Americans Applaud as Cities Build Protected Car Lanes

A proposed protected car lane on Board Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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.

Driving is a dangerous activity. As a result, many Americans find it stressful and unpleasant.

“I’m interested in driving but it doesn’t really seem safe,” said Bekka Wright of Boston. “I mean, a 3,000-plus-pound machine in the middle of a densely populated area? There should really be a buffered or protected lane for that. It’s a nice abstract concept, but the infrastructure isn’t there yet.”

Wright is not alone.

Though there will probably always be avid car users committed to driving even under the worst rush-hour conditions, no amount of infrastructure is likely to make cars useful in every situation. However, an exciting new development in U.S. street design promises to allay the concerns of those who, like Wright, shy away from it.

Known as protected car lanes, these increasingly popular street designs use curbs, posts or planters to clearly separate bike and car traffic on major streets, significantly reducing the risks of driving.

Protected car lanes will open soon on N Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.

A growing body of research suggests that people driving feel safer and more comfortable while driving on streets with protected car lanes.

“I’m a good driver,” said Jessica Roberts, a consultant and mother in Portland, Ore. “But too many other drivers – well, let’s just say they don’t seem up to the task. They’re on their phones, or spacing out, or bewildered by the presence of pedestrians or cyclists. It seems like the youngest and oldest drivers are particularly challenged by today’s busy modern streets. That’s why I fully support the new protected car lanes concept. They work for 16-to-80, and they’re the perfect solution for less-confident car drivers.”

Protected car lanes aren’t appropriate on streets of every size, noted Gabe Klein, a former city transportation director in Chicago who oversaw the installation of many protected car lanes there in 2012 and 2013. On smaller local streets, he said, driving is safest when cars share space with people moving by other modes.

But he said protected car lanes are important on higher-traffic or higher-speed streets.

Washington, D.C., was a national pioneer in protected car lanes.

“Everyone deserves to travel safely,” Klein said. “On a major or minor arterial where people are doing 35, 45, 55 and sometimes speeding, that’s where you really need separation. That’s where it really became our priority.”

Another bonus, by the way: protected car lanes aren’t just good for people driving. There’s some evidence that people also prefer them while biking.

See also Ian Lockwood‘s cartoon about this subject. Thanks to Wright, Roberts and Klein for playing along.

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

11 thoughts on Americans Applaud as Cities Build Protected Car Lanes

  1. thank you

    same story with ‘opening’ Streets to people creating pedestrian zine rather than ‘closing’ street

  2. There’s even good evidence that while a small percentage of people manage by walking vehicularly:

    http://imgick.oregonlive.com/home/olive-media/width620/img/opinion_impact/photo/13964188-mmmain.jpg

    …or by using conventional shoulder lanes (whose only protection is with paint):

    http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/journalnow.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/c/40/c40a1131-b1d9-5c8b-8b30-45ac6d9a7bec/50c122a66b9da.image.jpg?resize=300%2C184

    http://www.acbroadwaydistrict.org/img/managed/Image/89/file.jpg

    …when given the choice the majority of people going by foot overwhelmingly prefer protected walking lanes–often physically separated and raised for full effect. Look at the exciting transformation seen on this street in Ohio which got a new raised, separated, protected walking lane:

    http://www.achdidaho.org/Images/sidewalks.jpg

    While a very few vehicular pedestrians decry this is as “segregation” from the “real” road, the benefits to the majority of residents are clear–the data show protected walking lanes greatly encourage safe, low-stress walking in ways never seen on these kinds of public spaces:

    http://cdn.citylab.com/media/img/citylab/2014/05/SmartGrowthAmerica/lead_large.png

    It’s an exciting time to see our cities innovating with these new ideas!

  3. Sheesh, look at all those ‘edge-walkers’. Someone should let them know that they should take the lane to be properly visible to car drivers – particularly at intersections.

  4. The title to this article:
    “Americans Applaud as Cities Build Protected Car Lanes”
    is a joke right? Not “car lanes”, “bike lanes”.

  5. Vehicular walking (now being renamed “shoe driving”) is only for competent and obedient pedestrians. We shouldn’t be forced into mandatory pedestrian sidepaths with the incompetent and unlawful!

  6. At the very least there should be shoe-driver sharrows (shoerrows?) on those great-for-shoe-driving 45mph+ arterials that are unfortunate enough to have dangerous pedestrian sidepaths.

    Just to remind everyone that real vehicular pedestrianists control the lane with cars and don’t deign to share space with the incompetent plebes on the pedestrian sidepaths.

  7. I’ve actually done that on rural roads. If there’s no sidewalk (and yes, there should be sidewalks everywhere), the safest place to walk is generally right down the middle of the left lane — greatest visibility to any oncoming car drivers.

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