Two-Wheeled Navigation: Bicycle Paths, Routes & Lanes

According to a report prepared for the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation by a few people with PhDs, cycling infrastructure generally has a positive effect on cyclists without negatively impacting motorists. A survey of Portland, Oregon cycle track users found that 70% of respondents [thought] the cycle track made cycling safer and easier. Motorists generally thought that the cycle track didn’t make driving any less convenient or slower. Only three percent of cyclists didn’t use the cycle track, compared to before it was installed, when 12% of riders rode in the street instead of in the bike lane. Cycle tracks are just one of several types of bicycle facilities that cities can implement to increase mode share for cyclists; other options include bike lanes as well as shared use paths.

Cycle tracks are segregated bicycle facilities that are constructed along vehicle traffic lanes. These protected lanes are often separated from the road by pedestrian sidewalks, parking lanes or medians, and they allow cyclists to follow the same traffic patterns as automobiles in most instances. There are three types of cycle tracks, according to NACTO: one-way protected cycle tracks, raised cycle tracks and two-way cycle tracks.

Image Credit: NACTO

Dangers such as dooring and encroaching drivers are (nearly) eliminated on cycle tracks, and this type of facility is most useful in areas with high traffic volumes and high vehicle speeds. However, this type of facility is not without its critics. Issues can occur when the cycle tracks terminate and cyclists need to reenter the roadway if these intersections are not properly constructed, and cycle tracks typically have a higher implementation cost than conventional bike lanes.

While they are not separated by physical barriers, bike lanes still afford cyclists some level of protection by designating a space on the roadway for bicycles. Conventional bike lanes run with the flow of traffic on the right side of the road, with three to six feet of riding room for the cyclist. Contra-flow and left-side bike lanes are designed to allow cyclists to ride on one-way or median-divided streets; by placing the bike lane on the left side of the road, cyclists can safely make their way through areas that otherwise may be difficult to navigate by bike. To indicate that these lanes are reserved for cyclists, bike lanes have bicycle symbols and directional arrows, although cyclists should still be cautious of motorists who use bike lanes as parking spaces and turn lanes.

Image Credit: NACTO

Cyclists and pedestrians enjoy shared use paths in many cities, and these paths can be used to avoid motor vehicles for portions of a commute. In the DC metro area, there are many paved trails that run from Northern Virginia into the heart of the District, but nearly all commuters will need to navigate at least a portion of his or her route through the streets on either end of the path.

So how is one to navigate all of these various cycle tracks, bike lanes and paths within a city? Bike maps, of course. Traditional paper maps are produced by transportation departments and advocacy groups, and the functionality of online bicycle route mapping continues to increase. Big name online cartographers such as MapQuest and Google Maps have been slowly introducing Bike There features that generate directions based on the most affable road conditions for cyclists. The next generation of developers, such as Utility Cyclings Melanie Colavito, continues to find new ways to present geographic data in a way that is useful for cyclists.

Image Credit: BikeArlington

With the increase in information regarding bicycle infrastructure planning and development, as presented by NACTO in its new Urban Bikeway Design Guide, as well as the increase in information regarding bike routes through interactive online mapping technologies, navigating the streets on two wheels gets a little easier every day.

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