Say this for conventional bike lanes: they’re easy. Building protected bike lanes takes real work.
Maybe that’s why, since U.S. cities started building modern protected bike lanes 10 years ago, one seemingly simple question has come up more than maybe any other: Which streets need them?
It’s impossible to answer that question perfectly, and most U.S. road design institutions haven’t tried. Until now.
At its annual conference Tuesday in Chicago, the National Association of City Transportation Officials released a free 16-page document that makes one of the first comprehensive attempts to answer that question.
In advance of NACTO’s full digital rollout (coming in a couple of weeks), we’ve got a sneak peek at the contents.
That’s a chart designed to take the basic traits any street — auto speed, traffic volume, lane count — and spit out a recommendation of what sort of bike lane the street should have to create the sort of low-stress riding experience that gets people of “all ages and abilities” — eight-year-olds, 80-year-olds, bike-sharing tourists — on bikes.
Got a two-lane, two-way 25 mph street that carries 4,000 autos per day? According to NACTO, a buffered bike lane will do. But if the traffic speed is 30 mph, it’s time to protect the bike lane with a curb, posts or planters.
Many city agencies have already put together their own internal guidance for questions like this, and NACTO’s guidance here is on the stringent end of the spectrum. For example, the PeopleForBikes Bicycle Network Analysis considers a conventional striped bike lane to be “low-stress” if there’s no curbside parking and speeds are less than 30 mph.
NACTO, though, is holding its recommendation to a higher standard, and that’s fine. “All ages and abilities” is, after all, a higher bar for a bike lane than simply “low stress.”