Protected Bike Lanes: Where, Why, and What Are They?
Photo: Paul Krueger
Separated bike lanes increase cyclist comfort and safety levels on all types of streets, but they are most effective and appropriate on roads with high traffic volumes and speeds. Denmark, a country known for its cycling infrastructure and high ridership, recommends separating bicycle and car traffic on streets with speeds above 40 km/h and on streets with high traffic volumes. Separation is best suited to streets with signalized intersections and longer blocks, and on streets where road width is adequate to introduce bike lanes.
Put simply, a protected bike lane makes cycling on busy streets easier. They can increase the safety of cyclists, (and pedestrians, too) but just as important, they reduce the perception of danger. The perception of danger is one of the greatest barriers to more widespread ridership. As John Pucher of Rutgers University argues, "separate paths and lanes are especially important for those unable or unwilling to do battle with cars for space on streets." Removing that barrier is key to making cycling an easier, more accessible mode of transportation for everyone. More information on separated lanes, safety and ridership.
There are many ways of building protected bike lanes, and the options can be adapted to different road conditions, budgets and community needs.
Buffered Bike Lanes and Floating Parking
Buffered bike lane with floating parking in New York. Photo: Kyle Gradinger
A buffer increases the separation between a bike lane and travel lanes. This design element, in combination with other features, is recommended by the Portland 2030 bicycle plan for streets. This type of separation was used in the highly successful Prospect Park West bike lanes in Brooklyn, NY.
In addition to creating a painted on-street buffer area, using a parking lane as a barrier is an inexpensive way of providing protection for cyclists by making use of existing pavement and drainage.
"Soft-hit" bollards in San Francisco. Photo: Steven Vance
Bollards, or posts can be installed along a separated bike lane to make the separation clear to cyclists and drivers, and increase cyclists’ sense of security in a bike lane. Bollards can range from "soft hit" type flexible posts to more rigid posts like those found in Montréal.
Separated two-way bike lane in Montréal. Photo: Joel Mann
Extruded curbs are inexpensive and can be built with gaps so that they do not cause road drainage problems. Cyclists may feel safer than in mixed traffic, but the curbs must be visible: for example, they can start as a larger island, and narrow to a curb with markings. Planters can be placed to make the separation more visible for cyclists and drivers.
Curb separated lanes should be made prominent and visible so that they do not create a stumbling obstacle for pedestrians.
Planters along the Dunsmuir separated lane in Vancouver make it more visible. Photo: Paul Krueger
Raised bike lane in Portland, OR. Photo: Greg Raisman
Raised bike lanes are vertically separated from automotive traffic- they can be at the same level as sidewalks, or at a level between the pedestrian area and automobile travel lanes. At intersections, they can be lowered to merge with the street (like pedestrian crossings). Raised lanes are the preferred cycle pathway in Germany (Pucher) and common in many European cities. A raised cycle track is more expensive than some other options, but it prevents drivers from parking on bike lanes, and improves accesibility for those with mobility challenges.