FHWA to study safety and design of cycle tracks

By Robbie Webber

At the March AASHTO meeting, U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood urged the attendees to update their guidance for bicycle facilities such as cycle tracks, also known as protected or separated bike lanes. These facilities are popular with less experienced bicycle commuters and have been shown to increase bicycle mode share on corridors where they have been implemented.

Last week FHWA issued a task order proposal request to study the safety of cycle tracks and issue recommendations on their design and implementation. The TOPR was seen as a long-awaited step to allow wider acceptance of cycle tracks on roads in more jurisdictions. Because the facilities are not included in AASHTO publications or the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, some cities have been blocked from installing them on state roads that also serve local traffic. Other cities have avoided building protected bike lanes due to a lack of federal guidance.

Although the facilities are described in the Urban Bikeway Design Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the NACTO guide does not delve into the geometric design of cycle tracks, and provides few details on how to mitigate significant safety issues associated with cycle tracks at intersections.

The circulated FHWA document made it clear that the federal agency feels cycle tracks can be implemented safely and that their use will significantly improve biking conditions on roadways.

There is a growing body of research on cycle tracks in the U.S. and Canada indicating that, when they are designed well, they do not increase bike crash rates. There is also growing evidence that cyclists prefer cycle tracks over other design treatments that require them to operate within or near motor vehicle traffic.

The study will look at crash rates and types at 10 to 20 locations that currently offer physically separated cycle tracks, and create a set of recommended design standards and guidelines that many hope will eventually be included in both the AASHTO road design guide and the MUTCD.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.