Cities Without Protected Bike Lanes 'Being Left Behind'

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 08, 2013

A recent article in Momentum Magazine celebrates "the rise of the North American protected bike lane". It has become increasingly clear over the past several years that physically separated bike lanes are the design of choice for cities that are serious about making cycling a viable choice for a large share of resident trips.

Cities like Toronto and Ottawa are already showing that separated bike lanes work in Canada just as well as they do in American and European cities. Hamilton even has one or two short segments of protected bike lane, for example on King Street West across Hwy 403.

But the stakes are getting higher. As the article notes:

Protected bike lanes, "green lanes," or cycle tracks, as they are sometimes called, like the Prospect Park West bike lane, are upsetting the transportation status quo in more and more cities across North America. Similar treatments have transformed Dearborn Street in Chicago, IL; Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC; and Market Street in San Francisco, CA.

In fact, it's getting to the point where if your city doesn't have a protected bike lane yet, it's being left behind. Last year alone, the number of protected bike lanes in the United States nearly doubled from 62 to 102. This year, the number is expected to double again. Protected bike lanes are now in place in 32 cities across the United States, according to Martha Roskowski, director of the Green Lane Project, a nonprofit project of bike advocacy group Bikes Belong.

The article goes on to quote Rostowski:

"It is no longer just reserved for the Portlands and the Boulders of the world," Roskowski said. "Tulsa, and Omaha, and Tucson - a lot of these cities that would not come to mind as places that are really progressive are talking about these things."

It doesn't have to be expensive, either. The physical barrier can be as simple as moving curbside parking out and having the bike lanes between the parked cars and the sidewalk, or of installing plastic bollards or the knockdown sticks in use at Herkimer and Locke.

The full article is definitely worth a read. It delves into the many net benefits of investing in a high quality cycling network:

The article also delves into the philosophical differences between the European and American cycling resurgences of the 1970s. Whereas European cities tended to invest in separate cycling infrastructure, North America was more influenced by John Forester's argument that the best approach to cycling safety is not to build separate bike infrastructure but rather to teach cyclists to operate their bikes as vehicles in mixed traffic.

One of the problems North American cities have had with thinking clearly about cycling is that the strongest advocates for cycling have tended to subscribe to the education-first approach. Even today, some hard-core cyclists still argue that bike lanes do more harm than good and the best approach is education: teaching people to ride in mixed traffic. (Note: I was one of those cyclists a decade ago, but my thinking on this has succumbed to the mounds of contrary evidence.)

While rates of cycling grew steadily in cities that invested in bike infrastructure, cities that accepted the "vehicular cycling" hypothesis saw their rates of cycling stagnate or fall. As a result, we have missed out on decades of investment in our cycling infrastructure, as well as the lost health, safety and economic benefits.

One thing is clear: it is no longer tenable to argue that North American cities would have more cyclists if we just convinced more people to ride in mixed traffic.

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 Woody10 (registered) | Posted August 08, 2013 at 16:39:37

Great article and info. Too bad they didn't do this on the half a#@ Governors Road retrofit. I've already seen two incidents where a cyclist was almost knocked over at one of the new oversized medians. Once by a bus! We're protecting the pedestrians but not the cyclists now???? A cyclist rant, sorry.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 08, 2013 at 18:15:29 in reply to Comment 90676

we're protecting neither in Hamilton. We're protecting the car. Period.

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted August 08, 2013 at 19:53:27

A requirement to cycle in mixed traffic excludes most of the population. To quote my 75-year-old mother, "At my age, I am not playing tag with two-tonne lethal weapons." Yet in The Netherlands, 24% of all journeys made by people over the age of 65 are by bicycle. See:

One good place to build a protected bike lane is on Lawrence Road between Gage Avenue and Kenilworth Avenue. Right now, there are unprotected bike lines on either side of this road. The south side of the road is up against the railway line, so there are zero intersections.

This is important; intersections account for 63% of injury crashes in Ontario and part of the Dutch principle of Sustainable Safety is eliminating intersections.

My proposal would be to remove the unprotected bike lane on the north side of the road and use the space to create a two-way 4 metre wide protected bike lane on the south side, next to the railway. There is plenty of room to have a concrete protective barrier one metre wide by one metre high. One actually does not want a protective barrier any higher than that, as the principles of Social Safety require a clear view into and out of the cycle path.

This completely eliminates cyclists travelling through intersections. Right now, westbound cyclists are required to travel through several unprotected intersections on an unprotected cycle path. Needless to say, not many people are willing to do this.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2013 at 10:14:26 in reply to Comment 90678

I have considered this Lawrence Road bike lane for some time. What boggles my mind about it is that it runs parallel to hamilton's flagship park! Why can't we have a proper paved through-lane for bikes going through Gage Park from Cumberland to Sherbrooke - and then have Sherbrooke as a side street "bike route" (remove stop signs in the bike direction and put traffic calming for cars).

From the end of sherbrooke, a cyclist could easily connect to lawrence or to king depending on their eventual destination...

Then cyclists wouldn't have to engage with motorists on Lawrence through that straight, fast, car-friendly stretch.

Gage park is OK to ride through now, but when there's any moisture on the ground it's like riding on a beach, making it basically impassable for much of fall, spring, and any time there's heavy snow.

Wouldn't it be nice to actually be able to ride through gage park all year?

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted August 08, 2013 at 23:33:34

I am interested to see how the bi-directional bike lanes on Hunter will come together. I believe they are to be protected with some sort of visual barrier.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted August 09, 2013 at 09:37:03

Kudos to Chicago DOT for its Complete Streets initiative.

In some ways, Hamilton is not so unlike Chicago.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2013 at 13:44:25 in reply to Comment 90698

As so often happens, a fantastic resource arises out of dismal circumstance:

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