph at *all times* regardless of spatial context? That’s unrealistic as per the social contract of sharing space with many others in built-up areas. Remember, PfB focuses on urban and suburban infrastructure such as this:

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-fmZS6xTMDwM/TjoFO_jxo0I/AAAAAAAAABo/idMioGFMITQ/s1600/Green%2BWave.jpg

    No matter your mode on this urban commercial street, you’re not going faster than 20mph. And that’s ok!

    However, PfB in statements like that I called out, seems to allude that only protected infra will work.

    A low-stress network is only as good as its weakest links or people won’t use it. It makes sense for PfB to focus on the weakest links.

    But I’ve never heard them state that only protected infra will work anywhere, so I’m not sure where you’re getting that.

    Remember, even Portland’s arterials still mostly look like the arterial I linked above (that’s Sandy Blvd)–while you can go 25mph and probably faster on a nearby Neighborhood Greenway if you want a fast cross-town route, the 99% of people who don’t want to VC on a car-centric arterial are effectively cut off from key services along arterial corridors.

    So, they just drive, further reinforcing the infrastructural status quo.

    That Hembrow is able to keep up with them for over a minute is VERY telling.

    Huh? He’s posted several videos on his channel where he goes quite fast–if it’s even a competition–so I’m not sure where you’re getting that.

    Look, you can even go fast through a protected intersection!

    https://youtu.be/1esxQxNkyKk

    the Hembrow video you link to seems to show these roadies being held up by the infra.

    How so? At the beginning they were stopped at a red light waiting for cross traffic but that would’ve been the case were they biking with the cars, too. Also, in this particular case what you don’t see is the area after where the bikers later turn left corresponds to yet another traffic light for cars in the left-turn lane in the car roadway. Were they to VC there they’d be sitting and waiting for a left-turn light cycle yet again.

    This is not the case in the separated infra, which through various means prioritizes bike through-movement. In other words, they’re getting a free and fast left where they woudn’t VCing.

    Not to mention the fact that every time they turn right at intersections such as those you see in the beginning of the video it’s yet another free and fast right even if the cars have a red.

    Even by myself, I constantly found myself choosing the road when riding in Germany because even their 3 meter wide sidepaths could not be safely navigated at speeds greater than 50kph when going downhill!

    That’s kind of a separate issue in a few ways. Not the least of which is the fact that in the bigger picture of urban and suburban biking, the top biggest cities in the US either are entirely flat or the hilly areas that they have are their least dense. The list:

    1) NYC
    2) Los Angeles (flattest areas are densest. Hilly areas are mostly low density and/or recreational areas)
    3) Chicago
    4) Houston
    5) Philadelphia
    6) Phoenix
    7) San Antonio
    8) San Diego (somewhat similar pattern to LA)
    9) Dallas
    10) San Jose (very similar pattern to LA)

    As I’ve pointed out various times, that’s even true in SF. The densest areas in SF both in terms of residents and commercial/work hubs tend to correspond to the flattest areas (this is no coincidence–there are good historical reasons for this).

    So while hills do merit their own design considerations, at a high level raising the hills card as a protected-bike-lane killer is largely a distraction and ignores the low-hanging fruit where they *can* pervasively be implemented.

  • Gezellig

    Things are often not what they seem….The route by car to end up heading in the same direction as you last see those cyclists going is now approximately 200 m longer than that by bike and drivers have to stop for a traffic light (with a sharp left turn on the road) and negotiate a roundabout before they can continue in the same direction

    Precisely. As someone who’s lived in the Netherlands and now is back in the US, I find the anti-infrastructurist handwringing over turns surprising.

    When I do a vehicular left here in SF due to lack of other options I often find myself 1) waiting till the last second of the light once oncoming cars stop and/or 2) waiting through a red light cycle in the left-turn lane before I can turn in the first place. And when you VC you also have to stop on a red when turning right, of course!

    Though I noticed that newer design in the Netherlands often prioritizes more modern designs, my experience is that even on stretches with frequent 4-way protected intersections you still get around quite fast.

    The fact that all your right turns are free and uninhibited and the 2-step lefts are–at worst!–no more time than what cars have to do makes it all move along swimmingly.

  • Gezellig

    the sharp 90 degree turn slowed down the group of roadies.

    You have to do 90º turns VCing, as well. And whether you’re going right or left those often include stop signs and stop lights, which are greatly reduced with separated infrastructure.

  • Joe R.

    You do have bridges though in some of the cities you mention where people riding in otherwise mostly flat territory would be faced with “hills”, albeit man-made in this case. The solution really isn’t that difficult, either. Put a barrier between both directions of bike traffic, and make the downhill portion a lot wider than the uphill portion. On some of the East River bridges we should probably design for up to 50 mph on the downhill side because those are speeds you may hit with a stiff tailwind (and NYC is quite windy much of the time). I personally hit 61 mph descending the Queensboro Bridge back in 1985, although I was in the car lanes (no bike specific lanes at the time).

  • Joe R.

    I won’t be one to denigrate you efforts although I will note with velomobiles the equipment can make a marked difference. For example, there’s this video shot in a Milan SL where the rider seems to be able to maintain upward of 70 km/hr:

    I actually want to eventually purchase one of these for myself, although in NYC I’ll probably need to take it on the highways to realize its full potential.

    Nobody really knows the ultimate potential of human-powered transportation. If we can perfect reliable laminar flow we could probably see peak speeds in excess of 100 mph, and cruising speeds of around 75 mph. We would just need to design places where such vehicles could run at those types of speeds.

  • The junction which we ride through quickly at the start of that video is actually quite special. It’s one of three traffic light junctions in Assen which defaults to green for bikes so that we rarely stop there at all. In that case it’s actually one of three traffic lights in a row, two of which don’t apply to the cycle-path and one of which is the default to green.

    If I was to ride on the road in that location that would be very much slower than the cycle-path as a road cyclist potentially has to stop three times in a few hundred metres while on the cycle-path you usually don’t have to stop at all.

    More about default to green here:
    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/search/label/default%20to%20green

    That particular junction can be seen in context here:
    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2009/04/tale-of-three-traffic-lights.html

    Incidentally, that default to green traffic light, which rarely stops cyclists, was the only traffic light which featured on my nearly 20 mile each way commuting route a few years back. Rarely having to stop at all, and equally rarely having to slow down, are reasons why I usually averaged well over 20 mph on my commute: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2009/11/commuting-speeds.html

    Cycling is efficient in the Netherlands. That is why Dutch people not only cycle a lot for their short journeys, but also make long journeys by bike far more often than people who live in other nations.

  • Ria Tony

    One thing worth pointing out…just because you drive a car that can go fast doesn’t mean you should expect to test its limits on a crowded commercial arterial.

    pre-school fort mill sc

  • Jack Hughes

    Note also the unstated presumption about the 8 y.o. and 80 y.o. cyclist that leads to the infrastructure being, generously, “less than ideal” for most competent cyclists–that the 8 y.o. and the 80 y.o. (and those in between) are not and cannot be expected to be competent cyclists. While there are routes I take now that I would have found dangerous or daunting when I was 8 or even 10, many of the “8 to 80” plans as implemented my 8 or 10 year old self would have found much as I find them today. Less convenient and less pleasant than riding on nearby streets. The cure for lack of cycling competency is not a lot of pavement and bollards and paint to reduce the need for competency. Competency is not hard to give a 9 year old.

  • Rnok

    Nicely and purposefully prescribed way out to make the line important to all the people who are riding anything in the street. In order to make the process flow better and smoother above mentioned process flow to ride on the road as well as guide someone to get the rules in proper way worth in all the way. This is absolutely great ideas and regulations form the federal for the beneficial aspects of the people who are going out or in for daily basis. Need writing an essay on this.Thanks for sharing the best process flow for all to maintain.

  • Robert Jarman

    Europe is not the Netherlands, just like an Irish person might give you a punch if you say that they are British or especially English. Following UK “best practice” which at most would be a 2 metre wide cycle track with a 50 cm curb and long traffic light waits and two stage unprotected left turns. The Dutch best practice is kilometres ahead of anyone else in Europe, not even Copenhagen is close enough.

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  • hinkley432467

    To keep the safe our Bike Lanes we need to be so more aware and i think it give us more facilities also. i like to read the article because students are aware to read the post in here.

  • I totally agree with you!!