Protected Bike Lanes

My bicycle is my main mode of transportation to get around in the city. I encountered the pictured situation four times within 10 minutes of riding on the same street (I didn't take a photo of the 4th truck), which is very typical on a mid-day ride:



Note the knocked over plastic bollard in the first image and the
available parking areas to the right in the first and last image.

The City of San Francisco has made great progress with adding designated bike lanes and improving the network.  These bike lanes are typically marked with painted white lines, or with green paint marking the entire lane (better), or separated by temporary low-profile curbs or plastic pivoted posts (best). This is certainly the cheapest solution to create designated bike lanes, which allows for the implementation of the most miles of bike lanes for the limited amount of funding that is available. However, the issue with unprotected bike lanes is that they are very convenient for delivery trucks, taxis and their equivalents, or any car to park on, much more convenient than even pulling into an available parking strip right next to it. Just switch on the emergency lights, which per California Vehicle Code are only to be used in an emergency, and voilĂ , short-term parking will never be an issue again (for some people, grabbing a quick coffee might even qualify as an emergency). This situation forces cyclists to move into the traffic lane, where drivers may not expect them because of the presence of the bike lane. Other risks include opening car doors of parked cars to the right and right-turning vehicles that cross the bike lane.

Image by Minneapolis Bicyle Coalition/ Paul Krueger
Image by shareable.net
In comparison, physically separated bike lanes not only make bike lanes much safer for cyclists but they also present an opportunity for landscaping, making the street visually narrower and thereby slowing traffic speeds. They also allow for two-way bike traffic on one side, which is important in areas with one way streets. If the bike lanes are placed between the sidewalk and the parallel parking strip rather than between the parking strip and the vehicle travel lane, the problem of opening car doors can get eliminated. What to do when a protected bike lane needs to allow for driveway access or approaches an intersection? Luckily, there are great solutions for these challenging situations as well. The planting strip can simply be broken up to allow for the minimum width of driveways, provided that cyclists are granted the right-of-way. At intersections, several configurations are possible but one of the safest solutions are illustrated in this great video by Nick Falbo of Alta Planning and Design, produced for the George Mason University 2014 Cameron Rian Hays Outside the Box Competition.



Salt Lake City is the first city in the U.S. to implement this design, a proven concept used in the Netherlands, the land of the bicycle superhighways and elevated bike roundabouts.

Read more about the reasons why Salt Lake City chose this approach in this article.

Protected bike lanes are obviously more expensive than striping the asphalt. However, they will permanently improve the streetscape, make bike lanes an equally important part of the street, invite more people to bike, and significantly reduce the number of collisions between cars and bikes - a goal of San Francisco's Vision Zero. It's worth the investment.

H.S.