2014-07-07

Co.Exist

A Protected Bike Lane That Extends Through The Intersection, So Cars Really Can't Hit You

Just as the concept of protected bike lanes is gaining traction in U.S. cities, a designer takes the idea a step further with these smart intersections that put safety first.

When bike lanes have a physical barrier that keeps cars from swerving into the path of cyclists, unsurprisingly, many more people start to ride. A recent study found that bike traffic jumped up an average of 75% on streets with new protected lanes, about three times faster than bike traffic citywide.

But even protected lanes aren't perfect, which is why urban planner Nick Falbo suggests adding one more element to the equation—protected intersections. With his design, when you reach the end of the block you don't have to worry about making it safely across the street.

"Protected bike lanes are fantastic," Falbo says. "They’re low stress, they’re comfortable for anyone—little kids love riding in them, people of all ages and abilities love riding in them. But their comfort gets compromised at our intersections. They're stressful, and they definitely impact the ability for these bike lanes to attract a diverse range of users."

Based on some similar designs from Europe, Falbo's proposed intersection has small islands that wrap around each corner. Cyclists can pull up into the middle of the street, protected, while they wait for the light. That means they're more visible to cars, and they have a head start on crossing the street. Cars turn the corner more slowly, and are forced to fully turn around the corner before going forward, so they have a second chance to see any bikes crossing the road. The intersection would also have special signals just for cyclists.

The design has a couple of challenges. Cities in the U.S., unlike countries like the Netherlands, have rules about making intersections wide enough to accommodate giant freight trucks. "That potentially impacts our ability to use the corner island to control speed, and that's a key piece of the design," Falbo says.

Still, cities have a few options. Some might choose to add new policies that only allow smaller trucks in certain areas. The design might also be adjusted to add tricks like "truck aprons," which create a curb that large trucks can drive over, but regular cars go around.

Ultimately, Falbo thinks the intersection can be used with a few tweaks, and a commitment from cities to take care of a little extra maintenance, like clearing snow in the winter. "There are details to work through, but I’m confident that as soon as one city commits to it, and says we’re going to build it, that they’ll work through those details," he says. "That’s going to really open up the possibility for others," he says.

Since the design was released earlier this year for the Outside the Box competition, it's been steadily growing in popularity online. "I think that speaks to the demand that’s out there," Falbo says. "People really want to see good bikeways, and they want to see safe, comfortable bikeways. I think this is maybe a missing piece in the American toolbox."

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10 Comments

  • Koen Oosterbroek

    I don't want to brag but really, why is this new? Just look at The Netherlands and just copy all they do. The Netherlands has perfected the art of city biking for decades, why invent it as new and think you know better?

  • I guess you missed the first sentence of the fourth paragraph: "Based on some similar designs from Europe...

  • Marian Gogola

    There is the basic problem,that if the cyclits are leading on street they have the same right a as car,but if they will be placed off street they will stop and make priority for cars that will turn to the left or right. Another problem of this solution is conflict with cyclists. I thin the best situation will be the bike lane on street with own bicycle signalization(for instance in Germany or Netherlands, the cyclists have the prior green which occurs 3-4 seconds before the green for cars.

  • john.mcnamara

    It's suggestions like these that make normal people lose respect for the cyclist lobby. Get rid of 33% of all car lanes? Perhaps America just needs to invest $ in infrastructure instead of public union pensions and so much more will be possible.

  • No, this won't work everywhere, but lots of streets have excess capacity, which in turn leads to speeding and other undesirable behavior.

    The first step of any successful road diet scheme is making sure the road has enough excess capacity that reclaiming a lane for a better use would't have objectionable effects. If it would, the street is a bad candidate for this treatment

    People whose first reaction is to nay-say and fault-find are one reason we have lost our way as a nation

  • a7146266

    Actually in some cases decreasing the amount of lanes can ease congestion from traffic and make it faster for people to get to places.

  • Ashley Balogh

    I think a short sighted solution from only one perspective and ignoring the context of other transportations users and needs. The article calls out freight, another commenter pedestrians. Good idea, just not fully developed into a usable retrofit for US infrastructure.

  • The good thing about this, though, is that if you can make some of those sacrifices on one downtown street and allow these lanes dedicated to bikers, then their traffic will be focused on that particular street leaving other nearby streets less chaotic from unstructured bike traffic.

    San Francisco has used this strategy to some success, creating paths through the city prioritized for bikes so that the busier streets can focus more on cars and pedestrians.

  • As infrastructure improves, bikers have increased their law following. On top of that, looking at the image, there is a crossing area for bikers and then the typical crosswalk for pedestrians. They're not entirely merged.