Separated Bike Lanes
Separated bike lanes (also known as cycle tracks or protected bike lanes) are separated bicycle facilities that run alongside a roadway separated from automobile traffic by a physical barrier, such as parked cars, bollards, a landscaped buffer, or a curb. A separated bike lane is for bicycle use only and is distinct from a sidewalk. Separated bike lanes may be one-way or two-way and can be raised or at street-level. One benefit of these facilities is that many bicyclists feel more comfortable being physically separated from car traffic, potentially attracting new riders. Separated bike lanes may also reduce cyclist collisions involving parked cars; they can prevent "doorings" by creating a 3+ foot gap between parked cars and the bicycle travel lane and also keep cars from parking in a bike lane.
When selecting streets for the installation of a separated bike lanes, consider locations with high bicycle traffic or locations of high bicycle stress from high motor vehicle speeds or motor vehicle volumes, or high rates of parking turnover. Two-way separated bike lanes should be considered for locations where they would reduce potential wrong-way riding due to out of direction travel, where there is a high concentration of destinations on one side of the street, or other reasons. Also consider the impact on network traffic operations when retrofitting a separated bike lane as the installation typically results in the loss of a motor vehicle travel lane.
One of the greatest concerns for separated bike lanes is at intersections and driveways, which should be clearly marked through a variety of intersection markings that could include shared lane markings (sharrows), combined right-turn/bike lanes, and colored pavement. Separated bike lanes are most effective in locations where there are fewer intersection and driveway conflicts as well as minimal loading/unloading activity. At signalized intersections, bike boxes and bicycle signal heads should also be considered, particularly with two-way separated bike lanes.
The Federal Highway Administration's Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide (2015) includes an overview of the planning process and a menu of design recommendations with detailed graphics. The Urban Bikeway Design Guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) also provides information and illustrations about designing separated bike lanes.
Separated bike lanes can provide an attractive bicycle facility for a range of abilities through the physical separation from motor vehicle traffic.
- At intersections and driveways, make full use of signing and marking to improve awareness and guidance of the facility through these conflict zones.
- Ensure good visibility and sight lines at intersections and driveways through the use of no-parking zones and non-intrusive landscaping.
- Consider bicycle signal heads at signalized intersections to provide Leading Bicycle Intervals or contra-flow phasing.
- Ensure that the intersection has appropriate detection for bicyclists.
- The minimum desired width of a separated bike lane is five feet with a minimum buffer width of three feet. Widths of seven feet and greater are preferred as they allow for passing or side-by-side riding.
- Consider maintenance of the separated bike lane in the design; the width should be sufficient for street sweeping and snow removal equipment.
- When designing facilities such as separated bike lanes and contra-flow bicycle lanes, consideration should be given to alert pedestrians and motorists of where to expect bicyclists, especially at intersections and driveways.
The implementation cost is low if the project uses existing pavement and drainage, but the cost significantly increases if curb lines need to be moved. A parking lane is the low-cost option for providing a barrier. Other barriers might include concrete medians, bollards, tubular markers, or planters.