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AASHTO’s Draft Bikeway Guide Includes Protected Bike Lanes and More

Bike guide contractor Jennifer Toole speaks last month at the annual meeting of the AASHTO Subcommittee on Design.
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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities connect high-comfort biking networks.

As the most influential U.S. transportation engineering organization rewrites its bike guide, there seems to be general agreement that protected bike lanes should be included for the first time.

A review panel appointed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials will meet July 25 to start reviewing drafts of the new guide, including eight new chapters highlighted here in blue:

If the panel likes what they see and the relevant committees sign off, AASHTO members could vote on possible approval next year.

When AASHTO's design subcommittee held its annual meeting in Baltimore last month, members who focus on bicycling facilities said they often need the sort of engineering-level detail and guidance about physically separated bike lanes that AASHTO guides are known for providing.

"On some of those large suburban roads, slapping in a bike lane isn't necessarily an appropriate facility," said Ken Brubaker, a Colorado Department of Transportation engineer attending his first meeting of the Technical Committee on Non-Motorized Transportation. "There's kind of a misconception, I think, that all we need to do is put in a bike lane and we're good. That's not the case."

'There is a lot of desire from the public to have these designs'

Rosemead Boulevard, Temple City, California. Photo: Streetsblog L.A.

Rodger Gutierrez of the Oregon Department of Transportation was one of several state engineers at the AASHTO gathering who said public demand for protected bike lanes is growing outside major cities.

"The NACTO guides have a lot of pretty pictures of tall buildings and built-up areas, perhaps like the area where we are right now," he said, referring to guides by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. "But the reality is, state highway departments, we don't have a lot of roads like this. We have roads in rural areas. But there is a lot of desire from the public to have these designs."

"I try to go to the NACTO book and the publications that we have and I try to glean from those and come up with something," said Gabriela Contreras-Apodaca of the New Mexico Department of Transportation about her process for designing comfortable bike lanes on major streets and intersections. She said she often finds herself searching for more detailed guidance than is available from AASHTO or elsewhere.

"There's a lot of verbiage in the guidebooks but not a lot of direction," Contreras-Apodaca said.

'Growing realization' that street designs must get safer for biking

Speaking to AASHTO's full design subcommittee, the contractor hired to create the bike guide presented protected bike lanes as a safety issue.

Jennifer Toole of Toole Design Group cited a "growing realization that despite our really high rates of helmet use in this country, our bike fatality rate has remained stubbornly high compared to other countries that have been able to reduce bike crashes... I think this is all part of the mix of why there is so much interest in providing some separation between bikes and motor vehicles."

Toole shared results from a new survey of AASHTO members who regularly work on bicycling projects, conducted this spring. It found that out of a group with widely varying experience in the subject...

...separated bike lane guidance was the third-most-wanted element in AASHTO's next bike guide, after transitional and intersection treatments.

Next guide could arrive in 2018

Toole and others explained that the reason protected bike lane designs are absent from the current AASHTO guide, written largely in 2009, was in part just unlucky timing.

"It took a little while to actually get it published, and that was really on the cusp of a lot of new designs," Toole said. "The 2012 guide was really published amid a lot of change in how we design for bikes in this country."

In her slideshow, Toole cited various academic studies that have since found that protected bike lanes boost safety and ridership in the U.S., as they do in other countries.

But in part because AASHTO's current guide lacks guidance for protected bike lanes, the AASHTO survey found that fully half of respondents didn't use AASHTO's bike guide more than "a couple of times a year" at most...

...and were using a variety of other guides regularly.

Speaking to AASHTO's technical committee on nonmotorized transportation in June, chair Scott Woodrum of the Virginia Department of Transportation pointed out that AASHTO's $203 bike guide is one of the organization's best-selling publications.

"The bike guide is No. 3," he said. "It makes the second most money for AASHTO, from a generator standpoint."

After Toole's pitch to the full design committee on the importance of including protected bike lanes in the next guide, she asked if anyone had any questions or comments.

No one did.

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