State DOTs are beginning to embrace protected bike lanes

By Chris McCahill

Protected bicycle lanes, which physically separate cyclists from automobile traffic using objects such as bollards or parked cars, are becoming popular among municipal transportation agencies, bicycle advocates, and less experienced cyclists. According to the Green Lane Project, more than 53 cities in 24 states have installed these facilities. Until recently, however, cities often faced pushback from state transportation agencies. Now a growing number of state DOTs are warming up to protected bike lanes and some are even installing them on state routes.

The benefits of protected bike lanes are becoming ever more clear. A study of protected bike lanes in cities around the nation revealed that they are desirable among residents, attract riders, make riders feel safer, and potentially improve business activity. In New York City, traffic injuries dropped by 20 percent for all road users after protected bike lanes were installed, while bicycle volumes increased by 50 to 100 percent in many cases. Soon, U.S. DOT is expected to release its own guidelines on protected bike lanes.

States are gradually embracing these facilities, which in some cases requires a major shift. Until recently, buffered or protected bike lanes were prohibited in California, but the state’s Protected Bikeways Act of 2014 changes that regulation and requires Caltrans to develop specific design criteria for bike facilities. The Illinois DOT, after initially prohibiting them, approved its first protected bike lane on a state-controlled route in Chicago late last year. Protected bike lanes are planned or up for consideration by DOTs in Michigan, Tennessee, and Delaware. Massachusetts DOT has also made a point of working with communities interested in what it calls “cycle tracks” and other specialized bike facilities. Four other states, in addition to California, Massachusetts, and Tennessee, have at least partially opened the door to protected facilities by formally endorsing NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, while others are currently reviewing their own state design standards to make room for innovative new design practices.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.