Cycling advocates have long complained that AASHTO’s Green Book is in need of updating. Despite the explosion of innovation that has taken place in the last five or so years in bike planning, AASHTO still refers people to the 2001 edition of its Green Book.
Nevertheless, a second wave of cycle track development began in 2011, after an organization called NACTO – the National Association of City Transportation Officials – released its “Bikeway Design Guide” for cities. NACTO’s design guide offered cities written advice, guidance, illustrations, and best practices for second- generation bike infrastructure – cycle tracks, bike boxes – all the treatments that have been part of the streetscape in many parts of Europe for decades, but were just beginning to be installed in cities around the United States. It was an alternative to the AASHTO guide that limited cities to their old tool kit.
“That was a really pivotal document,” said Roskowski. “Cities wanted to do this and were not finding what they needed in the national guidelines and design standards.”
Gabe Klein, Chicago’s transportation chief and the treasurer of NACTO, says it really opened the door for many more cities to begin their own protected bike lanes.
“Any time you put something down on paper, you’re able to get particularly the engineering profession to sign off on those guidelines,” Klein said. “Instead of everything being an experiment, they [NACTO] are saying these are tried and true treatments for an urban environment.”
More progressive cities have adopted the NACTO guide as their bikeway manual. But more conservative cities in many cases still defer to AASHTO and refuse to install protected bike lanes.
Advocates Find Success in Protected Bike Lane Campaigns
After a sustained campaign, however, advocates in San Diego were able to overcome this type of resistance from old-school traffic engineers. Their actions were motivated by the death of local cyclist Charles Gilbreth, who was killed on Montezuma Road last spring. Following the tragedy, Samantha Ollinger and other members of Bike San Diego began demanding the high-speed road undergo a road diet. Groups of as many as 100 people held “die-ins” at City Hall.
“We said, ‘Somebody died. This is outrageous,’ and we blamed the design of the road because it’s designed like a freeway,” said Ollinger.
Although the city’s mayor was supportive of progressive bike infrastructure, there was some resistance among City Hall employees. The city returned with plans to paint a small portion of the street green and add a few signs that said, “Yield to cyclists.”
But that wasn’t good enough for San Diego activists; they wanted Dutch-style separated cycling infrastructure that would protect cyclists from the fast- moving traffic that killed their friend. “We essentially told the city staff that their recommendations were very inadequate,” Ollinger said.
San Diego’s bike community found a sympathetic audience for their protected bikeway plans in a local community planning board. “There was overwhelming support,” she said. “They were like, ‘Why couldn’t we have that here in San Diego?’”
Cyclists in Denver prevailed in a similar case this spring. Local advocates had campaigned for three years for some kind of bike facility for 15th Street – a widely ridden but dangerous route to downtown. But when the city proposed bike lanes creating a buffer only with paint, the cycling community decided that wasn’t good enough.
More than 600 people signed a petition calling for plastic bollards to separate the bike lane from traffic. Grassroots groups like Denver B Change and BikeDenver hosted a Valentine’s Day event where they collected signatures on a Valentine to the mayor saying, “We Love Protected Bike Lanes.”
“Denver is falling behind when it comes to innovative bicycle facilities,” said John Hayden on the blog Denver Urbanism. “This is important for the economic health of the city as it tries to attract an educated, healthy, sustainability-minded workforce that increasingly demands a walkable, bikeable city.”
In March, city officials announced they would add plastic bollards to the design.
It’s always more difficult for bike advocates when their demands require changes in the physical infrastructure, says the League of American Bicyclists’ Andy Clarke. “Anytime you’re changing the way the street is laid out ... it raises all kinds of political and practical challenges with the people whose space you’re messing with,” said Clarke. “That has always been a challenge to overcome – that resistance to change.”
That is especially the case when it comes to parking. The city of Philadelphia removed part of a pilot bike lane through the city’s Chinatown neighborhood last year after pushback from business owners.