In the year 2000, the District of Columbia had three miles of bike lanes. Today, the district has roughly 80 miles of bike infrastructure, including the first lanes in historically underserved Ward 8. Many other U.S. cities have made similar investments. Bicycling Magazine’s top 50 bike friendly cities includes some unsurprising places at the top – Minneapolis, Portland, Boulder, Seattle – but also shows how cities such as Cleveland, Miami, and Baltimore have made important strides in the last several years to improve their bike systems. Several of these cities are members of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), which has put out its best-selling Urban Bikeway Design Guide, first released in 2011, now with an updated second edition this year.
NACTO’s updated second edition is part of their “sustained commitment to making city streets safer for everyone using them.” Reformatted in an attractive hardcover with improved structure, it features photos, diagrams, and 3-D renderings of wide-ranging best practices in design for bike infrastructure. Also new is a chapter on bicycle boulevard planning and design. I particularly liked the handsome, debossed linen of the new hardcover, with its simple design and retro 1970s vibe.
Inside the cover, readers will find descriptions, information, and design guidance on various types of “treatments” — bike lanes, cycle tracks, intersections, signaling, signage and marking, and bicycle boulevards. Each treatment offers three levels of guidance:
- Required: elements for which there is a strong consensus that the treatment cannot be implemented without.
- Recommended: elements for which there is a strong consensus of added value.
- Optional: elements that vary across cities and may add value depending on the situation.
Photographs show examples from cities around the country. The diagrams and renderings highlight important design recommendations for those looking to implement these solutions.
While the standard bike lane many likely think of is included, the design guide offers many alternatives that make biking safer and more efficient for pedestrians and drivers as well as bikers.
Two alternatives to the typical bike lane, which is defined here as a painted strip running parallel and adjacent to moving vehicle lanes, include:
The buffered bike lane, separated from cars by a few extra feet marked with painted strips.
Or the cycle track, a lane nonadjacent to moving cars, which might be protected by parked cars, raised in elevation, or even moved alongside the pedestrian path on the sidewalk.
Over half of the guide is dedicated to design solutions for intersections, an area with high potential for conflict. Included in the guide’s recommendations for intersections are:
Combined bike turning lanes that help bikers and drivers navigate the mixing zone created when bikes approach an intersection and cars need to make a right turn.
Bike boxes – designated areas at the head of a traffic lane that provides bicyclists with a safe and visible way to get ahead of stopped traffic at a red light.
Signal phasing for traffic lights, which help to clarify when bicyclists should enter an intersection, and restrict vehicle movements.
As mentioned, the reissue includes a new section on bike boulevards. These are multi-vehicular streets with low traffic and low speeds designed to prioritize bicycle travel. Creating these boulevards begins at the city planning level, analyzing which streets are appropriate and designing networks of boulevards to maximize accessibility. Signs and pavement marking designate the boulevards. Vehicular traffic is slowed through traffic calming measures such as raised crosswalks and intersections, speed humps, and “pinch points” where the street is narrowed through curb extensions or medians. Many of these measures can also easily include green infrastructure, part of the “green” and “complete” streets design standards.
Landscape architects, planners, and city officials should find this guide invaluable. Anyone who advocates for increasing bicycle infrastructure in our cities will find many useful tools for implementing best practice infrastructure. Notes and references listed in the back of the guide also offer a good starting point for those looking to get up to date with the literature on biking infrastructure. Many of the recommendations can be found on the NACTO website.
But if you’re someone like me who just likes to geek out on well-made diagrams and renderings, the new and improved Urban Bikeway Design Guide will gladly find a nice home on your bookshelf or coffee table.
Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.