Bicycle Infrastructure: Eight Different Approaches to Cyclist Safety

Bicycle Infrastructure Eight Different Approaches to Cyclist Safety

Complete streets are roadways designed to be safe for all users, including bicyclists. The Complete Street concept encompasses designing, building, and operating safe roads for an efficient transportation network that reduces the risk of personal injury for everyone.

With that in mind, many towns and cities have developed detailed bicycle infrastructure plans. These plans utilize various approaches to improve cyclist safety and reduce the risk of bicycle accidents. 

What is Bicycle Infrastructure?

Bicycle infrastructure refers to the physical requirements to create a successful bicycle network within a city or area. 

Bicycle infrastructure includes, but is not limited to:

  • Bicycle lanes
  • Parking
  • Riding facilities
  • Off-road bike trails
  • Identifying popular bicycle routes
  • Enhanced bicycle lanes and markings at intersections and crosswalks
  • Cycling signs and road markings
  • Bicycle racks
  • Specialized traffic signals
  • Curb extensions and paved shoulders
  • Buffers and separations 

Bicycle infrastructure aims to make streets accessible and safe for cyclists and pedestrians, motorists, and public transit vehicles. 

Eight Types of Bicycle Infrastructure That Can Make Streets Safer for Cyclists

There are numerous ways that local governments can improve their bicycle infrastructure. Below are eight common types of bicycle infrastructure used by many cities and towns as part of their Complete Streets plan or bicycle plan.

1.  Conventional Bicycle Lanes

Conventional bicycle lanes are a common type of bicycle infrastructure used in many cities. A dedicated bicycle lane exists between the sidewalk or parking area and a lane of traffic. Road markings and signs indicate the area is a designed bicycle lane. 

2.  Painted Buffer Lanes

Painted buffer lanes may be more successful in preventing bicycle crashes. Areas are designated as bicycle-only areas. Motorists may not drive vehicles into the area.

The area is a buffer between a bicycle lane and a lane of traffic. It increases the protection for bicyclists by adding additional room between cyclists and motorists. 

3.  Off-Street Bike Paths

Off-street bicycle paths are not shared with motorists. These paths are often used for recreation, but they may be integrated into a bicycle infrastructure plan by connecting one part of town to another part of town without the use of shared streets. The use of off-street bike paths when available can significantly reduce the risk of a bicycle accident. 

4.  Shared-Use Streets

Shared use streets need to have clear arrows and other signage indicating that the road is shared by bicyclists and motorists because there is no designated bicycle lane. In many cases, “sharrows” are painted on the road to indicate that the road is a shared road.

Unfortunately, this type of bicycle infrastructure can lead to bicycle accidents. Drivers may not understand that the road is a shared-use street or may not respect bicyclists’ right to use the roadway.

5.  Protected Bicycle Lanes

Protected bicycle lanes are separated from lanes of traffic by physical barriers. The barriers may include medians, shrubs, bollards, raised curbs, and other items. The ideal barriers are short enough for drivers and cyclists to see over but tall enough to keep motorists from entering the bicycle lane.

6.  Contraflow Bicycle Lanes

Bicycle infrastructure plans often use contraflow bicycle lanes on one-way roads. As a result, cyclists may travel in the opposite direction of motor vehicles. Bicyclists traveling in the opposite direction of traffic generally use the bicycle lane on the outermost section of the roadway. 

7.  Redesigned Intersections 

Intersections can be tricky and dangerous for cyclists. Therefore, bicycle infrastructure plans may include redesigning intersections to make them safer for cyclists. Tools that designers might use include:

  • Adding lanes that allow bicyclists to stop in front of motor vehicles to increase the visibility of cyclists
  • Adding bicycling signaling at the intersection
  • Prohibiting drivers from making right-hand turns on red
  • Adding tunnels at intersections to reduce accidents

Designers often must work with the available area, so some bicycling infrastructure might not work at all intersections. 

8.  Traffic Calming Methods

Reducing the speed of traffic along shared use roads can significantly reduce the risk of injury for a bicyclist. Engineers and planners can include a variety of traffic calming methods in the infrastructure plan. 

For instance, planners may install speed bumps and raised curb extensions. They may change the timing of traffic signals and use chicanes to direct the flow of traffic. 

Bicycle Safety Should Be a Top Priority for Local Governments 

The number of bicycles on roadways has increased substantially in recent years, especially in cities with a heavy volume of motor vehicle traffic. Unfortunately, bicycle accidents continue to injure and kill thousands of riders each year.

Through bicycle infrastructure planning, cities can reduce the risk of bicycle accidents. They can incorporate bicycles into city streets to allow everyone to use roadways safely. Making room for bicycles enhances the quality of life for residents and boosts tourism related to cycling.