Flickr/Elvert Barnes

Bike infrastructure is changing, raising new questions about the best design.

Cities in the U.S., including Washington, D.C., where I live, are making significant investments in bicycling infrastructure. Two categories that have appeared just in the last decade, for example, are bicycle sharing and urban bike stations where cyclists can store bikes and get repairs. Bike lanes, or painted stripes marking bicycle travel space on roadways, have been around longer, but some of the new ones are much more sophisticated than what we had ten or twenty years ago.

In particular, one new generation of bike lanes is called “cycle tracks,” comprising bike lanes that are on the roadway but physically separated from motor vehicle traffic. We have one on 15th Street NW right in front of my office (see photos, taken a few blocks north). It is immensely popular as a bike commuting route.  Advanced cycle tracks even have their own traffic signals. The D.C.-based advocacy blog WashCycle says that cycle tracks “increase ridership by 18-20 percent compared to 5-7 percent for [conventional, non-separated] bike lanes.”

15th and P Streets, NW, Washington, D.C. Image courtesy Flickr user Elvert Barnes

I used the cycle tracks on Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street two weeks ago on my rain-soaked trek home from Climate Ride and was glad to have them. If I were a bike commuter, I would use them frequently.

There is a legitimate debate among cyclists about the efficacy of separated bike lanes compared to full recognition and respect of bicycles as vehicles entitled to use the same roadways as motor vehicles. I’ll confess to a bit of personal ambivalence about it all, especially outside of dense downtown areas. What we tend to call “bike trails,” for example, are actually multiple-use trails where an experienced cyclist must share space with pedestrians, dog walkers, baby strollers with nannies on cell phones, small children on their first, zigzag bike rides, and the like. I generally find cars more predictable and roadways safer for the pace I like to ride. Especially when cars are likely to be turning, I’d rather be in the main roadway where I am more visible. 

For an interesting back-and-forth on this set of issues, see the comments on this blog post. I think both sides have a point. For myself, many of my complaints about bike facilities are reduced significantly when it is clear that they are bike-only spaces and used mainly by adults. I think cycle tracks and lanes may be more useful than not in heavily congested areas with good traffic signals.

There’s a terrific summary of D.C.’s experience with new bike facilities here, and this short video from Portland makes a great case for the new generation of bike tracks and lanes:

For a more serious sort of cycle track, perhaps the world's most famous, see this photo of Fabian Cancellara.

Top image courtesy Flickr user Elvert Barnes

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo collage of 2020 presidential candidates.
    Equity

    Will Housing Swing the 2020 Election?

    Among Democratic candidates for president, the politics of America’s housing affordability crisis are getting complicated. Just wait until Trump barges in.

  2. A photo of an abandoned building in Newark, New Jersey.
    Equity

    The 10 Cities Getting a Philanthropic Boost for Economic Mobility

    An initiative funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ballmer Group focuses on building “pipelines of opportunity.”

  3. A person tapes an eviction notice to the door of an apartment.
    Equity

    Why Landlords File for Eviction (Hint: It’s Usually Not to Evict)

    Most of the time, a new study finds, landlords file for eviction because it tilts the power dynamic in their favor—not because they want to eject their tenants.

  4. a photo of Denver city council member Candi CdeBaca
    Transportation

    A Freeway Fight Launched Denver’s New Queer Latina Councilmember

    In a progressive shake-up, 32-year-old community organizer Candi CdeBaca will take her advocacy work to the city council.  

  5. A house with a for sale sign.
    Perspective

    Why Are Zoning Laws Defining What Constitutes a Family?

    It’s wrong to exclude safe uses of housing because of who belongs to a household. Like family law, zoning ordinances should prioritize functional families.

×