The Green Lane Project, which began in 2011, has deliberately helped catalyze another surge in protected bike lanes in cities around the US. The project evolved out of the advocacy organization Bikes Belong, which draws its support from the bike industry. Top cycling industry officials and advocates wanted to establish a program to help individual cities adopt this new bike infrastructure, so that those cities would serve as models for other places around the country.
“What we needed was more projects on the ground so that we could look at them and talk about them and study them,” said Roskowski. “We came up with this concept of [starting] with six cities ... an exclusive club.”
The Green Lane Project invited 32 cities to apply for the program, and they were overwhelmed with the response. More than 43 cities applied, including some that asked to apply even though they hadn’t been invited.
Ultimately, the organization settled on six cities it believed had the political support and technical expertise to move quickly to establish protected bike infrastructure: Austin, Portland, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington and Memphis. Those cities are receiving technical support from 2012 to 2014 to build their own “green lanes.” After that, the organization is planning to select six more, as well as forming a looser network of as many as 50 cities that could benefit from some guidance, Roskowski said. You can bet the competition will, once again, be fierce.
“It is no longer just reserved for the Portlands and the Boulders of the world,” Roskowski said. “Tulsa, and Omaha, and Tucson – a lot of these cities that would not come to mind as places that are really progressive are talking about these things.”
The separation of protected bike lanes is often achieved by a row of plastic bollards. As planners look for more permanent options, more formidable obstacles like landscaping planters or curbs are being used. About half of protected bike lanes, elegantly enough, simply take advantage of row of parked cars between moving traffic and cyclists to establish a buffer – as in Park Slope.
But as flimsy – or robust – as that separation can be, those barriers have a powerful psychological impact on transportation decisions. Cities like New York, Chicago, and Austin have found that protected bike lanes help address a key barrier for Americans: most of them just don’t feel safe riding in heavy traffic.
Benefits of Protected Bike Lanes are Ever Increasing
On a quieter neighborhood street, a protected bike lane might not be necessary, said Gabe Klein, Chicago’s chief transportation official and a prolific builder of protected bikeways. But on major corridors with lots of traffic, they are a game-changer.
“The protected bike lane can make a huge difference, in particular for the average person who maybe doesn’t ride every day,” Klein said. “It will make them feel like ‘I can get on a bike too,’ or ‘I wouldn’t mind if my child rode a bike to school.’”
Washington, DC, saw a 200 percent increase in cycling along Pennsylvania Avenue after it installed a center- running protected bike lane there in 2010, according to a study by District Department of Transportation DC. Chicago’s Kinzie Street protected bike lane boosted cycling along the corridor 55 percent after its installation last year.