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Jeff Miller answers: How important is it to advocate for protected bike lanes?
Q How important is it to advocate for protected bike lanes?
A Recently, I brought some visiting friends – both experienced cyclists – on a ride around downtown Washington, DC. After traveling along a four lane one-way street with no bike lane we steered towards Washington’s newest protected bike lane, the L Street cycle track. The difference between riding with car and truck traffic and pedaling in a protected lane was as stark as night and day. Riding along the 8-foot wide bikeway, shielded from auto traffic, we were able to let down our guard and comfortably carry on a conversation.
“Wow!” they both exclaimed. “This feels amazing!”
Protected bike lanes are some of the most important infrastructure improvements that advocates can push for. These new lanes are great ways for communities to provide a more convenient and lower stress option for people who are interested in bicycling but uncomfortable riding on busy streets.
Also known as green lanes or separated bikeways, protected bike lanes provide a barrier between bike and motorized traffic. Some lanes, like the L Street cycle track, use plastic posts; others use traffic islands, concrete barriers, curbing, planters, or even car parking.
A now-famous Portland study found that while a small percentage of citizens are confident riding in traffic, an estimated 60 percent of citizens were “interested but concerned” about safety while bicycling. Protected lanes can help folks overcome these concerns. Protected bike lanes can elevate cities to new levels of bike-friendliness. In global cities with the strongest cycling cultures – Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Bogotá – separated lanes are boilerplate construction features that make cycling accessible for citizens from age eight to eighty.
With little space to expand or widen roadways, innovative leaders realize that better bicycle infrastructure is one of the best ways to move people, especially in urban areas. Protected bike lanes make economic sense, too. A study by the New York City Department of Transportation found that new protected bike lanes on 8th and 9th Avenues in Manhattan corresponded with a 49 percent increase in retail sales at local businesses, compared to a 3 percent increase throughout the borough.
Jeffrey Miller is the president/ CEO of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, a coalition of nearly 200 state, provincial and local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations across North America.
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