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."