Over the last year I've collected a lot of images of cycling infrastructure around the world, it seemed like a good time to combine all that into one post along with a little discussion on each. Read on to see the variety of options of the varying types of bike facility.
The humble Sharrow, a bicycle painted on the road, typically with two arrows above it, used too often to suggest this is a good route for cycling. More often than not it is a sign that it was the only route available and even that did not have enough space for any form of dedicated cycling facility. It does nothing to enhance the safety of the cyclist, nor encourage cycling amongst those who currently don't. I see the only real use for these to be slow speed quiet streets where cycling is recommended over adjacent streets.
The Super Sharrow
The Super Sharrow, like a conventional Sharrow, only the bicycle symbol is painted on a green lane down the centre of the regular vehicle travel lane. I have only ridden on a Super Sharrow the one time, however, it was surprising how well this worked to clear the lane (on a two lane road), and give the cyclist the right to be in the middle of the vehicle lane. Safety is somewhat improved as vehicles tend to stick to the other lane where they have the option. It likely does little to encourage cycling but for those that already do, it was a welcome addition.
The Painted Bike Lane
The painted bike lane gets a bit of a bad name for itself these days, with cycling advocates demanding 8-80 (Safe for anyone from 8 to 80 years old) or AAA (all Ages and Abilities) level cycling facilities. Unfortunately the truth in many places is that there is either limited funds or limited space. The simple painted bike lane does offer a significant step up in comfort over the two options above, it improves safety somewhat by removing the need for vehicles to move around you. However it does nothing to prevent a vehicle entering the bike lane, if the driver is not paying attention for whatever reason. Is it going to encourage cycling among those that don't? Perhaps marginally, it is better than nothing for sure!
The Coloured Painted Bike Lane
The coloured painted bike lane provides a slight step up, by visually enhancing the bike lane area and making drivers more aware of it. Sometimes the coloured paint is used only through high conflict areas to further draw attention to the presence of the bike lane and encourage drivers to take more care. If budget does not allow it over the full length, at the least, it should be considered at road crossings. Again, it may have a very marginal effect on ridership.
The Buffered Bike Lane
The Buffered Bike Lane is where we start to step things up a little. Most effectively and for the lowest cost, this can be done with paint, increasing the separation between the bike lane and the vehicle lane. Safety is increased marginally by the increase in separation, but as there is no real physical separation, it simply allows a greater margin of error by drivers or greater time to react to an unintended lane change. This perhaps starts to be seen as a step up from traditional facilities and thus those that don't cycle regularly may be more likely to consider using such a facility.
Raised (or Depressed) Bike Lane/Path
The raised bike path could be one direction or bi-direction, it seeks separation from the traffic lanes by way of a small vertical change in grade. The experience is definitely a step up from that of just paint separation, but the ability for vehicles to still stray into the bike area somewhat reduces the appeal. The raised version is much more attractive than the depressed version, which almost seemed like a downgrade from the painted lane, it would be quite easy for a car to stray into.
The Protected Bike Lane (by Parked Vehicles)
The protected bike lane is where the real benefits begin to be found. By physically stopping cars from entering the bike lane, peoples perceptions begin to change and we see a real desire to use such a facility. In this case, it is sometimes as easy as shifting the parking over and repainting the road, this is a great option providing there is space for a "door zone", a buffer that car doors can be opened into without the risk of encroaching into the bike lane.
The Protected Bike Lane (by Planters, Curbs, Etc)
Where using parking to protect the bike lane is not an option or not appropriate, the bike lane can be protected in other ways, from low cost rubber bumps to trial concrete curbs, to more permanent curbs, walls and planters. The effectiveness of the protected bike lane has been proven on many occasions to increase cycling safety and is considered key to increasing ridership from those that don't currently cycle.
The Multi-User Path (MUP)
The multi-user path, a path typically around 3m wide that can be used by both pedestrians and cyclists (as well as inline skates, skateboarders, etc) can be a controversial solution as people on bikes mix with people on foot, raises the issue of pedestrian safety from the risk of collision with a fast moving cyclist. Many cyclists don't like them as they typically must travel more slowly and with more care (if the path is busy with pedestrians). It does however provide a safe route for cyclists for all ages and abilities, but more experienced cyclists may choose to stay on the road and mix with vehicles.
The Multi-User Path (but with Separate areas for Walking and Cycling)
There can be greater benefit from a multi-user path, where the cyclist and pedestrians have their own dedicated areas, thus reducing the likelihood of a collision (it is of course still possible should one person stray into the other zone). This along with separated bike lane I believe are the most comfortable and safe solutions for cyclists.
Left Turn Bike Boxes
I haven't seen these in too many places but they exist to make left turns for cyclists safer, albeit in many cases, if you do not catch the lights, its a two stage process rather than one. The left turn box sits just off to the side of the curb lane rather than the left lane and provides cyclists a place to wait until the traffic signals change on the perpendicular roadway where you then cross with traffic. Its a good solution for less confident cyclists that may not want to cross lanes in busy traffic.
What is the Best Solution?
In every single situation, there are a multitude of factors that must be considered and compromises that may have to be made. While protected bike lanes or multi-use paths with separate zones offer perhaps the best solution for all, they are often a challenge to implement.
Cost is always a major factor, in many places in BC there is very limited bike infrastructure and equally limited tax base which provides limited funds. Do you build one km of separated bike lane or a full network of painted bike lanes? The political will to remove vehicle lanes is one of the biggest challenges to providing bike facilities. Its easy to blame the Engineers for everything when something is not AAA compliant, but sometimes the preferred solution will not be implemented because the impacts to traffic and the backlash from drivers is still a major driving force in the decision making process of Council. It may not be equitable but it is often the reality.
One thing that has become apparent in cities which have embraced cycling infrastructure, many have done so by converting streets to one-way (for vehicles at least) which helps makes it easier to remove a vehicle lane for the cycling infrastructure. This is typically frowned upon in terms of vehicle accessibility and even in some cases the walkability of a city, but is somewhat common where there are good bike facilities in an established and built up city.
Perceptions of cycling and the infrastructure needed are changing for the better. Public opinion is placing greater importance on safe cycling facilities, and that is being seen by Council and Mayors across the province, the country, and all around the world. the fact that it can help contribute to so many other city objectives such as reducing greenhouse gas emission, improving air quality, reducing obesity is a large part of the movement.