What Makes a Bike Lane Great?

PeopleForBikes has just released “America’s 10 Best New Bike Lanes of 2014.” Here’s what makes these bike lanes great.

PeopleForBikes, a US industry coalition of bicycling suppliers and retailers, as well as a charitable foundation, has just released “America’s 10 Best New Bike Lanes of 2014.” The organizers happily note that this year’s selection was drawn from a much larger candidate pool than 2013’s inaugural list. The dramatic rise in the amount of new protected bike lanes being installed across the US had PeopleForBikes remarking that protected lanes “have become as American as deep dish pizza.”

But the phenomenon isn’t only limited to the US. From Saskatoon to Shanghai, cities worldwide are seeing better bike lanes popping up along busy central streets that were once the dominion of cars and buses alone. Transportation planners are quickly realizing that safe, reliable routes for people who bike – or people who may be interested in biking, but don’t yet feel safe – are an integral element of a thriving urban center.

Bike lanes not only reduce traffic and improve public health, but have also been shown to be great for business. A clear barrier between the bike lane and auto traffic, creating a dedicated cycle track, can be the difference between between a few brave riders using a lane and the route becoming a transportation corridor for riders of all ages and abilities.

But what makes one protected bike lane stand out from the rest?

“Overall, we have a preference for more permanent and better looking infrastructure like curbs and planters,” said PeopleForBikes’ Vice President of Local Innovation Martha Roskowski. “But we also realize that green paint and plastic posts are inexpensive and quick to install and can jump-start a network that gets people riding, which then builds more support for more robust separation.”

When making this year’s selections, the team visited the sites, monitored media coverage, and solicited input from city and transportation officials on the success of the project. While vision and rapid implementation are factored into the decision-making process, it is ultimately the lanes themselves that make the list.

The buffered bike lane on Chicago, IL’s, Broadway received praise for being one of the city’s few lanes located in a busy commercial district, landing it in the list’s number 10 spot. Rosemead Boulevard in Temple City, CA, landed the fourth position by proving that protected bike lanes are just as important in the suburbs are they are in the city. Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh, PA, the earliest phase of a planned biking network, won the eighth position by taking the project from announcement to completion in only three months.

Signal phasing, high visibility, lane length, and barrier innovation were just a few of the other factors considered in compiling the top 10 and helped land cities like Honolulu, HI, and Memphis, TN on the list.

San Francisco, CA’s, Polk Street cycle track is the lane that ultimately topped 2014’s list. While just under a third of a mile long, the Polk Street bike lane was praised for giving riders a taste of how truly great bike infrastructure can feel. The brightly-painted green lane runs on either side of a one-way street, transforming the route into a two-way street for bike riders who are separated from auto traffic with cacti-filled planters built into a barrier curb. The lane is characterized by a “greatness” that PeopleForBikes hopes will inspire the implementation of similar projects further across the city and nationwide.

“Every new bit of research confirms that people feel more comfortable riding in protected lanes, they ride more and they are safer,” Roskowski said. “So we want to see more of them.”

1 Comment

  • Jon Hill

    It works as long as cyclists don’t have to give way to motor traffic at junctions, driveways and be told to ‘dismount’ when it gets too difficult for the planners. Check out the Netherlands to see how to do it properly.

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