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FHWA introduces Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide

FHWA introduces Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide

Today -- during National Bike Month -- I am excited to announce the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) new Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide.

What exactly is a “separated bike lane” (sometimes referred to as a “cycle track” or “protected bike lane”)?  In simple terms, it’s a portion of a roadway for bicyclists that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

These lanes are an important tool communities across the U.S. can use to build safe, comfortable, and connected networks of bicycle infrastructure that meet the needs of people of all ages and abilities.

Chicago bike lane

FHWA’s guide outlines planning considerations and design options for this innovative bicycle facility. It provides information on one and two-way facilities, outlines different options for providing separation, and highlights midblock design considerations including driveways, transit stops, accessibility, and loading zones. Intersection design is also taken into consideration, including the related operations, signalization, signage, and on-road marking concerns.

Best of all, with the Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide, we’re providing communities with case studies highlighting notable practices and lessons learned across the country.

The Guide builds on our current policy to provide pedestrian and bicycle accommodations and on our support for design flexibility. It will inform U.S.DOT’s ongoing Safer People, Safer Streets initiative as well as our efforts to improve access to opportunity for everyone.

Connected and comfortable infrastructure that makes bicycling a viable transportation choice for more people is one strategy to meet the challenges outlined in our Beyond Traffic report. We invite you to take a look at the Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide and use it a resource to improve conditions for folks bicycling in your community.

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Specific comments on the guidelines: Page 27 indicates that design flexibility remain a priority for bike lanes. Is design flexibility a priority for traffic control devices that control pedestrians and motor vehicle traffic? Page 30 lists the benefits of SBLs, including providing comfort and improving access. All of these benefits are provided by traditional and buffered bike lanes, without the increased conflicts of separating cyclists from other vehicular traffic. No way, No How cyclists are similar to motorists with temporary permits. They learn to drive in traffic, we do not build separate travel lanes for them. Page 34 refers to the analysis of traffic crashes in Appendix C. Where is the raw data that found an increase in bicycle crashes at intersections of SBLs? It was not included in Appendix C. Page 41 contradicts this statement when it says that SBLs improved safety at major intersections. I support the recommendation to use pilot projects. I also strongly believe that SBLs should follow the FHWA experimentation process. Pages 43 and 81 note that 2-way SBLs perform well along waterways. I agree and believe that separation should only be permitted along waterways, railways and limited access freeways with few intersection conflicts. Page 49 recommends that SBLs be placed on the left side of one-way streets to avoid transit conflicts. Why isn't this a standard ("shall" rather than "should")? Page 50 identifies the problems with legislation requiring parking adjacent to the curb. We can hope that municipalities will resist changing the policy of moving it away from the curb. Page 55 describes Boulder's Living Laboratory program. When will the results of the study be released? Page 86 recommends planters for separation. Will they require retroreflectorized object markers? Page 87 cautions about barriers providing a tripping hazard to pedestrians and says they should be avoided. These barriers are also collision hazards for cyclists, as the MUTCD and AASHTO so clearly point out. Page 89 points out the poor sight distance at driveways due to parked cars. "Good design improves visibility and expected behaviors." Yes, that is why bike lanes should not be wrong way or placed between the parked cars and the curb. Page 90 states that the "turning vehicle yield to bikes" sign is not permitted. How can this guide recommend putting bike lanes to the right of right turn-only lanes or left of left turn-only lanes without proper signage? Page 91 recommends signage for wrong-way cyclists. Which signs should be used? Page 91 recommends posts on the centerline of 2-way bike lanes. How frequent would these posts be placed? How would cyclists pass eachother with posts? Page 98 states that the access aisle for accessible parking spaces should not encroach on the vehicular travel lane. But it's OK to encroach on the SBL? A bicycle is a vehicle, which can also harm a pedestrian with a disability. Page 104 states that cyclists may use the pedestrian signal if there is no dedicated right turn lane. Why not do the same with dedicated right turn lanes? Page 104 recommends NO TURN ON RED signs. But cyclists must follow all traffic control devices, so are they also prohibited from RTOR? Page 104 recommends an optional signal detector at 60-120' in advance of the intersection. Do signal detectors function if cyclists pass over them? Would cyclists need to have wheels placed directly over detector wire while passing? Page 114 shows a bike lane crossing a through lane which becomes a turn-only lane. This is expressly prohibited in AASHTO and NACTO guides. To quote AASHTO: "The bike lane should not be striped diagonally across the travel lane, as this inappropriately suggests to bicyclists that they do not need to yield to motorists when moving laterally." Page 118 suggests a blue indicator light to inform cyclists that they were detected. Are blue indicator lights included in the MUTCD (for traffic signals)? Page 119 states that arrows are not used with bicycle signals. Does this mean that cyclists may proceed straight, right or left with a green signal? Pages 119-121 show turning conflicts between turning vehicles and other road users. But the diagrams show cyclists only proceeding straight. Cyclists also turn right and left. Page 122 states that bike boxes may extend across all lanes. I recall that bike boxes are not permitted to extend across more than 2 lanes. Page 125 shows the 2-stage turn queue box either in advance of the bike lane (in line with the parking lane) or between the crosswalk and the bike lane. Can a 2-way SBL have both turn queue boxes so that cyclists are not crossing paths when entering the queue boxes? Page 135 states that 2-way SBLs should not be used on 1-way streets if it is a couplet. Should this guideline prohibit 2-way SBLs in this case? Page 143 shows a 2-stage turn queue box for left turning cyclists. Are cyclists permitted to turn left directly from bike lane, after yielding to oncoming cyclists? General question: If cyclists choose to avoid SBLs and ride in the travel lanes, are they required to obey bicycle signals? They may not be able to see them and should be lawfully permitted to use the traffic signals. Does any state or city have traffic laws pertaining to bicycle signals?
todd_solomon's picture

Patricia, just to let you know, your comments have been sent to the Guide authors.

This is a good start to a long lingering problem so I hope the opportunity for more community involvement for these types of changes can be done.

The new guidelines allow designs which are disallowed by the MUTCD and AASHTO guide to bicycle facilities, including parked cars and raised posts for separation, bike lanes between turn-only lanes and the curb, and bike lanes which cross turn-only lanes. Table 1 states that the AASHTO guidance on all design considerations is "None". AASHTO provides detailed guidance on all of these design considerations except bike signals and bike boxes. Why would FHWA imply that readers should ignore the good engineering judgement of the AASHTO guide?

I think that delineators should be used only in high traffic areas ...not the whole lane where very well defined bike lanes are painted and bright with double wide stripes....also more laws need to enforced on texting and driving...I see it all the time as I am on the road every day..city and highway.

For Bus shelters, wouldn't it make more sense to put it after the cross walk to give both bikers and passengers more visibility?

These guidelines are badly needed. I just attended a city meeting about a "complete streets" project that was going to add bike lanes while doing a road diet. One proposal was for buffered bike lanes on both sides of the street, the other for a 2-way "cycletrack". However, there was no "protection" for the so-called cycletrack. If our public works and planning departments don't call these proposals by their correct names, how can we ensure that we get the best proposals?

On two-way separated lanes, mid-block, you suggest a delineator post can be used between the lanes to discourage driver entry. (e.g., Fig. 15) Delineator posts are raised obstructions capable of causing bicycle crashes with serious injuries. (I am not aware of any delineator post so flexible that it cannot cause a bicycle crash, and I have witnessed cycletrack crashes caused by delineator posts on Seattle's 2nd Ave 2-way cycletrack.) Should such obstructions not have envelopes striped around them, as in MUTCD Fig. 9C-8?
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