The Case for Protected Bike Lanes

Evolution calls for better bike lanes

Call them what you want: Cycle Tracks, Protected Bike Lanes, Bike Paths. Bottom line is, most people won’t start riding until you take cars out of the equation. Why? Because even well-intentioned people do stupid or careless sh**, and when people do stupid or careless sh** while in a car, they could hurt or kill others.  Even a cyclist’s own mistake can put them at much greater risk when riding alongside traffic.

So we have a chicken and the egg problem – you have to build great facilities first, then the people will ride.  Current bike lane designs are ripe for abuse.  There’s no way in hell police departments anywhere in the city will ever be able to effectively police bike lane misuse.  In some cases, police themselves use them as parking lanes.  Needless to mention, bike lanes also fail at protecting the cyclist.  Visual proof follows.

Standard Bike Lanes Are Failing

Ahh, the all-too-familiar Venice Bike lane block'o'trashcans...
Common occurence on the Ocean Ave bike lane, Santa Monica
UPS truck in New York, one of the biggest repeat offenders on the My Bike Lane website.
Impromptu unloading area, West Hollywood



Simple solution to avoiding all of the above:

Completely take cyclists out of harm’s way. 

The "controversial" Prospect Park West bike lane, NYC

Dennis Hindman hits it right on the head with his comments on the “BPIT Top 10” LADOT Bike Blog article. We need a “perceived barrier” that physically separates and protects cyclists from car traffic.  As a buffer, use planters, landscaping, bollards, or a row of parked cars.  You know, “experimental” stuff that most people here would consider futuristic or unattainable.  Vancouver gets it, Montreal gets it.  Expect, and ask for more.  Remind your local government that cyclists pay the same taxes that motorists pay*.  We have the right to ride safely and free of fear.

More proper propaganda follows – both excellent Streetsfilms shorts.

Physically Separated Bike Lanes

Prospect Park West Family Bike Ride/We Ride the Lanes

Physically Separated Bike Lanes

* preemptive warning to ignant fools that dare bring up the cost of Gas in the comments:  gas is not a tax, it’s an energy commodity.  Kind of like food for cyclists.

The Grand Opening of Long Beach’s protected bike lanes on Broadway and 3rd streets is this Saturday at Noon.

Mihai Peteu

Software Developer, Bike Safety Instructor, Amateur triathlete

29 thoughts on “The Case for Protected Bike Lanes

  1. With all the respect in the world I am going to call bullshit on this one. The simple fact of the matter is that there are very few arterials in Los Angeles that thanks to years of auto-focused land use policies is not completely littered with an army of driveways, yet alone one that has nice long blocks as well. Everyone of those driveways is a potential conflict point. Cars don’t stop for sidewalks now as they are looking for the next gap in the platoon of cars. What makes you think that they are even going to look at the cycletrack they are crossing over? Find me an arterial without driveways (or very few) and nice long blocks and I will buy what you are selling.

  2. Why would swapping the bike and parking lane on Venice Bl for example be such a bad idea? I understand how driveways could pose a problem, but a car pulling out wouldn’t be any more of a problem than it currently is. If the travel lanes were narrower, there would be plenty of room for a protected lane plus buffer, so a car turning onto Venice could advance clear past the bike lane before doing so.

    Also, shifting the row of parked cars improves cyclists’ visibility and viceversa. Cars wouldn’t have to inch up, they’d see the rider approach from far away.

    We need a mockup here…

  3. Venice is a perfect example of what I am talking about. There is a shit ton of driveways there. So you create enough space for a single car to sit in the parking lane while trying to pull out, but a larger vehicle like a UPS truck and the cycle track is blocked. Unlike on Venice in its current configuration the cyclist is blocked in between parked cars and a curb… no where to go!

    What is the problem when you place a bike lane against the curb in a right turn pocket? It is a designed right hook hazard. This is the same problem at every driveway with the added visibility issue of the bike hidden behind a row of parked cars. You are designing conflict and decreased visibility.

    Now Venice has a lot of potential because it has massive right of way. Why not just drop a buffer in the doorzone and move the bike lane away from the parked cars?

    Most cycle tracks in other cities are on streets that either have minimal conflict points, no parking, or are a one-way street with the cycle track on the outside lane (reducing the right hook conflicts). Again find me a street with those characteristics and we have option for protected lanes.

    I really like the door zone buffer, its sexy!

  4. The buffer zone will simply be used for double parking. The bike lane pavement will continue to be crappy, because cars can choose to drive all over it. With a separated lane, I bet the pavement would remain in a pristine condition much longer.

    Without clear separation from traffic, the major bikeways in the city will never be for the 8-80 crowd. Ridership doesn’t increase past a certain percentage, and Southern California continues to decline.

    Venice, aka California State Route 187 (murderous, eh), has high traffic speeds. High enough to severly hurt in case of a sideswipe. A buffer zone would be a welcome addition, don’t get me wrong, but that still gets you only halfway there. You’re totally unprotected on the other side.

  5. Long Beach has already done this on Broadway and 3rd in downtown Long Beach, and it is working great. The lanes will officially open this Saturday, April 22nd, but I have been using them frequently, and they are much better than regular bike lanes. They don’t get blocked by double-parked cars, and you FEEL much safer.

    Surprisingly, drivers have been very respectful of the lanes (with the exception of one place where the post office drop box is right in the lane – that need to be fixed). I’ve had zero right or left hook incidents, which are frequent on most bike lanes.

    Here’s the official info:

    And here’s the opening announcement, with a photo of one intersection:

  6. I was riding Wilshire today, and I was wondering why this car kept drifting into my lane. As I pass it, I realize the chick is putting on lotion on *both* her hands. She was driving hands free.

    Some people are careless – that will never change. We have to put a physical boundary between cyclists and the flow of motorized traffic.

  7. Some say that separated bike lanes won’t work because of many driveways along streets. I’d like to call BS! For starters, driveways are already a hazard with standard bike lanes as parked cars block driveways and there is no visual contact between the driver and the bicyclist in the bike lane. Forget about double parking, drifting into bike lane, dooring, etc… driveways are already a conflict zone.

    By implementing cycletracks there will be a greater visual contact between driveways and bicyclists as nothing will be between them. Even if driveways persist with a degree of potential harm, I’d take that over everything else regular bike lanes face.

    One may also argue that cycletracks up bicycling rates and therefore motorists will simply become more aware when crossing a bicyclists path.

    Also, some driveways are unnecessary and can be removed altogether!

    As for intersections, if they are designed well there should be zero conflict.

  8. Feverishly working on a first person and top-down visual in Photoshop… The more I look at it, the more I want to drop one of the car travel lanes. Traffic calm ftw.

  9. Severin,

    I think Cory was referring entry into driveways as a conflict, not exit. Drivers exiting driveways would definitely see bicyclists more clearly while approaching the street. Drivers entering a driveway from the street, however, would have a row of parked cars screening bicyclists from that drivers’ view (thus creating the right-hook conflict Cory mentioned).
    Another conflict I just though of is when a driver exiting a driveway pulls to the edge of the parking lane: the back end of the car would sit in the cycle track while the driver waits to pull into traffic. This could be solved by putting a 5-6 foot buffer between the cycle track and the parking lane, though using 10-12 feet of roadway as a buffer area is a tough sell.

    None of this is to say that cycle tracks don’t belong in LA: they do. Mihai, I think it’s great that you’ve sparked discussion to find the right location and application of cycle tracks in LA.

  10. Check out the video on

    0:40 – People board bus from an island that is placed to the left of the bike lane (imagine not having to worry about merging 33/733 buses)

    The rest of the video is fairly irrelevant since the street depicted has a much lower traffic flow than Venice. I’m not saying we have to copy this design exactly as it is, I just want everyone’s mind set to be “we deserve equivalent or better bikeways than these people over yonder”.

    On a slow street like Broadway in Santa Monica, buffered door zone would suffice. On fast moving streets like Venice, not enough.

  11. I see that a driver pulling into a side street or driveway would be more dangerous than one pulling out. One solution could be to get rid of the parking space just before that turn, and draw a gradual merge line leading to the right. If you got rid of two parking spaces, there would be enough room for the driver to fully and calmly merge right before turning, instead of worrying about obstructing the flow of traffic behind them.

    Only allowing compact cars to park at the beginning or end of a row of parked cars would improve visibility at intersections even more. SUVs don’t belong in the city.

  12. I’m with Mihai. We deserve better than the standard lanes we typically get. The Dutch know how to build them. Why can’t we ask?

    I had the danger conversation yet again with a couple at dinner on Saturday night. They won’t ride in L.A., nor let their children, for all the usual reasons. Yet they’ve spent several vacations riding in France, etc., where they had no problems at all. Class II bicycle lanes aren’t going to cut it, not for the vast majority of potential cyclists.

  13. First I would like to point out that Broadway and Third are both one way streets with moderate to low travel speeds in a downtown (pedestrian heavy) area, making them great for cycletracks. I rode those streets before and they were nice to ride! Great application by LB (as usual)!

    Mihai you are spot on about removing two spots at each drive way for visibility (essentially making a right turn pocket). On Venice you would end up with damn near no onstreet parking! That’s fucking awesome! But probably a political deal killer. Parking is politics in Los Angeles! I would love nothing more than to change this citys parking policies!

    But removing parking on the street would provide the sufficient right of way necessary to install a cycle track on any arterial! And it solves the visibility issue! Then put bike boxes at all the intersections across all lanes to allow cyclist an opportunity to get into the left turn pocket. There is still the danger of a right hook as any right turn by a car must cross the cycletrack and a bike may not have an opportunity to stop when the driver is lotioning both hands and turning with her knees!

    I can totally get behind the traffic calming FTW! Slower speeds allows for engineering narrower lanes. No street should be more than 35mph! Really slower speeds fixes most of our problems. If travel speeds were lower we wouldn’t need cycletracks at all! I feel that with class 1 facilities in general we are doing our selves a dis-service. The more we segregate ourselves the more motorists will say we don’t belong! Its just like sidewalk riding. We are trying to over engineer a solution to a symptom rather than the problem itself. Problems like land use and parking policies, speed limit policies, dui misdemeaners… etc.

  14. Yup, going to be a tough game to play. It’s looking like either we drop one travel lane or the parking. Hard to sell that to people that can’t quite envision a future where 15-20% of people use Venice for their bike commute.

    What do we stand to gain? A Venice Bl that looks more like a livable community rather than a never-ending strip mall. The challenge here is to build up local support to fight all the naysaying commuters that could care less about the neighborhood they’re passing through.

    Not sure what the width of the car lane is on Venice, but it could be dropped to as low as 9ft, the minimum required by the state. Realistically, 10ft. Even that could free up a few feet of precious space.

  15. It seems like this conversation is really starting to focus on Venice, perhaps a community based visioning charrette would be a worthwhile exercise. Look at the actual widths available and see what kind of creative solutions we can come up with. Like top priority project number 1 of the backbone bike plan! Maybe do the same exercise for Figueroa in NELA?

    Bike Working Group?

  16. Venice may not be the most comfortable bike lane in town, but it is the most practical. Worthy of rising atop the priority list. While the BPIT looks at options for extending it toward downtown, the Bike Working Group could look at improvements on the existing portion.

    Time to talk to some Bike Oven folks about a NELA focus group for Figueroa!

  17. LADOT,

    Read the post and comments in a rush, apologies for my presumptive post. Right, so right hook issue. I must say though, if a right hook is the worst I should expect, I’ll take it. Especially as frequently it is difficult to simply swing into a driveway if there is curbside parking. As with all, proper design can avoid all problems to a high degree if not completely. consistently shows us that the Dutch have been capable of designing safe facilities that attract high cycling rates.

  18. For all the planning students out there, a complete street corridor analysis would make a great project!

    If Bikeside is willing to organize a working group session I would be happy to lend my expertise (or lack there of). Get out there, ride the corridor. Measure street widths and look at land uses and off street parking availability. We can pull traffic volumes and speed surveys. Look at accident data on the corridor… etc.

    A true and realistic understanding of how the street functions will lend itself to opening up all of the opportunities that are available. That knowledge is priceless!

  19. The problem I’ve witnessed with the otherwise excellent new separated bike lanes in downtown Long Beach is that drivers invariably pull across the bike lane when exiting driveways, then stop at the line of park cars to observe oncoming traffic.

    The number of these instances (“invariably” is NOT hyperbolic; I have video) was a huge surprise, especially since doing so provides little if any advantage for visibility.

    This behavior may be temporary as motorists accustom themselves to new infrastructure, but without education and/or common sense it could well become standard driver practice.

  20. @LADOT Bike Blog – the median cycletrack approach (Culver Bl, Chandler Bikeway) seems to be popular with slower recreational riders and families, but I bet there would be a huge backlash from the folks who run on the San Vicente median if they were to feel pushed out. A median cycletrack on San Vicente should include room for runners as well as maintain most of the trees and landscaping.

    Question is, do we remove the existing bike lane and use that extra roadway space we gain for expanding the median? Or do we keep the bike lane as-is for the fast recreational riders?

  21. And the median bike path on Culver is a deathtrap, if you ask me. Every block it dumps you in front of cars turning right, including cars turning right into a freeway onramp and already accelerating up to speed. Bike traffic signals would help, but only some, as CA drivers are accustomed to turning right on a red.

    Fortunately most cyclists ignore those lanes and ride in Culver itself, which is fairly wide and freshly paved now.

  22. Rick, what did you think of Long Beach’s implementation? Crazy to think that 90% of the cost of those protected lanes went towards bike signals and light timing.

    The only problems I foresee are the bike green coinciding with the ped walk signal, and the unprotected parking lot exits. They are one way streets after all, it’s not that difficult to watch out for oncoming bike traffic.

  23. Mihai, I’d say the signals were as important as the berms. Even so, a a lady in a giant SUV tried to nudge through a bunch of us at the approach to an intersection–got shouted down, of course, but crowded in pretty close.

    it’s more difficult to see bike traffic that’s oncoming from behind, as is the case on a one-way. The signals prevent the very common “hook” crash–left hook instead of right hook here, as the lanes are on the left side of the one-way street.

    I’ve been riding Forester-style for 45 years, so it’s no big deal to me–but i try to think of how the streets look to my wife, who got back on the bike after twenty years and had mostly ridden in the empty wilds of Agoura back then, or to my neighbor who is likewise trying out utility cycling after the usual (in the US) two decades off the wheel.

    If the Culver path had bike signals, I might like it better, though it would still be slower than the street. But these types of paths–unlike the river paths or DK and UK “bicycle highways”–are meant for local travel, to support local commerce and residents. That’s a good thing in itself.

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