As Protected Bike Lane Design Evolves, New Lessons Emerge

Dedicated bike signals in downtown Seattle mean that bikes and cars never have to mix on Second Avenue’s new protected lane. Photo: Green Lane Project

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

Last year offered lots of case studies for those of us working to make the case for protected bike lanes. With the explosion of protected lanes in the United States, we have far more robust evidence — both anecdotal and quantitative — that they increase ridership, make streets safer, and benefit cities economically.

Here are some useful lessons on design from the cities pioneering the use of protected lanes:

1) People like dedicated bike signals much better than merging with a turn lane

Until the protected intersection takes off in the United States (more on that in a few days) there are two basic ways to handle the conflict between bikes that are going straight and cars that are about to turn. One way is more popular than the other.

The more common (but less popular) method is to direct both vehicles to merge into a combination turn lane/bike lane. The more popular option, which is rarely employed, is to use special traffic signals that force people in cars to stop turning while bikes are crossing.

As the chart above shows, most people biking tend to feel safe in both situations, but less confident riders — the ones protected bike lanes are supposed to appeal to — strongly prefer signalized separation, as seen on Chicago’s Dearborn Street, Seattle’s Second Avenue, and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. (It’s no coincidence that these three ranked at the top of our “best new bike lanes” lists in 2013 and 2014.)

U.S. intersection design continues to develop, and “mixing zone” designs have been getting better. (Here’s what the best-performing mixing zone, at Fell and Broderick in San Francisco, looks like; compare that to the worst-performing, on L Street in Washington, DC.) In any case, engineers should remember that the whole point of protected bike lanes is to make biking feel safe for people who don’t already ride. Designs won’t work unless they achieve this.

2) When it comes to comfort, people say plastic posts are as good as curbs

For us on the Green Lane Project team, one of the biggest surprises of 2014 was that a bike lane separated from cars by a “2-3 foot buffer with plastic flexposts” makes riders feel more comfortable biking than anything else, with the exception of “planters separating the bikeway.”

The finding came from a survey of people riding in many different protected bike lanes around the country. (For this question, the people were looking at a series of renderings, which you can see on p. 146 of this PDF.) The finding was (like all three of these) deep within a landmark report released in early June by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities.

As anyone who's compared the costs of bike lane separation methods knows, a cast-in-place curb is much more expensive to install than a row of plastic posts. So this should be comforting news to cities that have, like Washington DC, Chicago and Pittsburgh, used flexposts to install physical separation as cheaply as possible.

The true downside of flexposts, as cities have also found, is that they're easily destroyed. After seeing its posts torn up last winter by plows and skidding drivers, Chicago sent crews out to temporarily remove the posts from the streets, to be reinstalled next spring. That's probably wise, but it only takes a few years of that before a city starts looking again at the cost of installing something more durable.

A more detailed federal study of this issue, probably with different methodology, is set to begin this year. We eagerly await the findings.

3) Most people like protected bike lanes. But some people hate them.

This chart isn’t news to anyone who has built a significant biking project. But it’s something officials need to be prepared for every time. Even in centrally located, multi-modal neighborhoods where most existing protected bike lanes were built, some residents are convinced that it hurts the neighborhood to dedicate any street space to anything other than cars. And bike lane skeptics may well be more passionate and noisy than proponents.

The lesson of this chart isn’t that we should live in fear of a vocal minority. It’s just a reminder that with any project as visible and meaningful as a protected bike lane, some people will see themselves as winners and others will see themselves as losers. And also that members of another group — about the same size as the self-identified winners — can be swung either way depending on their perception of why the project was built.

The ridership impacts of protected bike lanes prove they’re worth fighting for. But cities shouldn’t build them without being able to explain why a connected network of low-stress bike routes will make everyone a winner.

“It’s sort of like ripping that Band-Aid off really quick,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in September about his plans to rapidly install a basic network of protected bike lanes in his first term. “We knew there was going to be this pushback, but we wanted to show [the new protected lane] and let people see it. That type of a reaction starts to dissipate and go down over time. That’s the tradeoff.”

As we’ll show in an upcoming post, 2014 was a very big year for protected lanes. But here in the United States, these designs are still in their infancy. We’re sure that 2015 will bring new findings that move this concept toward maturity, and we look forward to sharing them with you all year, right here.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

40 thoughts on As Protected Bike Lane Design Evolves, New Lessons Emerge

  1. The signals are only a good option if they give bikes priority over turning cars. Dumb timed signals just usurp green time bikes would otherwise have in order to accommodate turning cars.

    There’s a real good reason a significant minority don’t care for protected bike lanes-namely they’re usually slower and they don’t leave maneuvering room if something unexpected comes up. Streetsblog seems to forget sometimes that the primary purpose of transportation is to get from point A to point B. As such, speed is paramount only to safety. Any changes which make things slower for some users aren’t going to be highly looked upon. Good bike infrastructure should allow riders to set their own pace, not force them to ride at the speed of the slowest rider. Good bike infrastructure also negates, or at least dramatically reduces, the need to stop or slow down compared to regular street riding. Protected bike lanes rarely help in that regard. The few that do are those built alongside a natural barrier like a park or river where by definition there’s no motor cross traffic.

    The lesson here is think in terms of all riders. Also think in terms of what the end result is compared to what was there before. If it’s faster and at least as safe, that’s good. If it’s safer and at least as fast, that’s also good. If it’s both safer and faster, then you scored a big win. If either safety or speed are reduced, then perhaps you need to rethink the design.

  2. We’re sure that 2015 will bring new findings that move this concept toward maturity

    Moving US protected bike lanes toward maturity just means US planners finding fewer ways to ruin Dutch designs. Using the phrase “pioneering” to describe US planners reinventing the wheel is quite dark humor considering the lives that are lost along the way.

    All the research and design that needs to be done on cycling infrastructure has already been done over the past 50 years in The Netherlands. They continue to improve, but unless we start from best practices we have no chance to actually do any innovation.

  3. So true, but to get a good idea to stick, you often have to convince people that it was their idea in the first place.

  4. I’m always amused at how badly the L Street bike lane is rated. It shoves you into a narrow path with moving cars on both sides. Luckily this design is not being replicated much.

  5. Of course, most complete-street advocates – including those behind Streetsblog – view slower speeds as a feature, not a bug. Slower cars, slower bikes = safer for everyone.

    The result is a kind of implicit bias against the bike commuter – especially any that have more than a couple of miles to go. Again, that’s part of the initiative – there’s more “roadshare” to pick up, among people who only have fewer than 3-4 miles to travel, by implementing relatively modest safety improvements. So make it safe, make it slow, and you’ll get more bikers out there, which means more political and financial support. You don’t design bike infrastructure around the person who needs to commute ten miles, they’d say, because almost no one’s interested in doing that by bike.

    But I agree with you that this is a mistake. Like it or not, our cities currently are designed around the assumption that people can travel at high speeds, on average, over large distances – either by driving or taking transit. While I would love safer bike lanes connecting where I live to where I shop in the neighborhood, nothing about making it safe in the 1-2 mile radius around my home is going convince my employer (or other potential employers) to open an office down the street. I still need to gear up and vehicular-cycle a longer distance along a circuitous and not bike-friendly route to get to work.

    It’s frustrating, but it’s true. Advocates in this area – really, the only ones bike commuters can look to – are just not disposed to care about speed. As a rule, they seem to think that if you, as a biker, need to hit or maintain 20 mph – or even 15 mph – in order to get to work in a reasonable amount of time, then you just live too far away. I think they want us all going at about 10-12 mph.

  6. The irony here though is what I see as a double standard. Yes, there is the idea that slower speeds are a “feature”, but for motor vehicles livable streets advocates typically consider 20 to 25 mph “slower”, whereas they pick 10-12 mph for bikes, even though there really aren’t any safety benefits to anyone slowing bikes to that speed as bike travel is already very safe. If bike infrastructure were designed as a matter of course to allow bikes to travel at up to the same legal speed limits motor vehicles do, then there would be no issue. After all, 25 mph is about is fast as 99.9% of riders will ever go, except maybe downhill. Instead, we artificially constrain faster riders with poor bike infrastructure. When those riders predictably use the parallel street instead, much to the chagrin of motorists, there’s backlash and drop in support for bike infrastructure in general. In short, it’s not just a mistake, but livable streets advocates are shooting themselves in the foot.

    But yes, the hard fact is average commutes in American cities tend to be longer than in Europe. As a consequence, we need to think not just in terms of the cyclist who might be going a mile or two on errands, but the ones going 5, 10, perhaps even 15 miles to work. Remember, due to housing prices and personal preferences not everyone can or wants to live near where they work.

    One thing I’ve mentioned occasionally which livable streets advocates seem to be totally blind to are velomobiles. Those have all the advantages of a car but none of the downsides. However, they need fast, separate, nonstop infrastructure to come into their own. I feel especially here in the US where travel distances are longer they could revolutionize things. I tend to think livable streets advocates largely don’t see longer distance bike travel as potentially more popular simply because they’re obsessed on the heavy, upright bike as their vehicle of choice. Sure, few will want to go 10 or 15 miles on something like that, but those same 10 or 15 miles are easily done by an average rider in a velomobile on good infrastructure. It’s an oft-used cliche but the US isn’t Europe. Even US cities like New York have few European counterparts. Those cities resembling NYC in Europe are having the same problems increasing mode share as NYC-most trips are longer than can be done on a heavy upright bike on bike routes with lots of traffic signals but there is reluctance to build anything better on the fear it will only appeal to a minority. I feel this isn’t true. The most heavily used bike route in NYC is the Hudson River Greenway, for example. I’ll make a good bet most of the riders using it are going a good deal more than 2 or 3 miles. Build the infrastructure and it will be heavily used, except most users will be on racing bikes, e-bikes and velomobiles, not heavy upright bikes.

  7. Yeah, but best practices in the Netherlands may not be applicable here due to different terrain, weather, existing infrastructure, cultural attitudes, etc. You can’t just say ‘do what that flat, centrally-dense, high-level-of-government-control country does and try to duplicate it here.

  8. I suppose you could synchronize the turn signals with a green wave but in general I’m not a huge fan of green waves. They might be fine if used for short distances like 1 km or less, but in general I feel traffic signals don’t belong on bike routes, other than if they’re used in conjunction with bike sensors solely to give bikes priority over motor vehicles.

  9. “Cultural attitudes” is the only one there that is actually relevant. Dutch designs are most certainly physically possible anywhere, and improving American designs will inevitably mean making them incrementally more like Dutch designs.

    The problem is that in some cities (New York being the one I know well) it will likely be decades before we even consider improving protected lanes, so the uncomfortable single-file ones we have now we are likely stuck with. Putting the lanes on the wrong side (left) is also pretty much unfixable in the incremental approach.

    By 2100 even the youngest readers here will be dead and our bike infra will probably still suck.

  10. The only major difference I see besides the higher level of government control are the typical trip distances. Here in the US, even in places like NYC, the average trip length is going to be higher than in the Netherlands, certainly much higher than it is in places like Amsterdam. Nevertheless, the Dutch already have an answer for that-their fine and growing network of bicycle superhighways. That’s probably mostly what we should be emulating. The Amsterdam stuff might function here more like last mile connections to the bicycle superhighways.

  11. By 2100 even the youngest readers here will be dead and our bike infra will probably still suck.

    Minor point-lifespans are still increasing by every metric, so it’s quite possible some of our readers will still be around in 2100, albeit they’ll be pushing 100 to 110, and probably not doing much riding.

    It’s my own personal goal (which I may not reach but one which I’ll strive for anyway) to be around in 2100. I would be 137 years, one month old but with continual medical advances who knows? Anyway, don’t count anyone out, including yourself, in the year 2100.

    Sad to say, you might still be right on the state of bike infrastructure in NYC in 2100. On the plus side though, there’s a good chance by then we will have moved past automobiles, so there might be little need for it.

  12. I totally agree with the general sentiment here, and finding a way to import Dutch ideas to the United States (without labeling them as “Dutch,” which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be a politically effective message) is the core of the Green Lane Project’s mission.

    But I disagree that there’s no innovation going on here. The design of American cities is dramatically different than Dutch cities. Dutch designs are awesome and unquestionably better than ours. But we’re not going to suddenly plop Dutch traffic circles and woonerfs into American cities. There are too many buildings in the way. Adapting awesome Dutch concepts for an American context takes work, creativity and an entrepreneurial approach, both in design and in politics.

  13. “There are too many buildings in the way.”

    You mean too many parking spots in the way, right?

  14. Of course some ideas can’t/won’t port over wholesale but it should be pointed out that especially by European standards the Netherlands is actually probably one of the most spatially similar places to much development in the US. Guess where this is:
    Count the fast food signs, car lanes all leading up to a big freeway underpass. If not for the cycletrack this could be Anywhere, North America. But this is actually in Amsterdam proper.

    The reality is that only a minority of Dutch people live in the medieval centers of Amsterdam, Gouda and Utrecht. Though many tourists visiting Amsterdam for a couple days don’t typically see this many Dutch people’s daily reality includes stuff much more like this:

    Big-box shopping center in the NL. Unnecessarily oversized parking lot? Check! Yes, Kansas, the Netherlands also has parking minimums, and as in the US sometimes they’re too high, wasteful of space, and promote driving. Again, if not for the cycletrack, this could be Anywhere, North America.

    Lots of free (ie, non-tolled) freeways, room for parking and car-centric arterials. Yet again, this could be…well, you get it.

    Dutch cities actually follow rectilinear grids much more often than do their other European peers–even in their older areas–in part due to the longstanding Dutch mentality of needing to conquer swampy nature and impose order on it. While roundabouts are becoming more common there in newer areas, 4-way signalized intersections are numerically far more common overall.

    Comparison of the same intersection in central Utrecht, 1961 vs. 2014:

    With a stop at one of its in-between states of evolution, in 1964:

    The 1961 version could be any North American car-centric arterial today. Notice how comparatively few bikes there are (the moribund biking culture of the NL in the 50s-70s due to car-first planning policies of the era is no joke), and how many more there are even in the ’64 update. Spatially there’s nothing particularly exotic about the 60s version of that road compared to North American stretches today.

    Of course, it comes down to political will and awareness of what could be. Which is why the more we can get people aware of the positive benefits of going from 1961 to 1964, the more buy-in there’ll be for even better stuff 🙂

    I just wanted to point out that the spatial argument doesn’t factually hold up in many cases when you look at the bulk of Dutch infrastructure. As part of the whole messaging thing, though, I get that this may need to be sold to Americans as Our Great New Idea, rather than That Exotic European Stuff, but there’s got to be some balance where we especially show how Europe’s actually not always that exotic.

    (That is, unless you never leave the 4 blocks of the Red Light District! 😀 )

  15. I haven’t had coffee thrown at me once. Last year it was water and eggs, one time each, and I did absolutely nothing to deserve it either time. This year the same treatment will get the thrower a ball bearing aimed at their windshield, rear window, or head, depending upon the situation. And flat tires if I manage to catch up to the vehicle.

    FYI, throwing something at a cyclist qualifies as assault at the very least, possibly attempted murder if it may cause them to lose control of the bike. That gives them the legal right to retaliate with deadly force. If I recall you like to throw stuff at cyclists and cars. To quote you:

    When people drive like douches I throw stuff at their car. When people bike like douches I throw stuff at their bike.

    I’ll probably be reading about you in the papers one day when you picked on the wrong person.

  16. #2 shouldn’t be a surprise. Plastic delineator posts are much less hazardous to people on bikes who veer into the buffer to avoid a collision with a cyclist or pedestrian. Cast curbs throw the bicyclist into the traffic lane if hit obliquely, thus the significant increase in discomfort ratings for curbs vs delineator posts.

  17. One big thing that the US has in droves but the Netherlands doesn’t appear to in any of your pictures is driveways every few dozen meters. And driveways are basically the biggest problem for most forms of protected bikeways. So it makes sense that the United States needs to do more research to figure out how driveways and protected bikeways can safely interact. It would be nice if we could just get rid of most of those driveways to make our streets safe, and turn our stroads back into roads where you can then just apply off-the-shelf Dutch treatments. But until then there is a substantial difference that needs research to overcome.

  18. One huge difference is the legal environment. Dutch drivers must undergo much more training than U.S. drivers, and they operate under very different rules of the road.

    Simply plopping a Dutch design into a U.S. city without significantly revising the traffic code would put cyclists in grave danger where the Dutch design assumes bicyclists would have right of way in a location that U.S. laws would assign right of way to the motorist.

    Other than different right of way rules, there are other major legal differences, like right-on-red.

    Or, for another recent example, see the lead photo for this article… Those bicycle signal faces in Seattle have one dirty little secret — they don’t legally exist.

    Bicycle signal faces aren’t yet recognized or defined in Washington law or the Seattle municipal code. There’s no law requiring a person on a bike to stop for a red bicycle signal, or allowing them to enter an intersection against a red traffic signal when there’s a green bicycle signal.

    (Like most states, Washington law defines the meaning of a traffic signal by both color and shape — a red circle is defined, a green arrow is defined, etc. A bicycle-shaped signal has no legal meaning yet.)

  19. CROW reports that the Dutch have begun experimenting with allowing faster riders (over 18 mph) to use streets instead of cycletracks.

    It’s popular with the faster cyclists who are no longer confined to low-speed sidepaths, but the real impetus for the change is that the faster cyclists make cycletracks unwelcoming for slower and more vulnerable people on bikes.

    Allowing faster riders on the street reduces speed differentials on the path. It’s a win/win, faster and safer for stronger cyclists, slower and safer for less-athletic people on bikes.

  20. Yes, driveways are definitely a design challenge. Although those stretches pictured above don’t have frequent driveways, frequent driveways in the Netherlands are actually more common than you might think. For example, the spatial layout of the following street (detached single-family homes, frequent driveways on every lot) is pretty comparable to spatial layouts on many residential streets in the US:

    They can even work with bidirectional cycletracks:

    You’ll notice the key elements here are the visual cues strongly reinforcing who has priority.

    Frequent small-block intersections are also present in the Netherlands. Again, spatially not that exotic compared to many areas in the US, especially since in addition to the small-block intersections each of those homes/businesses along the cycletrack has a driveway, too:

  21. I suspect Kenny was not thinking about infrequently used residential driveways, but heavily-used driveway entrances into shopping centers, fast-food restaurants, etc.

  22. Yea, most of the legal “problems” you mentioned are already being worked on and thus aren’t so much of a problem as people try to make them out to be. The NCUTCD already sent recommendations to the FHWA for bicycle signal faces to be included in the next MUTCD. As much as we’d like them to appear, there unfortunately will be far too few applications between now and the likely approval. Of course, the FHWA could even issue Interim Approval of them. Oh wait, they already did that. Most people have no idea of the legal backstory and aren’t going to run around blasting through bike signals because they’re “not defined”. So really, unless some idiot does just that and gets hit, the biggest legal ramification is likely that a ticket for violating a bike signal probably can’t stand in court.

    Notwithstanding the fact that CBC intends to push for a requirement for right-turning vehicles to yield to bikes to be added in the CA Vehicular Code (and I believe Oregon currently also has it), a lot of people already do it anyway out of courtesy. Signals certainly lessen the ambiguity and make things a little clearer. And despite Wagenbuur’s popular posts and videos on the subject, a lot of intersections actually do not have priority for the bicyclist, a configuration which turns out to be safer.

  23. By and large, commercial driveways are treated the same. They have tight radii, ‘elephant feet’, and a continuous cycletrack that all convey to motorists the concept of making sure the way is clear before they turn are included. The image below is a typical commercial driveway treatment in The NLs. (No, I’m not about to get right-hooked. I was stopped taking pix.)

    But keep in mind that 15% of American driven trips are for distance that is within half of a mile and around 40% are within five, while the Dutch take measures to actively discourage driving for those trips. That means that a higher percentage of the patrons at many commercial locations are arriving by bike as well, keeping the number of people turning in down. Also, the bikeway networks are designed to avoid conflicts with motor vehicles. While there may certainly be a cycletrack along a road with driveways, the main bikeway through the area and the bike entrance to the shopping center avoid crossing motor traffic as much as possible.

  24. Yea, America is still stuck “innovating” instead of copying the proven Dutch designs. The Dutch design the infrastructure to provide for virtually all riders. The vast majority of bike-only cycletracks are designed for at least 30 KPH and 40 KPH for those that are shared with mopeds and outside cities. However, it’s not common to get “held up” on Dutch bikeways except in the densest parts of cities during rush hour, much like what already happens to motorists and bicyclists who insist that bikes should queue up in lines of traffic too.

  25. I am pretty sure that a decent part of the issue is due to individuals against infrastructure not taking the time to offer any meaningful alternatives or suggestions beyond “no”. I’ve seen it myself numerous times where the “bicycle drivers” solely demand BMUFL signs and sharrows while shunning any and everything else exclusively for bikes. Meanwhile, the planners and engineers are hearing from the rest of society that they want “more bike lanes”. But without any valuable input about design features, they resort to their books and garbage appears. It’s long past time for the more experienced riders to adopt an approach of pragmatism over the complete resistance to everything that has dominated to this point. That will allow issues with designs to be addressed and in turn benefit all bicyclists.

    Also, it’s worth noting that good infrastructure is designed for speed. It’s unfortunate that Americans are afraid of the CROW manual because it’s a great document already. Even if a clueless intern designed something straight out of the book, the results would be palatable for 90% of cyclists for 95% of their needs. The CROW manual calls for a design speed of 30 KPH for through routes and 40 KPH for those outside of cities or shared with mopeds. Those are roughly equal to the speeds that most riders would ever expect to reach in a typical journey on those segments, so that’s more than adequate.

    Speaking of typical journeys, the reason that most planners (unfortunately) focus mostly on the short trips at the detriment of speed is because those are the journeys that make up the bulk of all trips. For all the sprawl of America, people don’t go very far at all. According to the data, a staggering 15% of driven trips are for half a mile, a distance that could be easily walked by most people, to say nothing of biking. Obviously, that represents a huge opportunity on multiple fronts, so it’s no surprise to find advocates trying to lure people onto bikes for their short trips. When you look at Dutch data, you see that the lion’s share of Dutch biking occurs up to about two miles, then quickly loses out to cars after that point. In other words, most people in The NLs just don’t bike far at all.

    However, those looking to bike far in The NLs are not left out of luck. They didn’t give them fancy names, but the Dutch have been building ‘bicycle superhighways’ for years. Stuff like this stretches across the country to connect the villages, towns, and cities. I will agree with you that interurban commuter trips is one place that American advocates are dropping the ball. At the same time, it’s worth noting in the Dutch ridership figures that only 16% of trips are for people riding to work. For all the hype about bike lockers and showers, they’re never going to give most American work commuters a strong enough incentive to bike all the way to work, though better transit systems and bike share might increase people who use bikes as a first-mile/last-mile solution.

    But, I do understand why they don’t focus on interurban trips as much: ROI. Though provisions for bikes can ultimately be a money saver for agencies, the concept is still too young here to gain much traction. I know that I personally continue to push for bikeways that connect cities and regions, but most advocates are generally working within cities because that’s where it’s easiest to show that people will ride if they have infrastructure. After getting people to bike short trips, those same people will be more inclined to not only ride more and farther, but to also be a more vocal partner in getting more improvements elsewhere, including for stuff like bridges/underpasses to keep people from stopping.

  26. On your point about the CROW manual design speeds, typically when you have such standards, the design speed ends up being the minimum speed you can go at the worst part of the path. Often much or most of the rest of the path can be ridden at speeds higher than the design speed. For example, I’ve seen videos of Dutch cyclists in velomobiles going 60 or even 70 KPH on paths outside of cities with no apparent issues. Nevertheless, even if it turns out that you couldn’t do much over 30 KPH on city routes, or 40 KPH outside cities, you’re right, this is probably as fast as 99% will ever want to go in those situations. I’m a fast cyclist myself, but the only time I get over 40 KPH is going downhill, and then only briefly. Most of my riding falls in a 25 to 35 KPH range. Of course, there are times I’ve held 50 to 60 KPH for a while with tailwinds but those times are pretty rare.

  27. Yea, I can go a bit faster than the standards too, but holding more than 40 KPH for any length of time only happens for me on downhills. Still, I’d say that the CROW standards should be upped by at least 10 KPH for American applications. In The NLs, a traffic engineer designing a bikeway has likely biked their entire life on the infrastructure and has a good idea of what the experience is. They have a reasonably good idea of when it might be prudent to design for speeds that are a little faster even if not necessary because they have experience with similar situations.

    That is likely not the case here. A traffic engineer who literally hasn’t ever ridden a bike might very well be the one designing the bikeway. They’ll crack open the book, see the minimum standards, assume they’re plenty (or even overgenerous), and call it a day. I’m afraid that when that happens, we’ll get more garbage like “shared use” paths that meet the minimums but really are useless for meaningful transportation. But if the standards get a bump of usefulness, the minimums will be truly tolerable.

    This is also where I find those who campaign solely for sharrows and education or nothing at all to be incredibly short-sighted. Approaching the design team that continues to hear “give us bikeways” and telling them not to isn’t a winning strategy, especially when outnumbered. But approaching the same team and saying let’s make sure that these bikeways are the best possible will actually produce facilities that do meet the needs of 95% of cyclists, even those of us traveling at a good clip.

  28. Nothing FHWA can do will make a legal difference for signal faces — traffic law is established by state legislatures.

    There’s a voluntary model traffic code, UVC, which hasn’t been updated in ages, but even getting bicycle signals added to UVC won’t make them legal, it just gives state legislators model text to adopt.

    This isn’t true just of signal faces, of course. Consider right-on-red. When the Federal government wanted to legalize right-on-red nation-wide, it had to do so with a carrot-and-stick approach to get state legislatures to adopt the language Washington wanted.

    The biggest legal ramifications won’t be tickets, of course, but liability for accidents. Enter an intersection on a green bicycle signal while the traffic light is red, get hit by a car entering against a red light, and you’re *both* at fault for entering the intersection against red lights, because the green bicycle signal does not legally give you permission to enter the intersection.

    Even after legislatures adopt new traffic laws, you still have the problem of educating the installed base of licensed drivers, too. We have nothing similar to Dutch licensing requirements, and the political pushback to requiring significant driver training would be enormous.

  29. So again, like I said, the legal situation is being worked on. Given the forces that are lining up to support biking beyond bike advocates as well as the deployment of autonomous vehicles, I can guarantee that some major changes in the signaling will need to be hammered out very quickly to keep up with demand. As for education, that’s the flimsiest excuse of all. New traffic laws and devices come into being all the time. A few might get airtime and publicity, but the vast majority of them pass by unnoticed and no great effort is undertaken to reeducate all the drivers. I highly doubt that the vast majority of motorists will be so confused to see a traffic signal that is shaped like a bicycle, possibly with baffles that greatly limit their ability to even see it at all and/or a sign indicating that it’s a bike signal, that they think it is directed at them in their car.

  30. Awesome comment! I love the Dutch, they always seem to be ahead of the curve in many areas. The bike lanes are just another example of this. I was in Holland with my family last year riding a bike tour (with this operator) and it was amazing to experience the Dutch biking experience! You can actually enjoy biking a lot more knowing you aren’t in immediate danger from surrounding cars.

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