New Intersection Design Better Protects Bicyclists

protected-intersectionTraffic engineers know that differences in speed between one vehicle and another creates danger for both. As the difference in speed increases, reaction times are reduced, making it more important to concentrate on the job of driving and not on texting, fiddling with the GPS, or applying makeup. For the increasing number of cyclists on our roads, this lack of concentration can prove deadly.

This has led many bike friendly cities to create protected bike lanes, designated riding areas for bicycles that are physically separated from both cars and pedestrians by curbing, plantings or railings. But those protections end at intersections, putting bicyclists at extreme risk. Nick Falbo, an urban planner living in Portland, Oregon, has come up with a set of proposals that would address bicycle safety at intersections. Wired reports that Falbo’splan has four main components.

One: The Corner Refuge Island

This is simply additional curbing installed in an intersection to maintain the physical separation between riders and drivers that the protected bike lane does.

Two: The Forward Stop Bar

Once the refuge island is in place, bicyclist are able to stop further out in the intersection ahead of the crosswalk while waiting to cross, making them more visible to motorists. This also allows riders and pedestrians to have their own space within intersections, reducing conflicts between them.

Three: The Setback Crossing

This idea moves the crosswalk back away from the corner, further isolating bicyclists from vehicles and pedestrians and giving added time for drivers to recognize others using the same intersection and thus make better decisions.

Four: Bicycle Friendly Signal Phasing

Additional signals at intersections would allow bicyclists a head start through the crossing before vehicles start moving – typically an extra 5 seconds. Falbo suggests having all bicycle signals turn green at the same time, giving all of them time to clear the intersection before cars start moving.

What is the point? Simply to make bicycle commuting less stressful, which will encourage more people to leave their cars at home and pedal their way to work. Would his ideas work in every city? Probably not, as many cities have streets that are just too narrow. The last thing they need is to further restrict the width of those streets, increasing congestion for everybody, bicyclists included.

Still, his concepts deserve consideration and discussion. A bicycle takes up far less space than a car, a good thing in crowded cities, and even a top shelf bike costs about 5% what a car does, which is good news for bike riders’ wallets. Instead of different groups pointing fingers at each other, recognizing how real people ride and drive and designing roadways that recognize those realities makes a lot of sense.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.