If you’re riding down a busy city street on your bike, you’re as much as 90% more likely to get hit by a car than if you’re in a protected bike lane–a lane that actually has a curb or some other physical barrier rather than just a simple white stripe. Even though the first protected lanes in the U.S. were built as long ago as the late 1800s, it wasn’t until the last few years that they started to become more common. Part of the reason for the new growth? The Green Lane Project, a program that helps cities build better bike lanes.
The program, run by the nonprofit PeopleForBikes, just launched its second cohort of cities–Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Seattle–which will go through an intensive two-year bike lane bootcamp beginning next month. Though dozens of other cities applied, the nonprofit deliberately limits the program to only six cities at a time. Each was chosen because they had the right mix of vision, political, and community support, and projects in the pipeline.
“Most advocacy efforts tend to spread their resources really thinly, and try to help out a little bit in a lot of places,” says Martha Roskowski, VP of Local Innovation at PeopleForBikes. “Our basic premise is let’s help the leaders, because that’s really how we can mainstream this stuff more quickly.”
Already, there’s evidence that the first group of cities, which started the program in 2012, has inspired others to start building their own protected lanes. “Innovation in cities is interesting,” says Roskowski. “A mayor might want to be in front, but cities in general don’t want to be first–they don’t want to be alone out there. But they want to be in a class of leaders, so they’re not seen as doing something crazy, they’re being innovative and creative and successful.”
During the two-year program, the Green Lane Project takes city leaders on tours of other places that already have successful bike networks. It also helps with design issues, helps solve specific challenges for cities, and pulls together resources like the economic arguments for bike lanes–including the fact that bike lanes can help hugely increase sales at businesses along a route.
Despite the project’s name, the lanes they promote aren’t necessarily painted green. “We should have called it the Protected Lane Project,” says Roskowski. Ultimately, they hope their work leads to a national network of bike lanes of all kinds.
“What we need in cities are networks of low-stress facilities so people of all sorts can feel comfortable riding casually,” Roskowski explains. “Protected bike lanes are just one piece of it. But it’s really handy to have one thing to focus on, something new, something to focus attention, something that serves as the tip of the arrow of change.”
Over the next two years, the organization hopes to make protected lanes completely mainstream. “In every city, when people are talking about how to accommodate bikes on a street and they’re looking at a street, we want protected bike lanes to be part of the toolbox. And people should think of them automatically. That ranges from person on the street who’s new to biking, to the engineers, to the mayor,” Roskowski says.
“It’s been fun,” she adds. “The time was right for this innovation to come to this country. It started with Michael Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan in New York City a few years ago, and now there are at least 60 cities in the U.S. that are actively working on building protected lanes.”