The Emerging Case for Separated Bike Lanes

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 21, 2012

Across cities worldwide, we can discern a spectrum of comprehension and support for cycling infrastructure.

At one end is the city with no dedicated cycling infrastructure and a small, hard core of 'road warrior' cyclists who say people should just learn to ride in mixed traffic. At the other end is the city with a dense, comprehensive and richly connected network of dedicated bike lanes that are physically separated from automobile lanes.

In between the two is the city in which bike lanes consist of painted lines next to automobile lanes and off-road trails. Those bike lanes may be more or less extensive, continuous and connected, and they may be more or less adjacent to functional destinations (as opposed to purely recreational trails).

From comparing the various approaches that different cities take to bike infrastructure, a few things are clear, aside from the fact that the rate of cycling is very strongly correlated with the quality of the cycling infrastructure:

Maybe it's a bit naive to posit this in Hamilton, where the modest idea of a painted bike lane is met with jeers, squelching and ward councillor vetoes, but the evidence from cities around the world clearly demonstrates that if we're serious about getting people to ride bikes, we should skip the painted lines and jump straight to separated bike lanes.

In the Atlantic Cities, Sarah Goodyear makes a case for physically separated bike lanes that is well worth reading.

I also have come to believe that the more physical separation that can be achieved between bikes and cars, the better. I've seen all too often how little protection a stripe of paint offers. And I am struck by how quickly support for separated bike facilities, such as you might see in Holland or Denmark, is gaining traction.

She cites the feedback from a recent city planning conference in Vancouver:

A main theme that emerged was the need for cities to create a network of separated bicycle lanes, said Jamie Stuckless, an active transportation planner who works with Green Communities Canada in Ottawa.

"The first one that I heard repeated over and over again was the need to create a network of segregated bike lanes that actually get people where they want to go," Stuckless said.

Stuckless said she was surprised by the number of city officials from around the world who spoke to say that painted bike lanes are a thing of the past and they are no longer investing money in that type of infrastructure.

Once again, Hamilton is behind the curve in progressive city planning. While other cities are committing to building high-quality separated bike lane networks, we remain stuck with a fragmentary hodge-podge of short painted bike lanes that don't connect to each other and frequently don't lead to prominent destinations.

We need to do better. The case has already been made over and over again that widespread cycling is better for public health, better for air quality, better for road maintenance (a 100 kg cyclist imposes an order of magnitude less wear and tear than a 1500 kg driver), better for neighbourhood economic development (bikes need a lot less room to park than automobiles), and better for safety for all road users, motorists included.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted August 21, 2012 at 15:03:57

I was in NYC this weekend, my first in three years. I was amazed by the network of separated bike lanes (on major streets) and painted bike lanes (on smaller streets). And there are a whole lot more bikes on the streets of Manhattan than I've seen during past visits.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-08-21 15:10:05

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By NYChanges (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2012 at 00:10:28 in reply to Comment 79981

Interesting history of the changes here...
Although a visionary mayor and major private backing for advocacy would help, logic will prevail. Keep the faith.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 21, 2012 at 22:26:29

separated lanes?? I'd be happy for one lane that actually went downtown. Maybe if we really get progressive we'll get 2 lanes that actually connect to each other.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted August 22, 2012 at 09:02:36

How about as an interim measure, take a lane of Cannon, put up some plastic posts and use that as a bike lane for crossing the city?

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 22, 2012 at 09:18:46 in reply to Comment 79995

oh. the. chaos.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 22, 2012 at 10:29:29 in reply to Comment 79996


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By jason (registered) | Posted August 22, 2012 at 12:46:00 in reply to Comment 79997

the usual reply from the higher-ups when someone suggests bike lanes....the city will fall apart if we mess with our great transportation network. In which other downtown does a business have to install steel posts on the sidewalk to protect their store from speeding runaway vehicles??

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 11:37:04 in reply to Comment 80004

Sorry I haven't noticed a plethora of protective steel posts in the city. Is this a new craze?

How many times a year does a vehicle actually run into a building? Not counting the parking lot incidents which happen all the time everywhere.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:21:33 in reply to Comment 80038

You must have missed this story from Paul Wilson about Kool Stuff, on King St East:

Could it have happened anywhere? Well, maybe.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:09:34 in reply to Comment 80184

King was down to one lane during recent construction - in the middle of the daytime rush (not overnight like you might think) - and there was NO traffic back up. Things slowed down but everyone still made it through every green light just as always.

King is so overbuilt, it's a joke - and it's costing us millions to keep it that way.

If King was two way with wider sidewalks, the net effect would be an additional 3-5 minutes of travel time for most trips. But our neighbourhoods aren't worth it I guess.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 22, 2012 at 10:36:32

Perhaps if the "bike lanes" were sold as "alternative transportation lanes" it may help? Bike lanes in Amsterdam for example aren't just for bicycles, they are also for e-bikes, and mopeds/scooters.

We suffer from the unreasonable car vs. bike syndrome in these parts. Where somehow an improvement for the one mode (particularly bikes) is viewed as a hindrance for the other. It doesn't have to be that way. I would love to get the bikes off our sidewalks, out of our crosswalks and into a designated, safe and protected lane. I believe it would be better for all parties.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 22, 2012 at 15:53:23 in reply to Comment 79999

Ask a random person how they feel about the e-bike scooters that are appearing everywhere.

That won't improve popularity of this at all.

Every time I talk to people IRL about this, drivers are terrified of losing a lane of traffic and potentially having to slow down on king/main/cannon.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 23, 2012 at 11:51:58 in reply to Comment 80011

So if they don't like sharing the road with e-bikes getting e-bikes out of their way and in a separate lane is a bad idea???

Sorry not following your logic on that one.

As for people being "terrified" (no hyperbole there) of losing one lane on Main or King, we can probably lose two lanes on each of those roads and see little "slow down."

We need to deal with people's concerns but we need to deal with the real issues people should be concerned about, not the imagined ones. When it comes to getting proper separated bicycle lanes most those concerns are irrational and/or suffer from a distinct pro-car bias.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 23, 2012 at 13:49:07 in reply to Comment 80021

we've lost 1-2 lanes on BOTH King and Main for months and even over a year with zero slowdowns. Hamilton is an embarrassment for holding onto this unnecessary, outdated system. Store owners are now installing steel posts into the sidewalk to protect their stores...incredible. Where's the leadership??

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By Steve (registered) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 14:04:39 in reply to Comment 80023

As an avid cyclist and in favour of bike lanes, but repeating that store owners (multiple) are now installing steel posts to protect their stores is misleading. I can think of only one which was in the news recently.

I can only assume you are referring to Kool Stuff on King Street which had a recent article done on it. They installed posts after a vehicle crashed through their storefront. The driver experienced a medical emergency if I recall correctly, so one-way streets (again something I'd like to do away with), speed, etc had no bearing on that accident.

What other store owners are installing posts?

BTW, crashing into buildings happens elsewhere as well,

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By Math geek (anonymous) | Posted August 24, 2012 at 01:51:16

In the story we read: "a 100 kg cyclist imposes an order of magnitude less wear and tear than a 1500 kg driver" Though I can't find a reference right now if you look into it I am sure you will find that damage to pavement increases as the square of the per wheel loading imposed by the vehicle. So, if a bike does "1 unit" of damage to the roadway per trip with a loading of 50 kg per wheel then a car at say 400 kg per wheel would do not 10 units of damage per trip as suggested, but rather more like 128 units of damage, and a truck or bus would do thousands, or tens of thousands, depending on the vehicle. You can see an example of this by observing the trenches in the pavement created by bus wheels near many bus stops around town.

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By McDerp (anonymous) | Posted August 28, 2012 at 11:37:20

Considering no one uses the new westbound lanes on Wilson, perhaps we can convert those lanes into bike lanes? Surely one bike lane going west on Cannon and one going east on Wilson, separated by a concrete barrier, is doable, and wouldn't greatly impact traffic flow.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 05, 2012 at 21:54:18 in reply to Comment 80112

we have so much ample capacity, we could add separated bike lanes all over the lower city. The question isn't feasibility, it's priorities at city hall. If we can convince them that bikes have 4 wheels and spew lots of toxins, maybe they'll go for it.

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2012 at 14:08:16

"The road to recovery is in sight, and it has a bike lane.

The typical city street is a busy place. People riding bikes, walking, driving cars, and operating buses all have somewhere to to go and want to get there safely — and quickly.

But while we normally think of streets as pipelines for people and goods, public streets are about more than just moving from point A to point B. They're also corridors for public life. Streets are places where locals discover new hole-in-the-wall stores and restaurants, where window shoppers duck into shops to peruse, and where children convince their parents to stop — just for ONE second — to buy a cup of hot chocolate.

In other words, streets can also grow local economies.

A new study from the New York Department of Transportation shows that streets that safely accommodate bicycle and pedestrian travel are especially good at boosting small businesses, even in a recession.

NYC DOT found that protected bikeways had a significant positive impact on local business strength. After the construction of a protected bicycle lane on 9th Avenue, local businesses saw a 49% increase in retail sales. In comparison, local businesses throughout Manhattan only saw a 3% increase in retail sales."

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