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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Bike lanes 2.0: now or soon in a city near you

Kaid Benfield

Posted June 4, 2012

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  15th & P Sts, NW, Washington DC (by: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography, creative commons license)

Cities in the US, including Washington, DC where I live, are making significant investments in bicycling infrastructure.  Two categories that have appeared just in the last decade, for example, are bicycle sharing and urban bike stations where cyclists can store bikes and get repairs.  Bike lanes, or painted stripes marking bicycle travel space on roadways, have been around longer, but some of the new ones are much more sophisticated than what we had ten or twenty years ago.

In particular, one new generation of bike lanes is called “cycle tracks,” comprising bike lanes that are on the roadway but physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.  We have one on 15th Street NW in DC right in front of my office (see photos, taken a few blocks north).  It is immensely popular as a bike commuting route.  Advanced cycle tracks even have their own traffic signals.  The DC-based advocacy blog WashCycle says that cycle tracks “increase ridership by 18-20 percent compared to 5-7 percent for [conventional, non-separated] bike lanes.”

15th & P Sts, NW, Washington, DC (by: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography, creative commons license)I used the cycle tracks on Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street two weeks ago on my rain-soaked trek home from Climate Ride and was glad to have them.  If I were a bike commuter, I would use them frequently.

There is a legitimate debate among cyclists about the efficacy of separated bike lanes compared to full recognition and respect of bicycles as vehicles entitled to use the same roadways as motor vehicles.  I’ll confess to a bit of personal ambivalence about it all, especially outside of dense downtown areas.  What we tend to call “bike trails,” for example, are actually multiple-use trails where an experienced cyclist must share space with pedestrians, dog walkers, baby strollers with nannies on cell phones, small children on their first, zigzag bike rides, and the like.  I generally find cars more predictable and roadways safer for the pace I like to ride.  Especially when cars are likely to be turning, I’d rather be in the main roadway where I am more visible. 

For an interesting back-and-forth on this set of issues, see the comments on this blog post.  I think both sides have a point.  For myself, many of my complaints about bike facilities are reduced significantly when it is clear that they are bike-only spaces and used mainly by adults.  I think cycle tracks and lanes may be more useful than not in heavily congested areas with good traffic signals.

There’s a terrific summary of DC’s experience with new bike facilities here, and this short video from Portland makes a great case for the new generation of bike tracks and lanes:


For a more serious sort of cycle track, perhaps the world's most famous, see this photo of Fabian Cancellara.

Related posts:

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Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.  Please also visit NRDC’s Sustainable Communities Video Channel.

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LJ LEblancJun 5 2012 06:48 AM

Cyclist need to be run over and DIE. Sorry yes that's a joke. Just haven't seen any of the typical anti cyclist posts yet so I thought I'd beat them to it.

Cycle tracks are great but basically they ignore the real problem. The real problem is onstreet parking. Instead of trying to legitimize onstreet parking as a safety barrier for cyclist (which we know in the end won't work as cars just end up using it as a parking spot, instead try moving the parking to the center of the street with appropriate no park areas for driveway entry and intersections.

Jason TerryJun 5 2012 11:54 AM

On street parking needs to DIE.

Seriously though. Major commercial thoroughfares are no place for on street parking. Such a waste of space, and it causes congestion. Let's build a nice wide boulevard - so that cars can just SIT THERE doing absolutely nothing. Relegate the on street parking to side streets, and create infrastructure that you know, actually entices people to leave the car at home for short trips.

Anders JensenJun 6 2012 11:47 AM

It is very interesting to hear about the developing bike infrastructure around the world.

Growing up in Denmark, the bike has always been the main means of transportation for me. Especially after moving to Copenhagen, I have obtained great experience with many different types of bike lanes/tracks.

I agree, that it is better to share space with cars than pedestrians. Such spaces are highly inconvenient for both pedestrians and cyclists and should never be considered, unless it is only for leisure purposes.

I also agree with the point that it sometimes feels more safe to be on the road than hidden behind parked cars. We have many such tracks in Copenhagen and it is necessary to lower the speed to make sure that you are able to break if a car should cross the track without looking out for bikes. However, in city centres with high traffic levels lowering the speed applies to all traffic modes. In general, dedicated bike tracks are working really well and should be the preferred solution in all cities.

Another comment is on the pictures shown of double laned bike tracks. Personally I fear them and try to avoid routes where these are located. The problem is not if they are located by themselves as one prioritised bikeROAD (see an interesting suggestion from sweden, moreover I think it is very dangerrous when they are located next to a CAR road so that cyclists in one direction must ride on the left side of the road. This solution is highly unrecommendable since the cyclists must cross the road several times (where the track starts and ends) and it it gives danggerous situations in intersections where car drivers usually forget to look for bikes from both directions.

I noticed that in New York they built bike lanes in the left side of one direction roads to avoid disturbing bus passengers getting on and off the bus. This, indeed, can be an issue, but I still think that locating the bike lanes in the left side of a road is a much larger problem.

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