Dear City Hall: Please consult this checklist before building your next intersection. Thanks.

February 18, 2014

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer


Image by Nick Falbo, Alta Planning and Design.

What good is a protected bike lane that isn't safe when it crosses the street? A Portland-based planner proposes a systematic answer to the problem in a short new video Tuesday.

"Sharing busy traffic lanes with cars is absolutely unacceptable, and separation by a line of paint is often not enough," says the video's creator, Nick Falbo. But, he adds, "it doesn't matter how safe and protected your bike lane is if intersections are risky, stressful experiences."

Falbo, whose day job is as a professional bike planner, isn't so much introducing new ideas here — as Falbo notes on his project's website protectedintersection.com, many of the concepts will be familiar to people who saw Mark Wagenbuur's 2011 video "Junction design the Dutch way." Instead, he's trying to advance new ways to talk about these ideas. His hope is to make "protected intersections" as familar a concept in the United States as "protected bike lanes" have become.

"One of my goals with the video was to give people something else to call it other than a Dutch Intersection, as well as to give names to all of the various elements that make it up," Falbo writes in an email.

My favorite part of the video is Falbo's careful breakdown of the four elements of a great protected intersection:

1) A corner refuge island.

This "key element" of a protected intersection "physically separates bicyclists as they make right turns, and provide a secure refuge for those waiting at a red signal protected from moving cars," Falbo explains. Sure, it takes a lot of real estate at a street corner. But then, so do all the cars driven by people who would ride bikes if it were more pleasant to do so.

"Think of it like a curb extension for bicyclists."

2) A forward stop bar for bicycles.

This is used both by bikes turning left — instead of merging with auto traffic, they simply head across the street and then turn left from there — and by bikes going straight ahead.

"The forward stop location makes bicyclists incredibly visible to drivers waiting at a red light; the physical distance ahead of cars gives bicyclist an effective head start when the light turns green; and the distance of the road that bicyclists need to cross is greatly reduced."

3) A set-back bike and pedestrian crossing.

"The critical dimension is one car-length of space between the traffic lane and the bicycle crossing, around 6 meters.

"With this design, drivers turn 90 degrees to face the bike lane before they even cross it, making people on bikes highly visible and out of the driver’s blind spot."

4) Bicycle-friendly signal phasing.

Dedicated bike signals and phases give people on bikes "a little extra time to get rolling, enter the intersection, and maybe even clear it completely before people driving start to move."

The project is Falbo's submission to George Mason University's 2014 Cameron Rian Hays Outside the Box Competition, a contest for interesting new transportation ideas. (Our favorite from last year: the pop-up protected bus lane. Who said bike riders should have all the fun?) He acknowledges that this video will invite debate and that this perfect solution can't work at every street corner.

"Starting that conversation is the whole point," Falbo writes. "I hope to go on a conference tour this year pitching the concept to any other planners, engineers and designers that will listen."

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write michael@peopleforbikes.org.

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