Thinking Outside the Box: Separated Bicycle Lanes


(Ed Note: Most information on non-standard design treatments comes from the Technical Design Handbook in the 2010 LA Bike Plan. Though we are happy to present it in bite-sized pieces, we highly recommend you download it yourself and have a good read. These particular treatments can be found on pages 105 and 106. You can download the Technical Design Handbook here.)

Separated Bicycle Lanes (Cycle Tracks)

In this new series, “Thinking Outside the Box” we will review non-standard design treatments, offering readers an informed take on various bicycle infrastructure features. The inaugural post covers separated bicycle lanes, alternatively known as cycle tracks, which are fairly common in Europe and I’ve had personal experience with them during my time in Copenhagen. Often these lanes feature a physical barrier between automobiles and bicyclists, simulating a separated bikeway. Perceived safety undoubtedly increases with the presence of physical barriers, which is instrumental in getting less experienced bicyclists to bike. While separated bicycle lanes have benefits over striping, they also have much higher financial and political costs which can be difficult to overcome without extensive community outreach. They often require the removal of either a vehicle travel lane or parking and have longer installation times. This isn’t to say implementation is impossible; the City of Long Beach and New York City both have pilot projects in place. If there are any other examples that you think deserve mentioning, leave a comment!

Raised Bike Lanes

Raised Bike Lanes found in the Technical Design Handbook

Raised bike lanes feature a sloped curb which separates bicyclists from car traffic, providing more physical separation than striping. Both drivers and bicyclists are given a physical reminder to where the bike lane is located, and the sloped curb allows bicyclists to leave the lane easily to avoid obstructions like buses. Additionally, this treatment can be enhanced with (green) colored pavement to further highlight separation. The downside to this infrastructure is that it has much higher costs associated with it, and requires partial street closures in order to construct. They also require the removal of either vehicle travel lane or parking. Because of this, cycle tracks may have much higher political costs due to construction impacts on local businesses and homeowners, who wish to minimize their inconvenience.

The Danish Example

The real challenge with this design treatment lies in education, removing parking is often an uphill battle. Business owners afraid of decreased customers from the removed parking could perhaps be swayed with the increased street traffic that cycling infrastructure brings. Homeowners and those living in apartment complexes would be extremely hard sells, as parking is often difficult in densely populated areas. While this may make the outlook for raised bike lanes bleak, it’s not like Copenhagen or Amsterdam didn’t meet these problems when installing their infrastructures in the 70s. Check out the image above from Vesterbro in Copenhagen for some inspiration!

Protected Bike Lanes or Cycle Tracks

Protected Bike Lanes

Protected bike lanes are an infrastructural step above raised bike lanes, and as a result heighten many of their financial and political costs. But the increased cost has a payoff in safety, these facilities simulate the experience of a separated path with on-street infrastructure. These tracks can be either one way, two way, or on one or both sides of a street, and are separated from both cars and pedestrians by markings, curbs, medians, and on-street parking. Treatments will often require their own signals, which increases cost but also increases safety. My experience with protected cycle tracks in Copenhagen was very positive, curbed lanes were often blocked by buses dropping off passengers which would cause a pile up. While the “door zone” problem is an issue when parked cars are used as a barrier, having what functioned as a metal fence was extremely reassuring.

Appropriate Useage

The primary difference between these two lanes is varying levels of physical protection, a curb accomplishes more than striping, and a barrier accomplishes more than a curb. Raised bikeways are often utilized in areas with lower speeds which have increased access points like driveways or bus stops. You can’t have physical barriers in places where auto access is needed, at a parking lot for example. Cycle tracks are better suited to thoroughfares with higher traffic speeds, where there are fewer access points and the increased safety is needed. These streets are also wider, which gives planners more flexibility when every foot counts. For an example, the Dutch bike guru’s from the ThinkBike conference suggested a separated treatment on Spring Street!

It should be noted that none of these treatments are approved for use in the United States. At this time, pilot projects will need to be carried out and proven successful before they become standard design elements. For more information, refer to our Technical Design Handbook, these treatments can be found on pages 105-106.

I personally think that these lanes can be attributed to the high riderships in both Denmark and the Netherlands, and while the political and financial costs are high it is worth it in the end. Comment to let us know what you think of the proposed plan.

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