More and more California cities are looking to bring protected bike lanes to their streets, and a growing body of research showing the benefits they provide are giving city leaders a stronger case in the face of opposition to change.
The demand to make streets better for walking and biking is clear: local jurisdictions in California applied for more than $1 billion in funds from the state’s Active Transportation Program to build bike and pedestrian projects, triple the amount of funding available for the program.
Protected bike lanes, also known as protected bikeways or “cycletracks,” are lanes set aside for people on bikes, separated from motor traffic by physical barriers such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.
A bill currently in the California legislature, A.B, 1193, would remove some state-imposed barriers to building protected bike lanes by requiring Caltrans to establish design guidelines for them, which currently don’t exist. But even without Caltrans guidance, several cities are already building protected lanes, including Long Beach, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles , and even smaller cities including Alameda and Temple City.
To earn approval from Caltrans, some of these projects have been legally categorized as “experiments,” built with easily-removable materials. This has also given planners some leeway when faced with objections from people who fear the street design changes.
A year after Long Beach installed protected bike lanes on the one-way couplet of Broadway and Third Streets, the city published a study [PDF] that found numerous benefits from the project. Crash rates decreased for all street users, bicycling and walking increased, and vehicle traffic slowed down. There was no increase in congestion, even with the removal of a traffic lane.
These findings are in line with a recent landmark study of protected bike lanes around the country, which provided new statistics showing that wherever they are implemented, they make nearly everyone on bikes and on foot feel safer and increase bicycling. In San Francisco, protected bike lanes on Market and Fell streets contributed to big jumps in bicycling; cyclist counts were up 43 percent and 50 percent on those streets, respectively, in the year after the lanes went in.
But since protected bikeways often remove a traffic lane and/or parking, cities still meet resistance from residents and merchants who fear that removing parking will hurt businesses, and that removing a traffic lane will worsen car congestion.