Protected Bike Lanes

Photo Credit: Brendon Slotterback

Protected bike lanes add safety and comfort

Protected bike lanes put a physical barrier between traffic and bicyclists. The barrier could be a curb, flexible posts, planters or some other barrier that provides separation from moving cars.

Well-designed protected bike lanes also include clear pavement markings that move bicyclists safely through intersections and clearly signal to drivers where they can expect to find crossing bicyclists. Some of the most impressive protected bike lanes also have traffic signals designed specifically for bicycles at intersections. 

In addition to making bicyclists feel safer and more comfortable, protected bike lanes add potential for pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and more greenspace. Protected bike lanes are also a great option for busier commercial corridors as a way of attracting more bicycle traffic to local businesses - studies from New York show that businesses along protected bike lanes experienced an increase in revenue.

While Minneapolis has incorporated certain elements of protected bike lane into some bike facilities, a fully functional protected bike lane has yet to be constructed. That will change soon as plans to include a protected bike lane on Washington Avenue downtown has been approved, with construction to occur in 2015.

Cities such as New York, Chicago and Vancouver have successfully implemented protected bike lanes, and Minneapolis has a chance to join the ranks with well-designed protected bike lanes on Washington and other roads in the future.

Note that the term "cycletrack" is sometimes used instead of "protected bike lane," especially with engineers. The terms refer to the same thing.

Advantages of protected bikeways: A safe and enjoyable place to ride that can provide easy access to local businesses along busier roads.

Adding Protected Bike Lanes to Existing Streets: Protected bike lanes can be added to existing streets even in the absence of major renovations. Bike lanes can be buffered from traffic using a combination of paint, planters, and plastic posts (bollards). Check out these strategies for making safe and connected streets.

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Planter Protected Bike Lanes: Planters are a green way to separate moving traffic from bicyclists. Heavy planters are located on the outside of the bike lanes and can be filled with flowers, shrubs, and small trees; making the street more pleasant for all users.


Bollard Protected Bike Lanes: Bollards are plastic cones that are attached to the ground on the outside of a bike lane. Although they provide less protection than curbs or planters, they provide a measure of separation and are effective at keeping cars out of the bike lane.

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Parking Protected Bike Lanes:  Parked cars are moved to the outside of the bike lane and bicyclists are protected from moving traffic and can ride safely between parked cars and the curb.


Pedestrian Plaza Protected Bike Lanes: Created using paint and planters. These plazas provide a safe place for pedestrians to rest and also provide a comfortable, buffered bike lane.

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Winter: Whereas traditional, unprotected bike lanes often fill with snow and disappear during the winter; plowed protected bike lanes will provide bicyclists with a safe space to ride in snowy and icy conditions.   Intersections: Cities use green paint to alert cars, bikes, and pedestrians that bicycles are passing through the intersection. Bike boxes can be added to allow for comfortable left turns that don't force cyclists into traffic.


Including Protected Bike Lanes on New Street Construction

Separating bike lanes from moving traffic using curbs and greenery is an effective way to make them safe and pleasant. This is most likely to happen when streets are undergoing major reconstruction, as it requires re-doing the curbs and gutters.

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Protected bike lanes can be separated from moving traffic by elevating the bike lane to the level of the sidewalk and using distinctive paving. One way bike lanes can be located on each side of the street, moving in the same direction as traffic.


Protected bikeways can also run two-way on one side of the street. At driveways and intersections, green paint can be used to alert pedestrians and drivers that they are crossing a protected bike lane.

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Here is an example of a protected bike lane that is buffered on both sides by green space. Protected bike lanes can add character and a sense of place to a neighborhood.


This bike lane, currently under construction, runs at street level, but is protected from moving traffic by a permanent curb.


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Winter: Snow removal on protected bike lanes can be done using smaller vehicles with plows, like bobcats and pickup trucks.


  Intersections: Protected bike lanes require protected intersections. With this design, corner islands protect bicyclists from turning cars, continuing the physical protection of the bike lane into the intersection and making intersections safer.



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