Unprotected bicycle lane designations

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Unprotected bicycle lane designations are policies that designate portions of roadways for use by bicyclists through the use of striping, signage, and pavement markings. Typically, unprotected bicycle lanes are designated by a bordering white stripe, a recurring painted bicycle symbol, and/or signage, which together are designed to alert all road users that a portion of the roadway is for exclusive use by bicyclists[1]. In designing unprotected bicycle lanes, most jurisdictions adopt a set of requirements for the width of bicycle lanes, clearance with respect to obstructions, signing and delineation, highway intersection design, design speed, stopping sight distance and pavement structure. The formal designation of unprotected bicycle lanes aims to improve the safety, convenience and use of bicycle transportation - either to help accommodate motor vehicle and bicycle traffic on shared roadways, or to complement the road system to meet needs not adequately met by roads. Designated lanes also enable bicyclists to travel at their preferred speed and facilitate more predictable behavior and movements between bicyclists and motorists.[2]



Conceptual Example

A city tries to build a sustainable and diverse transportation system. One of its tactics to achieve such a system is to increase bicycle ridership on its roads. At present, however, prospective bicyclists are concerned about the safety of cycling on the road. In addition, the city does not favor adopting protected bicycle lanes in many cases because of financial constraints and concerns about limiting the amount of space available to automobile drivers. Therefore, the city sees unprotected bicycle lanes as a solution that would solve its problems. As a starting point, the city establishes a series of design standards for different unprotected bicycle lanes. Next, the town identifies streets that are appropriate for incorporating unprotected bicycle lanes, and instructs its department of transportation to apply appropriate lane markings and signage. As a result, once the lanes have been established, bicycle ridership increases significantly and a more sustainable means of transportation is promoted over automobile travel.

Specific Example

In June, 2006, in order to establish a diverse transportation system and promote non-motorized transportation, California Department of Transportation enacted Bikeway Planning and Design. [3] (Chapter 1000 of Highway Design Manual) It divides unprotected bikeway facilities into three types and stipulated widths, clearance to obstruction, design speed, etc. It also provided guidance on intersection design and interim design, which are devoted to protect the safety of cyclists and increase the efficiency of the road. After implementing this designation, sufficient room was provided on roads for bicycles. Besides that, State of California also adopted Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guide [4], which provide a wide range of options for safe, comfortable bikeways. Because of its adoption of these policies, California achieved convenient and comfortable travel conditions for bicycles, increasing the ridership of cyclists significantly.



Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. May slow traffic due to reduced amount of street space designated for automobile use[3]
  2. May affect safety of pedestrians.[5]
  3. May reduce the amount of roadway available for parking automobiles.[5]
  4. May increase the need for traffic signals to guide bicycles.[5]
  5. Potentially significant cost of implementation.[6]

Compatibility Assessment

Compatibility Assessment.png

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Are there enough cyclists on the road who would potentially use the bicycle lanes?
  2. Would designing unprotected bicycle lanes significantly reduce traffic accidents among cyclists?
  3. Can government or transportation agencies invest sufficient money to afford the bicycle lanes?
  4. Is there enough space available on existing roads to designate a bicycle lane?
  5. Have transportation agencies done detailed surveys on the area travel patterns of bicyclists, such as speed?
  6. Are unprotected bicycle lanes more appropriate or cost-effective than protected bicycle lanes?



Assuming that a jurisdiction has decided to adopt the policy, the following questions will need to be answered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. What will be the definition and types of unprotected bike lanes?
    1. Bike lanes are facilities that are provided primarily for bicycle travel.[3]
    2. Bike lanes can be divided into three classes:
      1. Class I. Provide a completely separated right of way for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians with cross flow by motorists minimized.
      2. Class II. Provide a striped lane for one-way bike travel on a street or highway.
      3. Class III. Provide for shared use with pedestrian or motor vehicle traffic.[3]
  2. How much will be budgeted to designate the bicycle lanes?
    1. The cost of a five-foot bicycle lane can range from approximately $5,000 to $535,000 per mile, with an average cost around $130,000.[1]
    2. The costs can vary greatly due to differences in project specifications and the scale and length of the treatment.
  3. How will children cyclists be expected to utilize the lanes, if at all?
    1. Sidewalks may be more appropriate for low-speed bicyclists such as children, while unprotected bicycle lanes may encourage higher-speed bicyclists to avoid sidewalks, thus reducing conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists on sidewalks. [1]
  4. What width should be reserved for the bicycle lanes?
    1. Wider bike lanes are recommended on streets with higher motor vehicle speeds and traffic volumes, or where pedestrian traffic in the bike lane is anticipated.[1]
    2. On the contrary, narrower bike lane can be applied in lower speed and traffic volumes.
  5. How will bicycle lanes be designed in a way that protects the safety of pedestrians?
    1. Marked crosswalks should be extended across the bicycle lanes to let bicyclists know they must yield to pedestrians. [1]
    2. Dashed bicycle lane markings may be continued through intersections or across turning lanes to indicate to drivers that vehicles must cross bicyclists' path.[1]



  • Notable entities who have implemented or adopted this policy include:
    • Country of United States,[7] National Association of City Transportation Officials published NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guide, which provide a wide range of options for safe, comfortable bikeways,
    • Country of Japan,[8] In Japan, after realizing the value of role of bicycle in reducing automobile usage, bicycle road networks are being planned and evaluated in several cities.
    • State of California, California enacted Highway Design Manual in 2006, and Chapter 1000 of it is Bikeway Planning and Design, which guide unprotected bicycle designation. [3]
    • State of Massachusetts,[9] The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide provides 130 pages of the best advice in the country on planning, designing, and maintaining protected bike lanes.
    • City of Los Angeles,[10] Ryan Snyder Associates developed the Model Street Design Manual in Los Angeles with national experts in living streets concepts, and chapter 8 of the manual is Bikeway design, which provide guidance for unprotected bicycle lanes.











  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center Bicycle Lanes--Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 FHWA COURSE ON BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN TRANSPORTATION Federal Highway Administration, July 2016
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Bikeway Planning and Design California Department of Transportation, June, 2016
  4. Bikeway Design Best Practices Calbike, February 19, 2016
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Potential risk and its influencing factors for separated bicycle paths Accident Analysis and Prevention, November, 2015
  6. ‘No bicycle lanes!’Shouted the cyclists. A controversial bicycle project in Curitiba, Brazil Transportation Policy, February, 2014
  7. Urban Street Design Guide National Association of City Transportation Officials
  8. Modeling of bicycle Route and Destination Choice Behavior for Bicycle Road Network Plan
  9. Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide The Official Website of The Massachusetts Department of Transportation - Highway Division, 2015
  10. The Model Design Manual for Living Streets Ryan Snyder Associates, 2011
  11. 11.0 11.1 Eyes on the Street: Polk’s Extended, Unprotected Bike Lane Blocked By Cars Aaron Bialick, March 17, 2015
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