Pieces in Place for AASHTO to Endorse Protected Bike Lanes… by 2020

Part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, installed in 2011.

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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.

The bible of U.S. bikeway engineering, last revised just before the modern American protected bike lane explosion, will almost certainly include protected lanes in its next update.

That’s the implication of a project description released last month from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

AASHTO’s current bikeway guide doesn’t spell out standards for protected bike lanes. Its updated edition is on track to be released in 2018 at the soonest. A long wait? Yes, but that would still shave seven years off the previous 13-year update cycle.

“Back in 2009, we maybe had a few miles of separated bike lanes in this country,” said Jennifer Toole, founder of Toole Design Group and the lead contractor who wrote AASHTO’s current bike guide. “It was written right on the cusp of those new changes. Now we have all kinds of experience with this stuff. And data — we’ve got data for the first time.”

AASHTO’s richly detailed and researched guides are the main resource for most U.S. transportation engineers. Some civil engineers simply will not build anything that lacks AASHTO-approved design guidance.

However, dozens of cities in most U.S. states have now begun building protected lanes with the help of other publications.

number of pbls 570
Source: Green Lane Project inventory.

While drafting the current AASHTO guide in 2009, Toole’s team actually included a chapter including protected bike lanes, based on designs and data from The Netherlands and elsewhere. But AASHTO’s review committee agreed that there wasn’t enough data on how Americans in particular use such designs, so the chapter wasn’t included in AASHTO’s final publication.

Since then, other organizations have stepped in to fill the vacuum. In 2011, the National Association of City Transportation Officials released its first Urban Bikeway Design Guide, a less prescriptively detailed manual. In 2013, the Institute of Transportation Engineers followed with Separated Bikeways.

In 2014, both of those manuals got formal endorsements from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which in a memo listed them alongside AASHTO’s guide as sources of useful information.

California, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and many U.S. cities have since endorsed NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide. The Federal Highway Administration is also preparing to release on its own guide about protected bike lanes, similar to NACTO’s in level of detail.

In 2014, Massachusetts even hired Toole’s company to write a state-specific engineering manual about protected bike lanes. It’s due for release this spring.

Even with acceleration, a slow update cycle

Southwest Broadway in Portland, Oregon, installed in 2009.

Those developments seem to have accelerated AASHTO’s update cycle. The organization’s new project description observed:

Many state DOTs would like to see additional research on innovative bicycle treatments so that they can make informed decisions at the project level, including accommodation of different modes of traffic using the road. The Guide is referred to in the FHWA memorandum as the “primary national resource for planning, designing, and operating bicycle facilities” and so there is a need to keep it accurate and current.

Bill Rogers, who is managing the process of contracting out the bikeway guide for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, said Monday that a contractor will be chosen on April 2, and that work would begin in May and continue for 27 months.

After that, he said, AASHTO’s committees will need to approve and publish the guide.

“The state of the art is moving so fast in the field that it will be out of date the moment it is published,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, in an interview Tuesday. “That still raises the bar for 70 percent of the engineering work on our states and highways… Compared to what we were using in 1991, it’s miles ahead.”

Jamison Hutchins, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Indianapolis, said Monday that AASHTO’s action is “exciting.”

“NACTO has been out in front, raised the bar and has demonstrated that professionals in the bike and pedestrian world will use more innovative resources if they are available,” Hutchins wrote in an email. “Many of the proposed updates have been tested in cities around the country and have proven to be the best option. Having them validated in AASHTO adds another level of legitimacy and allows us to move even further.”

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35 thoughts on Pieces in Place for AASHTO to Endorse Protected Bike Lanes… by 2020

  1. 5 years??? By then, a good number of us and our kids will be roadkill.

    Among scientists, or people like engineers who say that they abide by scientific methods, there is an ethical obligation to do what is right as soon as possible. You see this when scientists halt experiments because the early results are so overwhelming one-sided.

    This is the case with protected bike lanes, which are hugely safer for cyclists and all users. Shouldn’t AASHTO issue an interim amendment to the existing Green Book saying that?

  2. So if they had a chapter on protected bikeways before, why can’t they just take it off the shelf, dust it off, and send it to vote in committee as a supplement to what was already released? They can still go through the whole development process and update them in 2018, but they’d at least be out in front of engineers now. There are thousands of projects that will be unable to include a protected bikeway over the next three years if engineers don’t have the option from AASHTO. That’s unacceptable, every year of waiting costs 300 preventable bicycle deaths.

  3. Traffic engineering took over the roads of the US and The Netherlands at the same time in history. A huge difference is that The Netherlands has high engineering standards for cycling design and traffic calming is emphasized in their car design standards. We’re 50 years behind and AASHTO plans to make it 55.

  4. This has nothing to do with the quantity of protected lanes that are able to be studied. There were huge networks of protected lanes available to be studied for decades. In fact, a lot of people had studied them.

    No, this is political. Vehicular Cyclists had the ear of AASTHO for a long long time, and they refused to even consider protected lanes, much less examine that evidence of how they function in places where there are a lot of them. With bicycling booming everywhere, VCs have lost most of their clout. It is harder and harder for AASHTO to ignore the mounting political pressure for more protected bike lanes and the sheer number of them coming online.

  5. “And data — we’ve got data for the first time.””

    No, there was plenty of data. But American Exceptionalism and all that.

  6. Yup! It’s also the data. Whether it’s from dense Manhattan:



    Or 2,800 miles away in Southern California:


    Similar results have long been available from various places around the world but presumably disregarded because…Not America (as if the laws of physics are different elsewhere or something).

    But now that various cities all over the US haven proven that, yep, the same principles (physical separation above certain thresholds increases bike modeshare *and* safety metrics across mode types, leading to a virtuous feedback loop of more users -> more safety -> more users, etc.) that worked elsewhere also work here, they simply can no longer negate it with head-in-sand denial.

    In fact, we’re reaching the point where if cities *don’t* implement these known best practices they’re opening themselves up to liability out of sheer negligence.

    The good news in all this is that it only takes a small number of smartly spaced *and connecting* protected treatments to have big effects (they also need to be holistically supplemented with best-practice shared-space treatments on the numerically more common shared-space streets).

    (darkest lines indicate a typical Dutch cycletrack network)

    The next step is fully building out these kinds of connecting low-stress networks, including smart intervals of cycletracks that connect at intersections designed to best-practice standards. We especially need to do better on intersections:


    Davis, looking at you….please proceed!



  7. What’s with the re-inventing the wheel? All we have to do is take the Dutch CROW bicycle traffic design manual off the shelf and USE IT. The government of The Netherlands has even translated it into English for our convenience.

  8. “But AASHTO’s review committee agreed that there wasn’t enough data on how Americans in particular use such designs…”

    Because our legs are longer? The laws of physics operate differently in the USA?

  9. No because our traffic laws, roadways designs and traffic norms are different than those in Europe. I’ve driven and cycled extensively in both the the US and Europe and while they are close, there are still significant differences.

  10. “But AASHTO’s review committee agreed that there wasn’t enough data on how Americans in particular use such designs, so the chapter wasn’t included in AASHTO’s final publication.”

    There is nothing as a bike/ped design professional that l have concerns about
    in the 2009 AASHTO Bikeway Guide precisely because AASHTO demands DATA! While I admire NACTO for trying to take the lead, many of there design
    solutions still leave me with doubts. At the same time people damn AASHTO for
    being too conservative. Still, I’d take a safe, traffic calmed street or quite roadway over the a protected bikeway any day. That is the design solution we should really be shooting for.

  11. There are some differences, no doubt, but *none* as big as the imagined differences inherent to American exceptionalism.

    After all, some of the key components to successful bike infrastructure are already enshrined in part in US traffic law(s).

    Let’s take, say, no-right-on-red for cars. That’s already 1) state law in some US states anyway 2) an understood practice for specific intersections even in states that don’t have the blanket law. Americans are not unfamiliar with this concept.


    As for the gaps, well, they can be…ungapped. 😀

    Take the demise of LOS in California:


    In addition to many other likely upcoming clarifications/changes, such as clarifications about legal obligations for cars around crossbikes:



  12. The other big one! The Netherlands’ lack of hills. Again even in the “Dutch Mountains” the only design solutions I’ve seen David Hembrow show looked awfully like the on-street design solutions that AASHTO would allow.

  13. Nah, the It’s Because They Don’t Have Hills thing is a copout. 😉 Look next door at Belgium. Especially neighboring Flanders is mostly flat, culturally similar to the Netherlands (in global terms), yet their bike modeshare is consistently much, much lower. Why? Belgian bike infrastructure is often not up to snuff:


    Flat and same weather as the NL but terrible doorzone bike lane in Belgium


    Still flat, but terrible cycletrack design in Belgium.

    I mean, c’mon, Belgium.


    As for topographical extremes, San Francisco is famous for its tall hills. But you know what? Compare this:


    And this:


    Notice a pattern? The densest areas are by and large the flattest! And the tallest hills are by and large the least dense anyway!

    Though by far San Francisco’s tallest hills are in the Twin Peaks/West of Twin Peaks/Diamond Heights areas, those are *its least dense residential neighborhoods*.

    Conversely, the densest Census tracts are in the Tenderloin, which is pretty flat. Followed closely in density by SoMa, The Mission and The Wiggle/Panhandle areas. Super flat, flat and mostly flat. I mean, have you seen the Wiggle lately?

    Or Market St?

    (Btw the above videos are *not* Bike To Work Day. Just average daily bike traffic.)

    Long story short, if you build it they will come. And to achieve 20% bike modeshare in SF you don’t need 20% bike modeshare in Twin Peaks. Doesn’t matter. Few live there anyway.

  14. You’re feisty today! But you don’t need a 20% grade to exceed the 40kph design speed of most stuff in CROW. The SFMTA has done a great job of using the best from AASHTO and NACTO where each works the best. While I haven’t been in San Fran in a while, I also don’t think they are installing protected bike lanes on their hillier streets, at least not downhill.

  15. I’m feisty whenever someone brings up lack of hills. Plus my dinner was taking long to make. More writing time 😉

    Anyway, areas with 20%+ grades are not a big priority for 20% citywide modeshare, regardless. My point was that even in a place like SF the hills argument is a copout because for every a person who lives on a street like this:


    (that block’s a 37%-er)

    There are dozens of thousands of people who live on streets like this:




    It’s not hills that explain the low bike modeshare there.

  16. These comments are amazing!!!! There is truly no reason we can’t have a high mode share through high-quality, Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure. We’re moving in that direction, but it’ll take some time.

  17. One hindrance…is the lack of standards for what exactly constitutes the high-quality, Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure because America is “different” and so can’t use the mounds of evidence that they already have on the treatments.

  18. Yes, but those are still designated for one-way use in the same direction as the traffic in the adjacent travel lane on the road, not bidirectional use. The Dutch still do what they can to avoid that as much as possible.

  19. Probably because bidirectional is a bad idea except where there has been ontvlechting to make the route car-free. Or if it is up against a river or other barrier that prevents cross motor vehicle traffic.

  20. Bidirectional cycletracks + driveways are often avoided but when they do exist they tend to be designed with strong visual cues indicating 1) there’s a cycletrack there and 2) who has priority. I remember coming across this example from Amersfoort:


  21. Yup! I think it’s important to show how the exceptionalist That’ll Never Work Here excuses know no bounds. Even in next-door Belgium you’ll find the We’re So Different That Won’t Work Here arguments…even when we’re talking about places that are just over the border from the Netherlands that have the same weather and topography and in global terms a very similar set of cultural norms.

    This very sensationalist Fox News-style concern-troll piece of Belgian journalism breathlessly warns about “TOO MANY BIKES IN THE NETHERLANDS.” The next all-caps sentence warns of BIKE RACKS FULL AND BIKE TRAFFIC JAMS that those poor, poor Dutch people are constantly having to put up with.

    Which is extra funny because they of all people can go next door and see how much better overall biking is in the Netherlands and how rarely these are actually problems.

    Also funny that with the supposed nightmare of biking in the NL why is everyone smiling? (check out 0:06).

  22. Yes, except for being bidirectional, this is quite similar to the video I posted above. The bike lane is also a service road for motor vehicle access to the houses

  23. We do have “standards for what exactly constitutes the high-quality, Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure.” Those would be the Dutch CROW bicycle traffic design standards.

  24. The vehicular crowd should lose their clout precisely because of data — flat-or-declining ride share all those years that “vehicular” was the answer, and failure to translate into safety gains for the larger cycling population.

  25. The car-service-street-as-bike-street is also a treatment common in the Netherlands but in this particular case it really is just a bidrectional cycletrack (I actually used to work nearby so I’m pretty familiar with the area). Attached below is another screenshot of that street’s bidirectional cycletrack where you can maybe see it a bit better. Each driveway has cutouts but it’s clear who has priority:

  26. Interesting! From the first photo I did not see that each driveway had its own cutout. I am quite used to seeing a service street that is a through route for bicycle traffic but local access only for car traffic.

    It looks like the railway prevents any intersections along this route. There is no cross motor vehicle traffic, so a bidirectional cycletrack makes sense.

  27. US is big enough not to have to adopt solutions without proper adaptations. Moreover, CROW designs would need such adaptations anyway due to differences on general traffic laws in US, such as red-light turns, the predominance of multilane streets in urban environments, the positioning of traffic lights, the 4-way stops, the abundance of driveway access etc.

    I’m not saying there protected bike lanes are bad, they are very good and necessary, but that doesn’t mean following a CROW design manual blindly, as US is not adopting traffic laws and signs from continental Europe.

  28. Sure, but let’s even just take the no-right-on-red example.

    Even though few places have it as a blanket traffic law, even in the most car-centric setups it’s still a known practice at some intersections. Drivers are familiar with this sign:


    So when something along these lines comes to pass:


    The NO RIGHT ON RED sign that should accompany it will not be a totally new thing.

  29. The railway is on the other side of the street. There are intersections, but only with minor streets serving the housing development, not with any major streets.

  30. Yeah I remember there’s actually plenty of room between the street and the railway–there’s even a gentle slope of a little hill separating the two, but no buildings on the hill side.

    So from the perspective of a bikeway maybe the planners in Amersfoort decided that there was *too much nothing* on the other side (if you live on that street, to go down the street on your bike everyone would have to cross the street from their house mid-block just to get to the cycletrack across the street then cross back anyway once they reached their destination).

    And, as you point out, intersections and driveways are frequent but these are low-car-traffic due to the single-family low-density nature of the neighborhood.

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