The Perfect Bike Lane Needs These 5 Vital Features

Beautiful Bike Lane

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It’s easy to point out a bad bike lane, but what exactly are the qualities of a good bike lane?

The latest statistics show that commuting by bicycle is gaining worldwide popularity, and for some, great infrastructure is in place to make this possible.

But those of us who aren’t as lucky can’t help but wonder what exactly we’re missing out on.

In this article, we look closer at what makes a perfect bike lane and what makes one so bad that we’d rather put down our bikes and walk.

Why Bother With Bicycle Lanes?

Some may ask, “Why bother investing in bike lanes?” Cyclists can use roads like cars, so why do they need their own space? The truth is that bike lanes benefit everyone.

Firstly, they make cycling safer. According to one study by People For Bikes, protected bike lanes reduce bike-related injuries by about 75%. 

Cyclists aside, investing in cycling can reduce road congestion, lower emissions, and even have direct economic benefits, such as boosting retail performance.

And that’s without considering the physical and mental benefits associated with cycling. But with such positive results, why aren’t more towns and cities investing in cycle lanes?

Bike Lane Car-Dooring

Common Bike Lane Mistakes

One common mistake cities must fix when implementing bike lanes is how they invest and allocate available funds. Simply throwing money at the problem won’t fix anything.

One such example is a bike lane in Kingston, known as the ‘stupidest’ in the UK. Defying common sense, the bike lane is split in the middle by a crossing. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

Another example can be found in Portugal, where a bike lane unexpectedly disappears into a busy road. This could result in cyclists suddenly finding themselves in some pretty fast-moving traffic, and even an experienced rider would be caught off guard.

The most common mistake regarding bike lanes is that they are built next to parked cars (see example above). This creates a horrible environment where cyclists live in constant fear of ‘car-dooring’, or in other words, a door suddenly being opened and causing a crash.

Bike lanes are often added to existing infrastructure without much thought with regard to safety and usability.

Bike lanes come in all shapes and sizes, but what do the best bike lanes have in common? Here are the top five features for building a perfect bike lane. 

Bicycle Lane Separate

1. Good Bike Lanes Are Separate

The best bike lanes are always separate. That means they’re built away from the cars on the road and pedestrians on the sidewalk.

There are many ways to do this, like using bollards, curbs, or planters, but the best solution by far is to build them away from anything else. This makes it safer for everyone.

In an ideal world, every city can build a ‘cycle superhighway’ like in Helsinki, where bikes have priority and ride without the risks of being close to a road. 

A network of bicycle lanes

2. Good Bike Lanes are Part of a Network

Bike lanes are good, but they become transformative when they’re part of a network.

Designing a comprehensive network of bike lanes connected to itself and other key destinations across a city helps encourage cycling as a practical means of transport.

Bike lanes are most functional when they link together, forming a large, interconnected web, as roads do. When a good network is built, people cycle more frequently and can cycle greater distances. 

Wide Bicycle Lane

3. Good Bike Lanes are Wide

Good bike lanes are wide enough to accommodate more than one bicycle at a time.

Designing wide bike lanes of at least 5 to 6 feet doesn’t just allow cyclists to ride side by side to have a chat, but it also makes it safer for them to overtake safely.

The main benefit of wider bike lanes is that it’s easier for everyone to ride at their own speed, meaning more experienced cyclists or those with electrical assistance can overtake riders who want to cruise at a leisurely pace.

On top of this, it gives some wiggle room for those who might not be as stable on two wheels yet.

Bike Lane Uphill Sign

4. Good Bike Lanes Have Clear Markings & Signage

Bike lanes that don’t have clear markings to indicate the boundaries, right of way, or other important information are extremely frustrating to use. They’re also potentially dangerous.

Painted lines sometimes separate bikes from fast-moving car traffic, so when they’re worn out and no longer clearly visible, drivers might see them as an extension of the road. It’s these blurred lines that pose a threat to the safety of cyclists.

In more complex bike lanes, where guidance is required at an intersection, clear signage is essential for guiding cyclists in the right direction, especially if it’s not intuitive for a first-time user.

It’s also vital that signage warn cyclists of potential hazards like concealed exits or sharp corners.

Bike Lane Maintenance

5. Good Bike Lanes Are Well Maintained

After building a bike lane, the most important thing is maintaining it and preventing it from falling into disrepair.

This requires regular inspections to ensure the paint or markings remain visible and there is no path damage.

A smooth and well-maintained bike lane will keep cyclists safe and encourage others to try it out. The more user-friendly the bike lane, the more it encourages people to give it a try. 

bike lane in seville
Bike Lanes in Seville. (Image Credit: Canva Pro)

Which Cities Are Getting Bicycle Lanes Right?

Fortunately, there are plenty of cities doing it right when it comes to bike lanes. 

This photo from Berlin is a great example. The lane is separated from the road by bollards, protecting cyclists, and from the pavement by the curb, protecting pedestrians. It’s unidirectional and marked clearly to avoid any confusion.

In another from Cardiff Barrage, we can see a much simpler option where cyclists have loads of space and a smooth, clear surface with good visibility. Of course, the views don’t hurt either.

Lastly, heading to Sevilla, you can see the impact of a good bike lane network. Designed with “cohesion” and connectivity in mind, their bike network now connects most of the inner city. The result? According to Medium, the number of cycling trips increased by over 450% on working days in just a few years.

It’s amazing what a good bike lane can accomplish for mobility. There’s never been a more important time to invest in alternatives to cars, and good bike lanes pave the way forward for sustainable transport. 

With a combination of capital, good urban planning, and thoughtful design, bike lanes can transform cities for the benefit of everyone.

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