Protected Intersections in the U.S.: From Zero to 12 in Two Years

Berkeley's first protected intersection opened the week before Christmas. Video still: Bike East Bay
Berkeley's first protected intersection opened the week before Christmas. Video still: Bike East Bay

The country’s newest major bike-lane innovation is very young. But so far, it’s spreading faster than the protected bike lane did.

Protected intersections — a clever way to rearrange traffic so that people on bikes and cars no longer have to look over their shoulders for each other — have existed for decades in other countries. But after they were visualized for the U.S. context in 2011 by the Dutch blogger Mark Wagenbuur and given a name in 2014 by the U.S. planner Nick Falbo, the design burst into the spotlight. Last year, four opened to regular traffic: two in Austin, one in Salt Lake City, and one in Davis, California.

This year, the country added eight more. They arrived in Atlanta, Berkeley, Chicago, San Francisco, and College Station, Texas.

Because we love charts, here’s what that looks like on a chart:

And here’s another chart: the number of protected bike lanes in the United States over the same period.

The vertical scales are different, of course, and two years isn’t much of a trend yet. But since 2009, protected bike lanes have followed an almost eerily predictable pattern: their number doubles every 26 months. That trend continued in 2016, with at least 387 on the ground as of December, 96 of them new this year.

So far, the country’s count of protected intersections is doubling every eight months.

The protected intersection at Ninth and Division in San Francisco also opened last week. Photo: SF Bike.

It’s entirely possible that the spread of protected bike lanes has primed the national network of bikeway design professionals, making it easier for good ideas to spread quickly. And there’s widespread agreement among street designers that intersections are the weakest points in current U.S. bikeway design. While protected intersections aren’t the only option for making them better, they’re a very useful one.

Because a protected intersection can improve any bike lane (not just a protected one) they may actually be easier to install quickly. Consider that the country’s most influential transportation engineering organization may vote in 2017 to approve a new bikeway design guide that includes protected intersections, and the future of crossing the street starts to look downright exciting.

pfb_logoMichael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow it on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

16 thoughts on Protected Intersections in the U.S.: From Zero to 12 in Two Years

  1. 12 protected intersections in two years? Hardly something to brag about. How many cyclists were struck in UNPROTECTED intersections in those two years? Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back, city planners.

  2. What a silly rhetorical question, especially considering that it was you who wrote the article. You might as well ask how many people died in airplane crashes before the Wright Bros were at Kitty Hawk? The fact that it took so many years to install even one, even though they have been in The Netherlands for some time, is in itself remarkable. And then taking two years to get around to installing twelve in the whole country demonstrates the indifference to cyclists of traffic (read; car) engineers. Are you suggesting that this has been speedy, or even timely?

  3. I’m suggesting that slow progress is infinitely better than zero progress. Literally. But it sounds as if you would describe things differently, which is fine. Happy new year!

  4. I am not disagreeing that half a loaf is better than no loaf. but it sounds as though you are saying whoopie!, when I am just not feeling it. Instead of congratulating them on their snail’s pace, we should be criticizing it, we should be holding their feet to the fire. We deserve better than we are getting from their car-centric-mindedness. I hope you will agree.

  5. Of course we deserve more. From my perspective, we spent 40 years ignoring better practices in intersection design; then in 2013, Falbo came up with the “protected intersection” name and typology. Almost immediately, a few cities started building them; four were installed in 2015. Ho hum.

    What got my attention and excitement was that in 2016 we built eight! That suggests that a lot of cities are paying attention and that these are going to spread rapidly. Not rapidly enough, but like very likely hundreds being built each year within a few years.

  6. I hope so too. Thousands would be even better. Also protected bike lanes, traffic calming measures, serious speed enforcement. All this we needed yesterday. Or the days, years, before. But I am worried that we first got 4, then eight, and that we will only get 12, or even 16 next year. I will believe hundreds when I see hundreds: I think I have good reason to be cynical.

  7. Cities are slow moving, but as these get into guides and standards (something we’re good at in the US), they’ll grow quickly. People do not like “mixing zones” and they aren’t best practice anywhere, so I think this is an idea whose time has come.

  8. As a longtime cyclist (my only form of transportation) I sincerely hope you are right! But here in my city, San Francisco, I remember the nightmarish ride that was the old Valencia St, a major corridor for just about any trip I took; then, when they reconfigured Valencia for bike lanes, it became wonderful, then became terrible again as the neighborhood was gentrified and the new residents and visitors to new local bars, restaurants, and boutiques, decided the bike lanes were for double-parking and cyclists had no business being on their roads, and the city does absolutely NOTHING to protect us, considers us counterculture menaces (try getting the police dept. to respond to a non-injury accident when a cyclist is knocked off his bike).

    Our car- and big-money- toady mayor has been worse than useless, vetoing an ‘Idaho Stop’ bill put forward by our (much better – some of whom actually bicycle) Board of Supervisors, and doing nothing to get the SFMTA to implement the Vision Zero plan (myth).

    Only lately, due to a couple high-profile cyclist’s murders, has he shown up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for speed humps, and acted like he has been always sorta in favor of cyclist’s rights to safety. But we still have almost NO protected bike lanes, just some paint and soft-hit posts – as if that was enough.

    So as I said before – I will believe it when I see it.

  9. Nice round-up Michael — this is an encouraging trend. For the record, while it’s commendable that the Chicago Department of Transportation is trying new intersection designs, Streetsblog Chicago refers to the four facilities mentioned in the spreadsheet as “Dutch-inspired intersection treatments” rather than “protected intersections.” The geometry of those treatments doesn’t really fit the definition of a protected intersection, because they don’t make much of difference in terms of positioning drivers to better see cyclists before they drive across the bike lane. The treatments do have other benefits though, such as shortening crossing distances for pedestrians and giving them a safe place to wait for their signal without blocking the bike lane.

  10. Good points, John. PeopleForBikes may need to choose a more precise definition of “protected intersection” if these things really are going to take off and we’re going to attempt to document them too.

  11. You are correct about Valencia Street, the city has decided that Uber and Lyft is free to run amok, and in particular to use these bike lanes with impunity. The same is true on Market Street, except that those have “protected” bike lanes with green paint and flimsy plastic bollards that are run down by the same parties with impunity.

    However, your stance of holding city planners’ feet to the fire does not address the actual problem, which is the role of corporate influence by the likes of Uber over the mayor and some of the supervisors.

  12. Yes, Jym, you are right. And further to the people who voted for those corporate shills. When I said ‘city planners’ I had in mind the whole chain, from our godawful mayor down through the police-army who hate bicyclists and will not lift a finger to help us.

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