A Comparative Analysis of Bicycle Lanes Versus Wide Curb Lanes

Source: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)

The debate over whether BLs (Bike Lanes) or WCLs (Wide Curve Lanes) are preferable has been heated for many years and is not unlike the seat belts versus air bags dichotomy that prevented a concerted approach to the promotion of occupant restraints in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. While both BLs and WCLs are acceptable facilities in many locations, the debate has sometimes forced decision makers to choose which facility type they prefer, to the exclusion of the other. More bicycle facilities might be in place in this country except for this long-standing division of opinion. Because of the interest in BLs and WCLs, it was decided to make these facilities the focus of this project, with an emphasis on operations and interactions between bicyclists and motorists at intersections. experience, etc., of the bicyclists riding through these intersections.

A secondary study objective was to develop a guidebook of current innovative bicycling activities, with a primary focus on intersection treatments that pertained to BLs and WCLs. The innovative treatment included advance stop bars (often called bike boxes) where bicycles are allowed to proceed ahead of motor vehicle traffic at an intersection; painting a modified version of the bicycle logo near the curb in a WCL to alert drivers that bicycles would be operating in this space; colored pavement designating the appropriate path for the bicycle through an intersection; traffic calming measures like diagonal diverters and speed humps with "slots" in the pavement for bikes and buses; bicycle traffic signals; combination bus/bike lanes; different techniques for separating bike lanes; and others. The Bicycle Federation of America (BFA) was responsible for locating the relevant examples and developing appropriate descriptions. This guidebook is one of the final products of this contract.

The Final report is a comparative analysis of bicycle lanes (BLs) versus wide curb lanes (WCLs). The primary analysis was based on videotapes of almost 4,600 bicyclists (2,700 riding in BLs and 1,900 in WCLs) in the cities of Santa Barbara, CA, Gainesville, FL, and Austin, TX, as the bicyclists approached and rode through eight BL and eight WCL intersections with varying speed and traffic conditions. The intent was to videotape bicyclists who regularly ride in traffic. The videotapes were coded to learn about operational characteristics (e.g., intersection approach position and subsequent maneuvers) and conflicts with motor vehicles, other bicycles, or pedestrians. Slightly more than 2,900 surveys were completed. Bicycle-motor vehicle crash data were also analyzed to determine if
there were parallels to the videotape data.

The overall conclusion is that both BL and WCL facilities can and should be used to improve riding conditions for bicyclists. The identified differences in operations and conflicts appeared to be related to the specific destination patterns of bicyclists riding through the intersection areas studied and not to the characteristics of the bicycle facilities.

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