February 24, 2021

How wide should a bike lane be?

We date contemporary ‘bike lane’ design back to the 1970s, when a cycling wave hit Europe and North America.  Here’s an historical example from Toronto:

Toronto’s cycling committee was established at city hall in 1975 to promote safe cycling. Four years later, the first bike lane in old Toronto was constructed on Poplar Plains Road.

There have been many iterations since, each once advancing more space for active transportation.
Vancouver was one of the first to evolve the completely separated route in a downtown – Dunsmuir and Hornby in 2010 after the Olympics.

Now other cities that have generated large volumes of bike traffic have realized they have to reallocate some highly contested space.  Like on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The New York Times:

… the city will finally address longstanding concerns about the Brooklyn Bridge, which has long been known as a particularly dangerous route for cyclists, and the Queensboro Bridge. Under the plan, the city will ban cars from the inner lane of the Manhattan-bound side of the Brooklyn Bridge to build a two-way bike lane.

The existing promenade area at the center of the bridge, which is elevated above the car lanes, will be used only by pedestrians. Cyclists will no longer be able to ride on the promenade, where there is currently a bike lane.

I’ve cycled that lane on the Brooklyn Bridge.  It wasn’t that great.  Except, hey, you were on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The upper deck was chaotic – a major reason the city took this step. Now there will be separation.

But also a problem: the promenade above had room for passing; this one doesn’t.

A two-lane path in 8 feet makes a flawed assumption: all the cyclists will travel at roughly the same speed in one long line.  The faster and impatient ones will refrain from passing when the route is crowded.  Yeah, right.

The plan for the new bike lanes comes amid an extraordinary surge in biking — the city had nearly 1.6 million bike riders before the pandemic, and cycling has exploded with trips at the city’s four East River bridges into Manhattan jumping by 55 percent in November compared with the same month in 2019.

Prediction: New York will eventually be taking another car lane on the Brooklyn-bound side to provide sufficient and safe room for cycling.  Turns out that bikes aren’t really that different from cars when it comes to the demand for more space.

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