Coming to Your City: Protected Bike Lanes

Detroit recently announced a feature you wouldn’t expect to find in the Motor City.

A bike lane.

And it’s even more than a bike lane, really. It’s a protected bike lane.

Protected bike lanes are lanes reserved just for bicycles. Vehicle traffic is separated from the bike lane by curbs, posts, or planters.

Even though you may not think of Detroit as a bike-friendly city, it’s one of many urban areas across the U.S. where bicycling is becoming an increasingly popular way to get around.

Native Detroiter Jason Hall helped bring back the two-wheeled mode of travel when he and Mike MacKool launched Slow Roll, a community bike ride through Detroit neighborhoods. Slow Roll is vying to become the world’s largest weekly bike ride, routinely gathering 3000+ riders on Monday nights. It’s become such a phenomenon that Jason was featured in his own Apple commercial:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybIxBZlopUY

One of our hometown favorites, the City of Columbus, Ohio said Feb. 2 that a 1.4-mile bidirectional protected lane on Summit near The Ohio State University is “just the beginning of plans for biking improvements, thanks to advocacy group Yay Bikes and a receptive city staff.” (Source: PeopleforBikes.org)

Detroit and Columbus are joining 50 more cities across the US that have or are planning protected bike lanes. Austin, Texas; San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois; and Washington, DC. all have entire networks of protected bike lanes.

Why are protected bike lanes taking off?

A report from PeopleForBikes and Alliance for Biking & Walking titled “Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business: How 21st Century Transportation Networks Help New Urban Economies Boom” lists four ways protected bike lanes boost economic growth:  

1. Increasing redevelopment, boosting real estate value.   
“Protected bike lanes bring order and predictability to streets and provide transportation choices while helping to build neighborhoods where everyone enjoys spending time. By extending the geographic range of travel, bike lanes help neighborhoods redevelop without waiting years for new transit service to debut.”

2. Attracting urbanites, Millennials and Generation Xers, who increasingly prefer downtown jobs and nearby homes.
Whether it’s an outcome of the recession or a seismic shift, American drivers are traveling fewer miles per year, using less gas and owning fewer cars per household. While skeptics dismiss these changes as solely brought on by the economy, University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute’s Michael Sivak has published research showing that these trends started before the recession. (Source: TheAtlantic.com) 

3. Making Workers Healthier and More Productive 
The report argues that protected bike lanes encourage more people to ride, increasing overall fitness, which leads to better productivity and lower health care costs.

4. Increasing Retail Visibility and Sales Volume 
Drivers whizzing by a storefronts at 35 to 45 miles per hour are not focused on shopping. But bicyclists have a more intimate relationship with storefronts. They become regular customers, making frequent return visits, but spending as much or more per month than automobile driving customers. (Plus, parking bikes takes much less real estate than cars.)

Sean Oatman, a transportation engineer with OHM Advisors, is an avid bicyclist and a fan of infrastructure that encourages biking and increases safety. He’s worked on a few bike lane projects in the City of Columbus, including several in the downtown area.

In one area, a 1.5-mile stretch of Morse Road, the project team put the seven-lane road on a “diet”, shrinking each of the 12-foot vehicle lanes to carve out a four-foot bike lane with a two-foot buffer on each side. Vehicles and bicycles are now separated by a two-foot buffer space, marked by bike lane signs and preformed, thermoplastic bike lane pavement markings.

A Millennial who lives and bikes in downtown Columbus, Sean is excited about potential future developments in a couple of planned bike lane projects.

“We have designed protected bike lanes on Spring and Long streets downtown and are in the exploratory design phase to see if it makes sense to create a cycle track on Long Street near North Bank Park. We’ve been creating some preliminary plans to determine the feasibility and gather public input.”

A cycle track is a two-lane protected bike path for bidirectional travel, similar to what you see in a non-motorized bike pathway.

The potential cycle track plans include reboundable traffic posts – three foot high flexible, plastic posts covered in a reflective material – in the buffer area to delineate bike lanes from the vehicle lanes.

OHM Advisors is also conducting a traffic study to determine the impacts of a proposed bike signal on traffic queuing.

“The bike signal would create a dedicated phase where only bikes can travel through the intersection,” Oatman explains. “Bike signals aren’t very common yet, but it could be a good solution for the conflict point that’s created when there are vehicles in the right turn only lane and bicyclists attempting to cross the street.”

Sean offered advice for communities that may want to convert vehicle lanes to protected bike lanes:

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Be on the cutting edge of transportation design. Bike lanes, bike signals, two-stage-turn queue boxes, and bike boxes are all infrastructure tools that encourage biking and increase bike safety.
  • Initial negative feedback is not always indicative of final outcome. Change takes time, education, and patience from all parties.
  • Give citizens transportation options, especially in urban/small community environments.
  • Think of bike transportation as an investment in the future. Create a long-term plan.
      • Bike networks
      • Design standards
      •  Education for users
      • Educational campaign
  • Incorporate bike-friendly infrastructure changes into resurfacing programs.

For more ideas and information, visit NACTO.org (National Association of City Transportation Officials.)

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