The Rise of The North American Protected Bike Lane

Protected bike lanes, “green lanes,” or cycle tracks, as they are sometimes called, are upsetting the transportation status quo in cities across North America.

One-Way Protected Cycle Track NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Courtesy of NACTO.

One-Way Protected Cycle Track NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide. Courtesy of NACTO.

There was a time when a narrow stripe of asphalt in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was the most hotly contested ribbon of pavement in the United States. Reams of news coverage were devoted to the battle for this solitary disputed traffic lane: the Prospect Park West bike lane.

Fighting for its removal was a wealthy and influential group of nearby property owners, headed by Iris Weinshall, the wife of US Senator Chuck Schumer. Meanwhile, on the defense was the full collective strength of America’s largest urban bike advocacy community, headed by Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group with 100,000 active supporters across the city.

The Prospect Park West bike lane was a small part of about 250 miles (400 kilometers) of bikeways that New York City had added over roughly five years, between 2007 and 2012. But most importantly, this space was part of a special class of premium bike infrastructure: a protected bike lane, separated from car traffic by a row of parked cars. That added protection, coupled with beautiful views of the park, transformed what used to be just another traffic-clogged road into one of the most attractive streets to pedal in the city.

The dispute eventually culminated in a lawsuit for the bike lane’s removal. In the end, however, New York City’s bike community prevailed over the “not-in-my-backyard” crowd. Today, the Prospect Park West bike lane stands as a crown jewel in the growing network of bike infrastructure that has helped establish New York as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States.

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In retrospect, it seems clear that the anti-bike lane coalition – dismissed as irrational and parochial by cycling advocates – knew how quietly revolutionary that little green stripe of pavement would be. According to the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT), the bike lane has reduced speeding rates from 74 percent to 20 percent. Meanwhile, since the lane’s installation, crashes and injuries of all kinds have dropped by 63 percent. Travel times for motorists did not increase and neither did congestion (source). Meanwhile, a NYC DOT survey showed more than 70 percent of neighborhood residents supported the improvement.

It’s also clear, looking back, that the cycling advocates in New York City understood they were fighting for something much larger than a bike lane. They knew that New York City was pursuing a big idea, something that, if all went as planned, could inspire cities throughout North America.

Protected bike lanes, “green lanes,” or cycle tracks, as they are sometimes called, like the Prospect Park West bike lane are upsetting the transportation status quo in more and more cities across North America. Similar treatments have transformed Dearborn Street in Chicago, IL; Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC; and Market Street in San Francisco, CA.

In fact, it’s getting to the point where if your city doesn’t have a protected bike lane yet, it’s being left behind. Last year alone, the number of protected bike lanes in the United States nearly doubled from 62 to 102. This year, the number is expected to double again. Protected bike lanes are now in place in 32 cities across the United States, according to Martha Roskowski, director of the Green Lane Project, a nonprofit project of bike advocacy group Bikes Belong. The organization is working with six US cities to install protected bike infrastructure.

Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver, BC. Photo by Paul Krueger.

Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver, BC. Photo by Paul Krueger.

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

011 kinzie bikes 071311

Kinzie St. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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.

Those increases are all the more remarkable given the historical context. For decades, in the United States, the cycling rate has held stubbornly around 1 percent – despite the fact that almost 50 percent of trips Americans make by any mode are three miles or less.“The number one reason people don’t ride is that they don’t feel safe,” said Roskowski. “When we put in the protected lanes, people feel safe.”

An important study by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBT) looked at the public’s attitude toward cycling. Researchers found there are four types of cyclists. The first type – “strong and fearless” – is the daredevil who is comfortable riding with motorized traffic on the busiest roads, no special protection needed. This hardy group, however, represents only about 1 percent of the total population of potential cyclists, the study found.

Meanwhile, about 7 percent of the total population, researchers found, are “enthused and confident.” These are the folks who have been attracted to cycling in Portland by the improvements the city has made. The study found that an additional 60 percent of the population is “interested and concerned,” – so, potentially winnable – followed by a unmovable 33 percent, classified by PBT as “no way no how.”

“The system we have built today has gotten us a 1 percent bike mode share,” said Roskowski. “We think we can do better.”

Increasing the number of cyclists on the roads has been an important motivating factor for cities like New York, Portland, and Chicago. Boosting cycling rates reduces traffic, improves air quality, and public health, while also extending the life of traffic infrastructure.

Additionally, increasing the number of cyclists can, in itself, help reinforce the well-being of the cycling community. Numerous studies have documented the “safety in numbers effect,” wherein increases in overall cycling rates across cities produces a decline in overall injury rates. Between 1993 and 2011, for example, the cycling rate of Minneapolis, MN, almost tripled, but collisions held steady.

But another critical selling point for the political officials championing protected bike lanes is economic. Studies have shown that high-quality bike infrastructure can boost local commerce along the cycling routes, often dramatically. For example, after a protected bike lane was installed on New York City’s Ninth Avenue, NYC DOT recorded a 49 percent increase in retail sales along the corridor. Meanwhile, a Portland study found bike commuters spend 40 percent more at local businesses than their car-driving counterparts.

Even more compelling is the perceived effect on talent attraction and retention. There’s plenty of evidence that highly educated, young workers – who urban economics guru Richard Florida would call the “creative class” – are simply demanding better bicycle infrastructure. Early last year, Transportation Nation announced, “for the tech sector, bikes are the new cars.” The article featured interviews with leading tech companies like Foursquare, which have made locations along important bike corridors a key part of their employee attraction and retention strategy.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been particularly explicit about his intentions to use bike infrastructure to help attract new tech talent and investment. When Emanuel was campaigning for the mayor’s seat in 2011, a key part of his platform was a promise to install 100 miles (160 kilometers) of protected bike lanes during his first term.

“They’re an integral part of my economic development strategy,” Emanuel told USA Today. “It’s no coincidence that the first protected bike lanes were on Kinzie Street, and that’s exactly where Google-Motorola Mobility is putting their headquarters with 2,800 jobs.”

Emanuel has continued to aggressively pursue bike infrastructure in his first term. In December, at a press conference marking the opening of the Dearborn Street protected bike lane, Emanuel boasted that he was going to use bike infrastructure to attract tech talent and businesses from the city of Seattle. “I expect not only to take all of their bikers but I also want all the jobs that come with this,” Emanuel said.

The Mayor of Seattle, Mike McGinn, meanwhile retorted, “We’re going to keep them here,” saying he would use the 7th Avenue separated cycle track to do so.

Another – perhaps more obvious – justification for protected bikeways is safety. And a handful of studies have confirmed that these facilities do a lot to help shield cyclists from injury and worse.

A 2010 examination of six Montreal cycle tracks found that, compared to similar streets, protected bike infrastructure reduced injury rates by 28 percent. A follow-up study, examining street conditions and collisions in Montreal and Toronto uncovered even more dramatic results, showing that protected bikeways had one-ninth the risk of the most dangerous category of street studied: roads with parked cars that lacked bike infrastructure. Regular, unprotected bike lanes, by contrast, had half the risk, the study found.

Allen St., NYC. Photo by Chris Brunn

Allen St., NYC. Photo by Chris Brunn

A History of Protected Bike Lane Opposition

There has been some controversy about the safety implications of protected bikeways. Indeed, questions about safety have been one of the biggest obstacles to protected bike infrastructure, over the last four decades and continuing today. And protected bike lanes – even regular bike lanes – have their opponents, even within the cycling community.

While Denmark and the Netherlands were building their first cycle tracks in the 1970s, America – beset by the oil crisis – was enjoying a similar renaissance in cycling. But cycling advocacy took a much different tack in the United States than it did in parts of Northern Europe, and one man – a California engineer named John Forester – deserves more credit for that than anyone.

In the 1970s, Forester began the “vehicular cycling movement.” Rather than separate cyclists from cars with painted bike lanes or paths, Forester taught that it was best to educate cyclists about the rules of the road and to behave as if they were “driving their bike.” The central premise of this philosophy was that “cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” Separate infrastructure for cyclists was fundamentally incompatible with this philosophy, and vehicular cycling advocates opposed – and continue to oppose – those types of improvements.

Around the time that Forester was beginning his advocacy in California, a study was released by Santa Barbara researcher Kenneth Cross, finding that “overtaking” collisions – where a driver collides with a cyclist from behind – were quite rare. This study was seen as significant because this is the type of collision that on-street cycleways were being sold as most likely to prevent. Instead, the majority of collisions, Cross found, occurred at intersections. In a follow-up study, Cross said bike facilities might still be justified on safety grounds – and more recent studies examining the issue continue to find fault with some of the foundational studies of the vehicular cycling movement.

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Despite questions about North American studies of protected bike lanes, for decades, Forester’s ideas were tremendously influential in the United States. For a time Effective Cycling – Forester’s manifesto – was the official educational training offered by the League of American Wheelmen – now the League of American Bicyclists. More importantly, many of Forester’s ideas were adopted and codified by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in its “Green Book,” often referred to as the “bible” of traffic engineering.

Meanwhile, for the last three decades, small but vocal groups of vehicular cyclists effectively quashed bike infrastructure projects in cities like Boston, Dallas, and Cleveland.

“For the longest time, the bicycle movement had been led and dominated by people who thought that bikes had to be on the road, in the travel lane and didn’t need any or want any special help or any separated space,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. The league now supports protected cycling infrastructure.

What has become clear in recent years is that vehicular cycling – teaching cyclists to behave like car drivers – has at least one very critical shortcoming: it did not do much to increase the number of cyclists on American roadways. While cycling rates exploded in the Netherlands and Denmark – which were experimenting with, and then gradually perfecting, protected cycle tracks – in America, cycling rates have yet to surpass 1 percent. In Denmark, 16 percent of all trips are by bicycle. In the Netherlands, the number is 27 percent nationwide and 57 percent in cities.

While there are many aspects of Danish and Dutch culture and law that helped produce their remarkable cycling rates, it seems clear that the physical infrastructure played an important role, said Roskowski.

“You cannot convince a person who is not comfortable riding on the road to be comfortable riding in the road,” she said. “You cannot market them into it. You really have to change how the streets work.”

Another reason vehicular cycling has fallen out of favor with many top advocates and planners is that it has become clear that the whole philosophy is an obstacle to increasing diversity in the cycling community. There is evidence that women in particular are less likely to get involved in cycling in the absence of dedicated infrastructure. The same sort of concern applies to anyone who isn’t at the height of their physical fitness – children, the elderly, and novices.

One obstacle for advocates in overcoming safety concerns, however, is that there simply haven’t been enough examples of functional protected bike lanes in the United States yet to rigorously study.

“Because these facilities are relatively new in this country, the body of research is relatively small,” Roskowski said. “You have to have them on the ground before you can study the effects of them.”

Installing these facilities takes professional engineering judgment, consideration of the individual context, and it may even take adjustment. Roskowski said that the designers of these facilities have to use care to make sure, in particular, that intersections are carefully engineered.

“The devil is in the details of how you design them,” she said. “Especially two-way [protected bike lanes]: you’re basically inserting a little two-way street in the middle of an intersection, and it gets really complicated. You have to think about how you control the bike traffic, how to control the pedestrian traffic, and how to control the car traffic.”

The first protected bike lanes in the United States were built in the late 1800s, in places like Pasadena, CA, and Ocean Parkway in New York City. What distinguished these early cycle tracks from today’s recreational trails is that they were also separated from pedestrian activity. This early cycle track development, however, occurred during a period before cars were in wide use, when bicycling was enjoying an early renaissance in the United States.

That movement helped spur the “good roads” movement calling for the first paved roads in the United States – lobbied for mainly by a coalition of cyclists and farmers, who wanted to use the roads for agricultural vehicles. Beginning in the 1930s, however, cars took over American roadways. And through a calculated campaign by automotive lobbying groups, cars eventually supplanted almost every other activity that used to take place on American roads.

Between that period and 2007, scant few facilities that would qualify as separated cycleways were built in the United States – mostly in college towns. Boulder, CO, built one in the early 1990s that city officials report is still functioning quite well today.

But until New York City and its visionary transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan began building protected bike lanes in 2007, with the Ninth Avenue cycle track, these facilities were a rare and unorthodox treatment in the United States. However, beginning in 2008, New York City’s example helped set off a new wave of innovation. Portland’s first protected bikeway was built in 2009 on SW Broadway. Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue followed in 2010, as did San Francisco’s Market Street.

Prospect Park bike lane, BYC. Photo by Dmitry Gudkov.

Prospect Park bike lane, BYC. Photo by Dmitry Gudkov.

Introducing a New North American Design Manual for Bicycle Infrastructure

One major obstacle to innovative bike infrastructure has been inertia on the part of the traffic engineering profession. Many of the high-ranking officials within the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials still subscribe to the vehicular cycling philosophy.

AASHTO does not address protected bike lanes and considers green paint to be an “experimental” street treatment in its “Green Book,” the gospel of traffic engineering. Because of this, traffic engineers in many cities have refused to install protected bike lanes out of concerns about liability.

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.

“People get hysterical about parking,” said Roskowski. “It’s an odd thing about our culture. It’s much easier to take away a travel lane than it is to take away parking.”

The Future Growth of City Cycling Requires Protected Bike Lanes

Looking ahead, advocates, planners, politicians, and businesses will be paying close attention to how long this level of growth in protected bike lanes can be sustained and what long- term impact it will have on cycling in the United States.

The League of American Bicyclists’ Andy Clarke doesn’t expect American cities to reach Dutch cycling rates in the short term. But he believes that with protected cycling facilities, it’s not unreasonable to expect that US cities could see cycling rates rise as high as 5 percent over the next 10 years. That would be slightly lower than the current cycling mode share of Portland, a city that demonstrates what is possible with the right facilities and encouragement in place.

In the longer term, Clarke said he can imagine cycling levels in the US reaching 10 or even 15 percent, with the help of better legal protections and possibly even congestion pricing.

“In the US we haven’t destroyed our cities so much that the kind of distances that people are willing to ride and can easily ride are beyond us,” he said. “There are already communities like Davis, [California], and Boulder where there are already fairly high levels of cycling.”

“I think it’s going to be really exciting to see. It’s really going be a game-changer for us. It’s a moment that for some of us has been a long time in coming,” Clarke said.

Angie Schmitt is a writer and activist who lives in Cleveland, oh. For the last three years, she has worked as a reporter for the sustainable transportation advocacy organization Streetsblog. She is also the co-founder of, a website that explores urban issues in the industrial Midwest. She holds a master’s degree in urban planning and formerly worked as a newspaper reporter in cities around her home state of Ohio.

This story was originally published in Momentum Mag Aug/ Sept 2013.


  • Dear Ms. Schmitt,

    I am a Grade 10 student at Crescent School in Toronto. I have been tasked with an inquiry based project around a topic of my choice in my Civics course. I need to gather as many perspectives and information to help me have the best understanding of my topic so that I can speak effectively and succinctly. I am investigating bike lane protection in Canada, and in the course of my research, I found your name in this article and I hope you could answer a few questions for me.

    1. What is your stance with Canada implementing protective bike lanes?

    2. In your studies, does Canada have the infrastructure to support protective bike lanes?

    I really appreciate your help with this,
    Zack Erdman

  • John

    It would be great to have annual updates on the article in terms of numbers of protected bike lanes and where they are located… It would help the advocacy efforts of groups in smaller cities if they can show that smaller cities are in fact adopting this type of infrastructure. Locally we are running into the haters… some of whom intentionally misrepresent the proposed plans when talking to the press…

  • Fantastic article. Great detail, and explains well the vehicular-cycling-is-best vs. protected-bike-lane debate. This is one that has been ongoing in our city for a number of years. Although I’d be happy with ANY bike infrastructure, even if it were just paint, as a start, we haven’t seen much of anything. I envy people who can debate whether what their city is doing is correct or not.

  • John Merrick

    A single state? Try California, where his ideas were written into engineering guides, oh and the national engineering guides. The people who make today’s engineering guides are foresterites through and through. They have blogs where the cite him and they question the idea of bike lanes. They have a tremendous amount of power to this day. Forester still holds sway in San Diego, Ohio and many other parts of the country, including Boston.

  • Josh

    People love to bash John Forester’s Vehicular Cycling and blame it for all sorts of U.S. policy failures.

    I’m still waiting for anyone to identify a single state where vehicular cycling was an official policy at any point in the past 30 years. That is, a state that repealed cyclist-specific far-right restrictions, where bicycles are legal vehicles, where motorists are not allowed to overtake within the same lane as a bicycle.

    As far as I can tell, unicorns are at least as relevant to mode share as supposed official support for vehicular cycling.

    U.S. policy for the past 30 years hasn’t been driven by vehicular cycling advocates, but by motorists and motor-oriented engineers doing the least they can to comply with checklist requirements for bicycle accommodation.

    AASHTO, the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials, which publishes the national Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, isn’t made up of cycling advocates of any sort. Its standards don’t follow vehicular cycling principles any more than they do Dutch or Danish principles. They follow the principle that cars are fast and bikes, if we have to allow them, should be kept out of the way of real traffic.

    • John Biggins

      “I’m still waiting for anyone to identify a single state where vehicular cycling was an official policy at any point in the past 30 years.”

      I very much doubt whether you’d find a single US state these past thirty years which actually had anything as coherent as a cycling policy, whether Vehicular or not.

      Certainly in Britain, the influence of Vehicular Cycling was not so much that the Departments of Transport or the Environment or any local highways authority ever adopted it as official policy, but rather that it sort-of became that by default: the utterly disastrous doctrine of “shared-use” or “dual-tier” cycling facilities which prevailed from the mid-1970s in official thinking – and which still largely prevails to this day: that the Real Cyclists will be perfectly happy to mix it with dense and fast-moving motor traffic, while painted-on strips and a few incoherent stretches of shared-use pavement would suffice for the kiddies, the timid and the old ladies of both sexes. For traffic planners who hadn’t been near a bike since childhood and for cash-strapped local authorities – essentially people who regarded cyclists as a pain in the arse and wished they’d go away – it was a seductive notion since it really involved their doing nothing: no expensive, brain-taxing and motorist-upsetting attempts at providing proper segregated cycling infrastructure “since apparently most cyclists don’t want it anyway” (…as indeed their most vocal spokesmen didn’t).

      Why did the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and (lately) France set about building a coherent national cycling infrastructure as though they really meant it? Well, in part because they didn’t have the Prophet Forester and his disciples to contend with: in fact had probably never heard of him. Vehicular Cycling remains a cult peculiar to the English-speaking world.

      We owe people like Forester and his UK disciple John Franklin a certain debt of gratitude in that they kept non-sport cycling alive at its nadir in the early 1970s when it might quite easily have disappeared altogether, the bicycle going the way of the horse as an everyday means of transport. But their influence since then has been entirely unhelpful. Like many resistance movements, they ended up being nearly as much of a bane as the occupying army they were fighting.

  • Dave Holland

    Cross said the rear end collision ranked 8th in collision types. You also need to be aware of when and where the type 13 collisions were recorded. Also the when of this study, 1977. I have a set of bike lights from the 70s (as if many people used them) and they are laughable compared to what we consider acceptable now. A lot of things have changed since this study that make some of the information misinformation if you don’t keep it in context.

    • dr2chase

      The problem is that when Forester wrote Effective Cycling, today’s LED lights did not exist. He wrote it then, not today. I read EC, I own a copy, and the stats in that report look nothing like what I got from reading EC. Sidewalk cycling — not that dangerous after all, and collisions from the rear are plenty dangerous, far more than Forester implies. Even salmoning is not that dangerous if you are looking at fatal accidents.

  • dr2chase

    Compare also with problem type 8, no fatalities (5.3% of injuries), sidewalk riding across driveways. Crap. Everything I thought I learned from Effective Cycling is suspect, till I can fact check it.

  • Fred Ollinger

    Ken Cross did NOT think that rear-end collisions were rare. Just b/c Forrester said so does NOT make it so. He lied:

    Here’s what Cross said:

    “Problem 13 must be considered one of the most important problem types revealed by this study because it accounted for nearly 1/4 of all fatalities, three times as much as any other problem type. The distinguishing characteristics of this problems type are: the motor vehicle overtook and collided with a bicycle travelling in the same direction as the motor vehicle:”

    Seriously, READ the original study. It’s online:,d.cGE

  • CelloMom

    What helps the Dutch a lot (besides their bike culture) is that there are well-defined and well-enforced rules of the road, especially for car-bike interaction. Also that the law recognizes the relative vulnerability of cyclists and corrects for it. For instance by putting the liability of bike-car accidents on the motorists, until proven otherwise. In the case of a child cyclist, the driver is liable no matter what. The physics of a car-bike collision is not subtle. The road laws governing it should not be, either.

  • JD

    Just because Huntsville (a city, actually — filled with more than 150, 000 people) doesn’t cater to your biking lifestyle does not mean it’s in the Stone age.

  • amm

    Bravo – except you forgot Montreal. While NYC was crowing over painted lanes, Montreal was building the Pistes Cyclables network along Maisonneuve:

  • Barb Chamberlain, Bicycle Alliance of Washington

    Join and support Alabama Bicycle Coalition and ask them what to do. Statewide advocacy organizations need local advocates and vice versa.

    See if your city has a bicycle advisory board or bike master plan. If not, start working to get both. One person with energy can start a whole movement. Your people are there just waiting for you to lead them!

  • Cherie


    The type of bike lane you speak of is a “regular bike lane.” They are unequivocally not safe, precisely for the reasons you state – dooring, and cars parking or driving in them. None of these things are issues in protected bike lanes, also called separated bike lanes or cycle tracks. They are safer as indicated by this study:

    They’re safer because they are protected – they are separated from moving cars.

    Since you propose that a city lacking bike lanes is it not a bad thing, where do you propose a biker ride?

  • Herman


    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with you. Bike lanes, “protected” or otherwise really do NOT improve cyclist safety. All they really do is to give the cyclist, particularly the new/inexperienced cyclist a FALSE sense of security.

    • Roger

      Perhaps you should read the article before commenting, including its discrediting of the argument you make against protected cycle lanes, complete with evidence.

  • Herman


    I would suggest that as Kristen has said that YOU start the ball/bike rolling. I would also ask why you feel the need to have bike lanes? Are you aware that in reality that bike lanes do NOT add to cyclist safety? As all they really do is to give the cyclist, particularly the new/inexperienced cyclist a FALSE sense of security and safety.

    As I have personally heard numerous accounts of cyclists who were driving their bicycle within a bike lane have been hit and injured or killed as well as having been harassed. I have also personally witnessed TOO many cyclists operating the WRONG way in bike lanes.

    I would also suggest researching and seeing if there are any Cycling Savvy instructors in your area and if there is taking the Cycling Savvy course.

    But PLEASE do not feel that just because your adopted home doesn’t have bike lanes that that is a “bad” thing.

    Another danger of bike lanes is when there is on street parallel parking right next to the bike lane. As that sets the cyclists who are using the bike lane up to be doored, i.e. to have a car door opened into their path by an occupant of the car without first looking to be sure that it is safe to open their door.

    Also I have personally witnessed lawn care crews parking their trucks w/trailers IN the bike lanes thus blocking them.

  • kristin

    Hi Danny! Here is a good link: This talks about how businesses should cater to cyclists. Starting with for-profit companies might be good since they can change things faster than the government sometimes. You can also read Mia Burk’s Joyride: Pedaling Toward A Healthier Planet which details her job in the Dept. of Transportation in Portland as she made it the best bicycle city in America. Maybe start a bicycle advocacy group and get people involved? It’s a daunting task and I wish you the best of luck.

  • Danny

    I recently moved to Huntsville AL. I actually had never heard of the place until a buddy told me to look into it. It is a booming small city with an abundance of high paying tech jobs and I believe the highest concentration of Rocket Scientist in the country. Unfortunately it can be so much more than what it is. We do not have any bike lanes anywhere. There are maybe 3 or 4 greenways that run about 3-4 miles and nothing more than that. So on one hand plenty of high paying Tech jobs with the potential to attract young , educated healthy minded people but there is this old mindset still lingering around and unfortunately they all are in the positions that would approve a change. What can I do to try and get some organizations with some weight to help us out or take a look at us for future projects? Its an awesome area great weather, great cost of living and I’m thinking there is no hope. So much potential and they do not see it. The people in charge don’t understand they will attract more educated people by showing some effort in making this place bicycle friendly. Chattanooga is just an hour and a half away and they are a great example but it seems to fall on blind eyes and deaf ears. I may need to move.

    • Laura M

      Huntsville is a very difficult place to be a cyclist. I ride my bike everywhere within a 6 mile radius. Every time I go out, I know I am taking my life into my own hands. I Would LOVE to have a safe, protected lane that makes connections to the major city centers. The drivers are NOT bike friendly. I have ridden my bike all over the globe, and this is a hard place to ride. However, I feel that the more people who actively use their bikes for transportation, the more likely the city will so a real need for protected bike lanes. I want to see one connecting Bailey Cove with Jones Valley… well as a few leading to the new Grissom HS site..

    • Trang

      I too live in Huntsville, AL and I am so glad to read that I am NOT alone on this matter. I think we can combine forces and change this into the right gear. I am working with some local cycling advocates and enthusiasts. and SCCC, though I’m not an official of any sort. Recently I assisted on pulling together a presentation for a grant to improve cycling.

  • Cherie

    Thanks for this fabulous article Angie. May the protected bike lane become commonplace all accross America!!!

  • Steve Faust

    Despite gross errors by the pro-bono law firm donating time to the PPW opponents, such as missing filing dates and inadequate arguments, the law suit still gets another visit to court. Judges have found absolutely no grounds to support the NBBL (Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes – the ironically named opponents to the BBL path) suit against the DOT construction of the path, yet the judges continue to bend over backwards to give NBBL one more bite against some imagined administrative failure. Their lawyer is still making pronouncements as if the city had grossly failed the entire planning and implementation process.

    This is all playing out as some kind of Vampire or Zombie movie, the case was dead from the start, but it can’t be killed. The grounds for the next hearing are pathetically weak. One hopes that a proper legal stake will be driven through the stone heart of the NBBL suit.

    Personal involvement: 30 years ago I brought my 2 year old son to day care by bike, northbound along PPW. There was, and still is, no safe roadways from mid Park Slope to Grand Army Plaza, so I rode on the sidewalk – as a defacto shared use bike path. I normally fit into the “A” type cyclist personality – a Kamikaze style of riding, but this does not work with a baby on the bike. Today, if I had to take my grandsons on the same route, I would be using the PPW Protected Sidepath, and not the sidewalk. Riding on PPW is not a matter of convenience, not an avoidable route and not an avoidable trip. Iris and her NBBL “friends” are trying to kill me and my children. We will ensure that this path will remain, and more protected paths and lanes will be built.

  • Peter Furth

    Angie, your documentation of the explosion of interest in protected lanes, as well as the historical opposition to them, is terrific. It is sad but true that American policy for a long time went with the Vehicular Cycling philosophy that said that bikes should be integrated into traffic rather than protected from it. As you point out, it doesn’t work; few people are willing to challenge motor vehicles for space on the road. While a tiny fraction of the population gets worked up over esoteric arguments in favor of vehicular cycling, for the vast majority of the population it’s as obvious as the nose on your face: bikes, like pedestrians, need to be protected from heavy or fast traffic. Whenever “normal” people get a voice — as you document so well in Brooklyn, Denver and elsewhere — they clamor for protected lanes. Montreal was one North American city that was mostly immune to the nonsense of vehicular cycling (thanks to a language barrier and a national barrier that freed them from U.S. guidelines), and developed a network of protected lanes early in the 1990’s. That’s helped make them one of North America’s number 1 bicycling cities. Some of their protected lanes serve more than 8,000 cyclists per day (by comparison, a typical arterial lane carries about 5,000 cars per day), and they’re building more protected lanes every year.

    • k loewen

      How do these separated lanes, making cyclists hidden from cars and giving them a sense of safeness that isn’t there…protect them?

      • John Biggins

        Because, if you take the trouble to actually look at the photos accompanying the article, you will see that the cycle tracks in question are physically segregated from vehicle traffic by rows of posts, flower troughs at regular intervals or a continuous kerb. The question of whether or not drivers can see the cyclists is neither here nor there: even if they’re so massively blind and inattentive that they don’t see them, they’re physically unable to do them any harm except at the price of ploughing into a concrete flower trough or doing serious damage to their nearside front wheel by bashing against the kerb. The cyclists’ sense of safety on segregated tracks is not illusory: they know that while they’re on them nothing short of a runaway 40-tonne truck is going to be able to get at them.

        Next one, then: what about the junctions? Well, that depends on how carefully the junctions are laid out. Segregated tracks that suddenly become un-segregated just where it’s most dangerous plainly aren’t a great deal of use: a bit like a toughened-steel chain with every twentieth link made from papier-maché to cut costs. But countries like the Netherlands and Denmark which have been doing segregated infrastructure for some four decades now have accumulated an impressive library of optimum layouts for every conceivable kind of junction – and will happily share this with anyone interested at very moderate cost.

    • Bob

      I biked Montreal back in the 90’s and was astounded at the infrastructure in place back then. Montreal is decades ahead of the rest of North America. Definitely one of my favorite biking cities! Nice to see so many other North American cities catching up. A shame that Montreal doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

  • Michael H

    The Pennsylvania Ave. cycle track is a welcome addition to D.C. bike infrastructure, but it is imperfect. It isn’t really protected. The various arts and aesthetic commissions with jurisdiction over the road have objected to barriers that could detract from the view along the historic avenue. There is an ongoing problem of taxis making illegal U-turns across the cycle track, which endangers cyclists.

    DC authorities may add Zebras along the cycle track this fall. These are small structures that could deter drivers from crossing into the cycle track. Hopefully this will provide a solution that benefits cyclists and that is acceptable to the US Commission on Fine Arts.

  • CDL

    Angie, thanks for laying it all out there! Very in depth article.

    The NACTO guide has indeed been very helpful in presenting straightforward and beautifully illustrated examples of how to bring the best cycling infrastructure to our community. This is only the beginning!

  • Shinji

    Thank you very much, Angie. This article is very helpful in understanding the development of protected bike lanes in the US. I, Japanese, also read a Forester’s book, Bicycle Transportation, around twenty years ago, and had somewhat believed in his theory until I went to the Netherlands.

  • Adam H.

    Not Avenue.

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