Cambridge Becomes First U.S. City to Make Protected Bike Lanes Mandatory


The Boston-area city of Cambridge is poised to become one of the most-progressive safe-biking cities in the country, thanks to the passage of a bill requiring protected bike lanes on all city streets.

The “Cycling Safety Ordinance” requires city streets to be upgraded to include the safest bike paths whenever a roadway is reconstructed. Advocates hope it to secure a 20-mile network of protected bike lanes in five years for the city of 113,000.

The ordinance, which passed 7-0, with one voting present, will bind the city to provide protected bike infrastructure for streets that are included in its bike master plan except in “rare” circumstances, which city officials will be required to justify. The ordinance requires that vertical physical barriers be included.

“With the Cycling Safety Ordinance, the Council codifies a lasting commitment to the users of our roadways that Cambridge intends to have a modern, safe, and accessible network of separated bicycle lanes for all residents regardless of their age or ability,” Mayor Marc McGovern said in a statement.

The bike advocacy group Cambridge Bike Safety plans to lobby the city to adjust its construction schedule to increase the pace of change on streets included in the city’s bike plan. Unde the city’s normal construction schedule, sometimes streets go decades between full reconstruction.

“Increased bicycle use is most appropriate in our city, which is the fourth-densest city in the country,” said City Councilor Dennis Carlone in a statement. “This emerging way of travel promotes personal health, a cleaner environment, and even greater retail sales.”

Some observers say the ordinance will put the city on par with some European leaders on infrastructure and ridership.

Portland is the only city we are aware of that has a similar policy. In 2015, the city made protected bike lanes standard on all “major streets.” Progress has been slow, but the city’s plan calls for protected bike lanes on 450 miles of streets.

22 thoughts on Cambridge Becomes First U.S. City to Make Protected Bike Lanes Mandatory

  1. “The “Cycling Safety Ordinance” requires city streets to be upgraded to include the safest bike paths whenever a roadway is repaired or resurfaced.”

  2. ‘Mandatory’ in that they have to build them during resurfacing, drivers have to stay out of them, or people on bikes must use them where available?
    In the UK, mandatory bike lanes means drivers must not drive or park on them, though without physical protection that’s rarely the case and the lanes are often a parking free for all…

  3. I think it’s important to clarify that the Ordinance, as stated above, does NOT legally require “protected bike lanes on ALL city streets.” If only that were the case! Rather, the Ordinance is limited to roads “included in the Cambridge Bicycle Plan’s protected network and is reconstructed under the City’s Five-Year Sidewalk & Street Plan.” ( It also exempts streets where it may not be feasible to implement protected lanes. This means only a handful of streets are impacted, albeit significant ones that are key to the city’s bike lane connectivity.

    As a resident of Cambridge and bike enthusiast/commuter, I think this is a major win and moves us one step closer to the goal of having a 20-mile protected bike lane network. The fact that the City Council voted unanimously (7-0) in favor of the Ordinance clearly demonstrates the city’s support of its cycling community and commitment to Vision Zero. Better still, recent crash data reflects the city’s progress on achieving its goals: according to Cambridge police, crash numbers involving cyclists are dropping, with 189 in 2016, 159 in 2017 and 144 in 2018.

    Regarding the post above, the construction of the lanes are “mandatory” in that they have to build them during resurfacing AND drivers have to stay out of them (there’s language in the ordinance that specifies that the “bicycle lane shall be separated from motor vehicle traffic by a permanent vertical barrier that shall remain in place year-round,” which in theory, should prohibit motorized vehicle use.

  4. I hope Cambridge has better luck than Columbus, Ohio. Summit Street in Columbus got a mile of “protected” bike lanes. The car-bike crash count jumped from averaging 1.5 per year to 13 in one year. This was just what more knowledgeable bicyclists predicted.

    Why? Because “protected” bike lanes lose their protection right where the crashes usually happen, at intersections and driveways. Yet the casual cyclists using those lanes think there’s nothing to watch for.

    And just yesterday, this same blog pointed out that “protected” bike lanes are dangerous unless used with super-expensive “protected” intersections.

    Columbus didn’t do that. Has Cambridge budgeted for it?

  5. Have a look at the photos & videos from Fertig, these are obviously a more modern design with some protections at intersections too.

  6. The data from cities that have installed protected bike lanes shows conclusively that they are safer. Try googling “protected bike lanes safety” to find a good number of studies confirming this fact.

    That streetsblog article says that protected bike lanes are safer with protected intersections. This doesn’t change the fact that protected bike lanes are safer than conventional bike lanes even without the protected intersection.

  7. This is a good point and something that needs to be taken into consideration.

    Where I live (Vancouver BC) additional green lights have been installed at some intersections that are for bikes only and at those intersections signage indicates cars cannot turn on a red (cars have their own light), and in some places turns for cars are prohibited entirely. In some places “elephant feet” have been painted next to the pedestrian crosswalk, or the bike lane through the intersection is painted green (these are less effective when education about their meaning is lacking).

    There is still the danger that drivers will ignore those rules though, and I see that often. At a few intersections the city initially had a “no turning” sign but drivers ignored it. So they installed plastic pylons, but for safety they are flexible and people drive over those. So they extended the curb a few feet out from the corner and installed a no turn sign on top of that but even that isn’t enough sometimes. On one corner I pass by daily the pole for the no turn sign is often bent or broken (about every 2 weeks) because someone making an illegal turn has driving through it.

    No matter how much infrastructure you put in, and no matter how perfect it is there’s going to be a few people that don’t understand it, or choose to ignore it.

    Cars turning into driveways or trucks making deliveries are also a danger to watch out for and painted green paths or other markings like signs that say “yield to bikes” can only help so much. In these cases, forcing cars to cross a physical barrier to slow down (like a raised curb) can help too.

    The city has also redesigned a few major intersections that were previously a nightmare for both bikes and pedestrians, but only after a bunch of people had been hit (again, in those cases they initially had signs, then pylons, then curbs, and finally the whole intersection was redesigned). Through experimentation with different kinds of structures over the last 15 years they have made cycling in the city far safer overall, slowly. I guess it’s hard to know how people are going to deal with specific kinds of infrastructure until you get it in place in the real world.

    Though we still have things that don’t work well, and large gaps in the system, the percentage of trips made by bicycle in Vancouver is hovering around 10% now. That wouldn’t have happened without protected bike lanes. The main increase are people that wanted to ride but didn’t because of safety concerns.

    Remember that old joke about the guy that runs every red light. He stops when he gets to a green light, and when asked why he says he’s worried his brother might be driving on the cross street.

  8. Perhaps one explanation is that protected bike lanes dramatically increase the number of cyclists. Thus, it is possible for the number of crashes to increase while at the same time the number of crashes per kilometer traveled actually decreases.

  9. If you scroll up from your comment there is a 500 word article explaining how it is mandatory.

  10. Meanwhile, in Chicago we don’t even have full control of our street space, thanks to The Hubris of Former Mayor Richard M. Daley and his parking meter deal.

  11. Outstanding! This is a must. The two primary roles of government is to protect is currency and to protect its people. Bicyclist are people too! Hey New York State are you listening?

    Hey when a bike is stolen I don’t think it of theft. I think of it as Kidnapping and the FBI should get involved!

  12. I hope someone will be tracking the impact on VMT. That would be really interesting to track over time.

  13. Portland never had a protected bike lane policy. I was just a memo sent out by our former director of PBOT and never actually enforced or implemented. We have since build zero miles of protected infrastructure since the memo went out in 2015.

    Portland policy is a joke.

  14. I just did google that, and found zero studies in the first two pages of hits that support that. There was lots of advocacy for them, though. I suspect Frank is right, and it’s not about safety, it’s about people wanting more people to use bikes – whether or not they’re safer.

    The article has just that kind of advocacy, potentially without realizing it. Look at that survey. It’s not a survey of cyclists, or even likely cyclists. It’s a survey of residents. I bet the opposition to the protected bike lanes includes both anti-bike infrastructure people (who want more car space) and those of us who bike all the time, who think they’re less safe than better enforcement of existing bike lanes.

    Look at the quote from the person introducing the survey, “Cambridge is unquestionably better positioned to achieve Dutch-level cycling share than any city in the US.” – not “…Dutch-level bicyclist safety…”.

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  16. Very interesting, and excellent news for cycling communities! Living in a snowy area (Truckee, California) has made me more aware of the impact of snow removal on mountain communities for roadway and pathway commuting. I would be interested to know of the impact of snow on the community of Cambridge before and after protected bike lanes, as well as suggestions for implementing protected bike lanes in snowy communities.

  17. just more feel good socialist programs………not suprised it is in MASSACHUSETTES, bikke paths for health, but liberal laws on pot, taxes and regulations, free, free everything…………….more liberal policies. and its just copy cat. but then again what do you expect………..its the state of the kennedy clan………..if nixon would have been in the whitehouse………….castro would just have been a bad (short) memory.

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