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Bicycle Lane Safety: Tips for Public Planners

With millions of Americans discovering the benefits of bike riding, communities across the country are modifying their existing infrastructure to accommodate this fun, eco-friendly means of transportation.  Along with this trend, however, comes an ever-increasing need to help ensure bicycle lane safety.  Here are some basic guidelines for those tasked with this crucial job:

  • Avoid creating physical barriers between bike and motor vehicles lanes, especially in areas where cyclists may need to merge with vehicular traffic.  This prohibition can be overlooked, however, with dedicated routes reserved for non-motorized traffic.
  • Two-way bike lanes are especially hazardous when it comes to assuring bicycle lane safety.  Not only is there a danger of riders colliding into each other, but two-way lanes inevitably set cyclists riding in the opposite direction of drivers.  This is a prime recipe for head-on collisions, the worst type of accident in terms of human safety.
  • On one-way streets, make sure that the direction of travel for bike lanes is the same as for motor vehicles.  Doing otherwise forces riders to face oncoming traffic, which once again crates a collision hazard.  However, there may be exceptions to this rule in areas where two-way streets are converted to one-way status.  Also, contra-flow lanes sometimes save cyclists the need to cross streets on their way to high-traffic destinations.  In general, however, bike traffic should flow with, not against, cars in the adjoining lane.
  • Dividing stripes between bike and motor vehicles lanes should meet the standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).  These include a recommended width of 4” (100 mm), with 6” or even 8” stripes being even more effective.  Parking spots next to bike lanes should be marked by stripes a minimum of 4” in width.
  • For maximum bicycle lane safety, signage should conform to the strictures set in the MUTCD.  The R3-16 sign should mark the beginning and end of a lane, with the words “ahead” and “ending” used accordingly.  R7-9 or R7-9a signs should be used along the bike route in order to prevent drivers from parking in designated cyclist areas.
  • Avoid routing bike lanes along diagonal parking spaces if at all possible.  These areas obscure views of both oncoming vehicles and those backing out of parking spots.  These hazards already exist with cars and trucks, of course.  But when cyclists are traveling nearby, the risks of injury or death are greatly multiplied.

At times, however, placing cycle lanes next to diagonal parking areas may be necessary.  If this is the case in your location, then use the following precautions to help ensure bicycle lane safety:

  1. Separate the parking spots from the bike lane with a stripe at least 8” (200 mm) wide.
  2. Make sure the parking spots are wide and long enough to accommodate all standard-sized vehicles.
  3. Prioritize enforcement of no-parking rules on the cycle lane.

Ensuring Bicycle Lane Safety at Intersections
Intersections require special considerations on the part of bike lane planners.  To minimize the possibility of accidents at these sites, use the following guidelines:

  • In the case of a bus stop on an intersection’s near side, a dashed line should extend the full length of the stop.  The solid line should resume on the intersection’s far side. 
  • Avoid right-turn lanes at intersections in the following circumstances: when doing so would add to the distance pedestrians must cross, if it causes bikes and autos to cross paths, or if it’s likely to distract motorists from seeing bike or foot traffic on their right.

Conclusion
Those whose jobs include ensuring public well-being have a never-ending learning curve, as the current focus on bicycle lane safety demonstrates.  By paying attention to the fundamentals stressed in this post, however, roads can be kept safe for all who use them.