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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Would Protected Bike Lanes Encourage You to Bike More?

This article was originally published in the May-June 2014 issue of Arlington’s The Citizen.)

In the last few years, bike-lane design has seen big changes in cities across the United States.

The most notable change is the emergence of protected bike lanes. This relatively simple layout option is based on the concept that streets should be designed for safe use by all people – not just for cars – and that physical separation is the best way to accomplish this.

Since Arlington, Virginia is committed to a Complete Streets policy (streets should be planned, designed, operated, and maintained for all users) and providing safe streets for a broad range of users, protected bike lanes are a perfect fit!

What is a protected bike lane?
Protected bike lanes, also known as cycletracks, green lanes, and separated bike lanes, go above and beyond the painted bike lanes that we typically see on Arlington streets and provide physical separation between people on bikes and motor vehicles. The separation can be provided in a number of ways, including:
  • Plastic bollards or “flex posts”
  •  Landscaping and large planters
  • Curbs
  • Car parking
There are some examples nearby in the District of Columbia, such as 15th Street, which uses car parking as the separator, and L Street which uses plastic bollards. There are many other successful examples around the country, including in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, Memphis, and Indianapolis.

Why do we need them?

Protected bike lanes are a big upgrade over traditional painted bike lanes because they provide all road users with more confidence and reassurance. This is especially important to the many people that fall into the large “interested but concerned” category (see graphic at right and click on it to zoom in).

They go a long way towards making getting around by bike a realistic option for the majority of people, including those who are not experienced cyclists.

Protected bike lanes contribute to making our streets safer, calmer, easier to understand, and more useable for people from age 8 to 80. You shouldn’t have to be young, brave and athletic to get from A to B on a bike.

Well-designed protected bike lanes have also been shown to create more order and predictability on the streets. Cyclists tend to behave themselves and do a better job of following the rules when they are using properly designed and separated facilities. Drivers also appreciate a sense of order and clarity that the separation provides. In fact, recent studies from New York and Chicago found that adding protected bike lanes had little to no effect on vehicle travel time.

In Arlington, there is a great framework of off-street trails for biking and walking, but the trails can’t go everywhere. Protected bike lanes bring the separated trail-like experience to the streets and extend the network of comfortable, easy-to-use bike facilities to more places that people want to go.

Protected bike lanes are good for the local economy. Money talks – so this is a benefit of protected bike lanes that everyone can appreciate. Recent studies by the New York City Department of Transportation and the Clean Air Partnership show that when an area becomes more bikeable and walkable, there is an economic boost to local business. Local stores become more accessible and appealing, plus saving on gas and parking costs means people have a few extra dollars to spend. Companies like to locate in areas that are walk- and bike-friendly because it improves their ability to recruit and maintain talented employees. In general, protected bike lanes are quality-of-life improvements for everyone, and this leads to a strong local economy.

On top of all that, Arlington needs protected bike lanes because people want them – even the drivers! BikeArlington recently went out into the community to interview drivers and ask them what they think of all the cyclists in Arlington. What we heard repeatedly was “I think it’s great, they just need their own space.” Protected bike lanes do this, to the benefit of all road users.

What are Arlington’s plans for protected bike lanes?
The first protected bike lanes in Arlington County are planned for the Crystal City area. These include Eads Street (you can also take a survey about the project here), Hayes Street, Clark Street, and Army Navy Drive. They will be carefully studied to evaluate their impact on safety, the local economy, traffic flow, and mode choice (drive, transit, bike, or walk). If the results are favorable, expect to see more protected bike lanes on county streets in upcoming years.

If you can ride a bike, you should be able to use that bike to get around, go shopping, go to school, go to work or run errands easily and comfortably. Protected bike lanes help make this possible for more people. Look for them coming soon to an Arlington street near you.
Conventional Bike Lane. Only a painted white line separates cyclists from moving vehicles. Adjacent parked cars create a dangerous door zone.

 Protected bike lanes. Physical separation between cyclists and moving vehicles, in this case by planters and parked cars.

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