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Using Delineators in Bike Lanes

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recently released a new version of its "Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide." These rules cover the use of delineators and other products for ensuring biker safety. The following post reviews these guidelines. Please note that as this is a high-level summary of the topic, those seeking additional information should consult the FHWA publication, available online.

Delineators offer many advantages when compared to other products used to mark bike lanes. These include:

·      Low cost. Many parts of the country are still recovering from the economic downturn of 2008. Delineators offer a useful way to mark bicycle lanes without overtaxing limited budgets.

·      High visibility. Delineators rise several meters above the surrounding pavement, commanding the attention of both motorists and bike riders. Installers can also enhance delineators' visibility by casting them in bright colors and/or painting yellow or orange vertical stripes along the surface.

·      Ease of installation. Flexible delineators require minimal effort to set up permanent or semi-permanent placement. Crews can attach them to concrete or asphalt using screws or other standard fasteners. They can also be used as temporary markers until a more permanent means is installed.

·      Flexibility of use. Delineators can be placed either to one side of the bike zone buffer or in its center, depending on local conditions.

Besides these advantages, delineators have their share of limitations when used in bike lanes. These include:

·      Lack of durability. Because they're generally made from lightweight materials, delineators deteriorate over time. This is especially true if struck by bike or motor vehicle traffic. However, this feature makes them far less likely to contribute to personal injury or property damage when collisions do occur.

·      Lack of aesthetic appeal. While purely a matter of personal taste, some observers do not care for the appearance of delineators.

In addition to delineators, the following types of products are commonly used to mark bike lanes:

·      Bollards. As opposed to delineators, these products form a rigid, impact-resistant barrier to motor vehicle traffic. While this may enhance biker safety, it can limit the use of bollards to streets with lower speed limits.

·      Permanent concrete barriers. These can either be cast in place or precast. They offer extremely high levels of crash protection when compared to delineators and other options. They also tend to be less expensive. However, they usually require the installation of added drainage solutions and cutaways for service vehicle use, as well as crash cushions on the ends of the barriers.

·      Raised bike lanes. Depending on local conditions, these can either be built at sidewalk grade or at a level higher than the street, but lower than the pedestrian walkway. They also offer quick installation, pleasing aesthetics, and access for street sweepers by using a three-inch mountable curb. Some of their limitations include: relatively high installation cost, added expenses to maintain landscaping features, and limited value on streets with high speed limits.

·      Parking stops. Inexpensive and highly durable, these products can provide near-continuous separation for the bike lane. However, their low height does not offer the same level of protection and assurance as concrete walls, bollards, delineators, or other products.

·      Parking areas. Perhaps the simplest way to create a buffer for bike lanes is to install a parking lane between the bike route and vehicular streets. This method can be particularly effective when combined with the use of delineators. They do require a minimum clearance of three feet for people in cars to open their doors without danger of bike collisions.


Like all safety products, delineators provide a partial answer to the question of how to best ensure public safety. When used according to established guidelines, however, they play an effective role in safeguarding all those who use American transit systems.