Cycling advocates say separated bike lanes are key to getting more cyclists on the road. While hard-core riders are prepared to share space with car drivers, the less adventurous and experienced prefer the safety and predictability of their own lanes. It’s one reason why cycling rates are so much higher in countries like Holland or Denmark. They have dedicated lanes that attract cyclists of both sexes and all ages.
U.S. cities have long lagged those biking powerhouses. The first protected lane here was installed only in 2008, in New York. But then the last few years has seen steady progress, with more cities building them. There are now 183 projects in all, according to a database kept by PeopleForBikes, a Colorado advocacy group.
“Last year there were only a handful of cities building protected bike lanes. It was really the cool cities–the innovative, creative leaders. Now, we’re seeing a lot of other cities are getting on-board and implementing them,” says Martha Roskowski, who leads the group’s Green Lane Project program.
PeopleForBikes recently named its 10 favorite projects, at the top of which is a bike lane on Polk Street, San Francisco, that opened in April. Roskowski likes it because it’s nice to ride on, completely separated from cars, and because it wasn’t an “easy project.” It flows against other traffic, and the people who pushed for it faced plenty of opposition, she says.
She also picks out Memphis’s Riverside Drive project (third on the list) because the city “hasn’t traditionally been seen as a leader in innovative transportation.” “We’re impressed they moved so quickly and that they’re really reinventing themselves,” she says.
Many of the projects have different designs (unlike Dutch schemes, which tend to be uniform), reflecting local tastes and different strategies to encourage cycling. Seattle and Chicago, for example, have gone a low-cost approach (basically colored paint plus plastic bollards) while others, like San Francisco, have tried to be more aesthetic from the start.
Building-it-cheap has the advantage of expanding the network quickly and getting people on the road. “As you get more people riding, it builds support to go back and do more robust facilities,” Roskowski says. “The big jump in ridership happens when you really make those connections–point A to point B–and people can get where they want to go.”