Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


The reason cyclists love green bike lanes

Green-painted bike lanes make cycling safer, by reminding car drivers to watch out for cyclists when driving across bike lanes. That's a great benefit, and it works, but it's not the main reason so many cyclists get so excited over a little bit of color.


Green paint on Seattle's Broadway cycletrack. Photo by BeyondDC.

The real reason cyclists love green-painted bike lanes so much is simple: They send the clearest-possible message that roads are not only for cars.

Despite a century of sharing roads, and despite the fact that people walked and biked in streets long before cars came along, there's a strong mentality among entitled drivers that roads are for cars. A 5 second google search turns up plenty of examples.

Green-painted bike lanes accomplish what a white stripe next to the parking lane cannot. They proclaim loudly and clearly that streets are not merely sewers for car traffic, but fully multimodal public spaces. They send the message that drivers are welcome to use roads just like everyone else, but must not expect to have roads completely to themselves.

These painted lanes are public relations features as much as they are safety features, at least as far as cyclists are concerned.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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They've been painting bike lanes in Europe for decades. I'm not sure why it's taken this long to adopt such innovations in this country.

The United States, in general, is slow to adopt solutions that have been proven to work elsewhere. It's an inefficient stubbornness.

by Kevin on Dec 9, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

Having lived in the bicycling capitol of the United States, whom introduced "blue" bicycling lanes before any other American city, I think it is a waste of the scant amount of governmental money set aside for bicycling facilities. In Portland, OR they have tried every way imaginable to facilitate bicycling.

So what in my opinion are the two most effective uses of bicycling resources? Complete off road paths, and "bicycling boulevards". The boulevards typically are low traffic streets that require no alteration at all. Portland probably could have forgone the little signs they attached to the street signs, and just have had the streets labeled in their free bicycling map paper. If there is to be any financial focus at all for bike facilities it should be entirely directly toward off traffic bicycling paths. The streets for the most part should be left alone, and bicyclists should assert themselves to the whole lane when on the street.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 9, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

I've lived through the building of the massive biking network that Holland now has. The biggest 'feelable' change was when they started painting lanes in stead of just painting lines.

Somehow, the message is incredibly clear to pedestrians and cars: this is for bikes only.

BTW: Ideally, the lanes are not painted, but have colored asphalt.

by Jasper on Dec 9, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

Bill,

The evidence suggests the opposite of what you're advocating. Both in Portland and here in DC. Portland has an extensive network of bike infrastructure and the highest number in cyclists commuters in the country. Here in DC the most intense lanes (the cycle tracks) see way more usage than the bike lanes which see more usage than non-lanes streets.

by Drumz on Dec 9, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

Great post. Can't agree more. The lanes should get painted. An added benefit, not mentioned above, is when an entire bike lane is painted, and the paint begins to wear away, drivers and cyclists are better able to see the lane. It lasts longer. A bit of extra paint can't cost that much.

Case in point: Entering Rock Creek Park on Park Road at Piney Branch Parkway the stripes are almost gone. If the bike lane was painted green it would be a bit more evident. Plus there are so many leaves in the fall the outside strip is often covered.

by turtleshell on Dec 9, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

@Kevin, its called "american exceptionalism".

If it was good, America would have invented it first

by JJJJ on Dec 9, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

The streets for the most part should be left alone, and bicyclists should assert themselves to the whole lane when on the street.

This has been the default on US streets post WWII and has NOT led to an increase in mode share. Your argument is dead. The only people that works for are fit males unafraid to pedal next to multi-ton machines piloted by distracted Americans. It's ridiculous on it's face.

by thump on Dec 9, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

The boulevards typically are low traffic streets that require no alteration at all.

The boulevards contain nothing for anyone to pedal to other than their homes. The shops and businesses, schools and hospitals, and places they work aren't located there.

by thump on Dec 9, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

So what is the debate here?

Is it the job of the government to induce citizens to take the bicycle to work? And yes thump, being assertive on the streets is the best scenario possible for unicycles, bikes, cars, trucks, garbage trucks, whomever the road users are. The money should be focused on off street high speed bike lanes à la metropolitan branch trail, capital crescent trail, mt vernon trail, and W&O Trail.

by Bill the Wanderer on Dec 9, 2013 1:55 pm • linkreport

MBT, CCT, MVT and WOD are NOT high speed bike lanes. They are multi use trails, used by walkers, joggers, etc as well as cyclists (and on the W&OD, horses). The MVT at least has a 15MPH speed limit. On all such trails due care should be used, and reasonable speeds maintained given the presence of both non-bike users, and slower cyclists (the trails attract newbies and others who bike relatively slowly).

And yes, it is the job of the govt to encourage more cycling, if that has greater benefits for citizens than costs. (note, I am NOT a philosophical libertarian).

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 9, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

"So what is the debate here? "

Moved - that, where possible, bike lanes should be painted a distinctive color rather than merely striped?

I say yes. Th incremental benefits are likely substantial, and the costs negligible. I do not see a good case against the affirmative.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 9, 2013 2:08 pm • linkreport

Bill,

Yes. I know you're a libertarian but a complete Unsubsidization of transportation that you would want isn't really in the cards any time soon.

Plus it'd be great to identify where all these off street trails are supposed to go in DC.

by Drumz on Dec 9, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

I love the painted bike lanes. But I must say I don't find the green too effective a color. For example Calvert at Rock Creek is concrete, and the green can't even be seen against the light colored pavement. Ditto at night, only the white lines can be seen, not the actual green lane. Could we get a brighter color, perhaps along with some of the fluorescent pigment that is in the white lines so the lanes can be seen at night? Are there other places that have experimented with brighter colors?

by Jonathan on Dec 9, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

I got complimented--again--by a driver last week for running my usual 3 rear lights. Even though I ride halfway out in the lane.

Drivers are not as unhappy sharing the lane as long as you operate predictably and make yourself extremely visible.

by Crickey7 on Dec 9, 2013 2:26 pm • linkreport

I agree with Crickey7. I bike to work 3-4 days per week and ride recreationally on te weekends, often in the vehicle lanes. It is extremely rare, perhaps once or twice per year that I find rude or entitled drivers (careless drivers is another matter).

by 202_cyclist on Dec 9, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

They've been painting bike lanes in Europe for decades. I'm not sure why it's taken this long to adopt such innovations in this country.
The United States, in general, is slow to adopt solutions that have been proven to work elsewhere. It's an inefficient stubbornness.

+1

I've come to the conclusion that here in the US planners are constricted by politics to only implementing solutions that are the least objectionable rather than one that are the most effective/safest.

by JeffB on Dec 9, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

Drivers are not as unhappy sharing the lane as long as you operate predictably and make yourself extremely visible.

That's fine and dandy..and I probably ride a lot like you do (though I only run 2 rear lights..3 front), but as I'm a dad now, I'm a lot less interested in how happy or unhappy drivers are, and more concerned with "will my kid be able to ride safely to wherever he needs/wants to go". It's one thing for me to assert myself on street. I can ride at/near the pace of MV's on city streets. It's an entirely different matter to ask a 4-14 year old (or 60-80 year old for that matter) to "take the lane". It ain't in the cards folks..not gonna happen, and it's the reason why @Bill the Wanderer's suggestion that cyclists do so is bunk.
Separated and dedicated bike infrastructure is the only way to go on anything other than low-speed streets/roads.

by thump on Dec 9, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

thump:

"Separated and dedicated bike infrastructure is the only way to go on anything other than low-speed streets/roads."

I ride on Massachusetts, Independence Ave, and Constitution and don't have any problems. Yes, more bike lanes and better bike facilities are preferred, of course, but adequate experience and skill are also important.

by 202_cyclist on Dec 9, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

202: You're also a healthy and reasonably young male. You are physically capable of riding in much more difficult conditions than many people. Shall we ignore their needs because yours are easier to accommodate?

by BeyondDC on Dec 9, 2013 3:38 pm • linkreport

@BeyondDC:

Of course not and here is what I said, "Yes, more bike lanes and better bike facilities are preferred..."

by 202_cyclist on Dec 9, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

The benefits of painted lanes (over white stripped lanes)

they are clearer and "louder" to drivers thus they A. Communicate cyclist rights to those drivers inclined to disrespect cyclists B. They grab the attention of careless/distracted drivers

They are also clearer and louder to cyclists and would be cyclists - making the street appear more inviting, especially to the less bold. so they result in C - more riders

Its debatable how many really rude drivers there are (though of course it only takes one to ruin your day) but that only really impacts benefit A anyway. Even discounting the rude drivers, there are benefits to painted lanes, I think.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 9, 2013 3:45 pm • linkreport

Is the paint slippery at all when wet? The paint for crosswalks can be slipperty and potentially hazardous during and after rain.

by 202_cyclist on Dec 9, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

The cycling community has been a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, we should separate cycles from the rest of traffic. On the other, we should encourage drivers to accomodate cyclists. Which is green-painted lanes? Are they a substitute for cycletracks?

In any event, riders are going to be in traffic, fit or not. My point is that the cycling community looks to design changes alone to force acceptance, a la Holland. We're not Holland. US drivers need more visual cues, and you can dismiss my experiences if you want, but I happen to think they're valid and replicable.

by Crickey7 on Dec 9, 2013 4:08 pm • linkreport

"The cycling community has been a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, we should separate cycles from the rest of traffic. On the other, we should encourage drivers to accomodate cyclists. "

Whether seperation or mixing is called for depends on the charecteristics of the road and the charecteristics of the cyclist. Planners can examine the charecteristics of the road and prioritize where infra is most important. However cyclists will always differ - by age, fitness, experience skills and knowledge in terms of riding, and even in terms of their psychological comfort with mixed traffic. We want those cyclists who prefer to avoid some or all segregated infra to be able to ride in mixed traffic, but we also want to make riding safe and comfortable for those who are not willing to ride in mixed traffic on roads that are faster, more trafficed, or otherwise less comfortable.

I don't really see the contradiction in that.

and AFAICT the organized cycling community is NOT counting on infra alone. They are also supporting education for cyclists, motorists, and LE, changes to laws, etc.

These include encouragement to be predictable, alert and lawful, and encouragement to use lights. Both BikeArlington and FABB, AFAIK, have programs to distribute free lights in places where many economically challenged riders ride without any lights.

I really don't think anyone is discounting the value of being visible.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 9, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

@202_cyclist
Of course not and here is what I said, "Yes, more bike lanes and better bike facilities are preferred..."

Yes, but it's not helpful to imply that things are OK without infrastructure. Yes, you are a confident cyclist, but others aren't, and to get them to join the fold it's going to take more than "well yes, bike lanes are preferable, but..."

by MLD on Dec 9, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

There's a difference between discounting the value of being visible as a safety measure and promoting it as a way to encourage drivers to share the road. I do it as a safety measure, but I think it does more than that.

As a slight aside, I often see riders with one blinking light. Not enough. Sooner or later, you will ride with a dying battery, and you will not be visible.

by Crickey7 on Dec 9, 2013 4:36 pm • linkreport

@Crickey7:

Two headlights is also a good idea-- one to look immeidately ahead and see potholes and other hazards and one to make yourself visible to cars.

by 202_cyclist on Dec 9, 2013 4:40 pm • linkreport

Back to my question, is the green paint slippery when wet?

by 202_cyclist on Dec 9, 2013 4:41 pm • linkreport

They've been painting bike lanes in Europe for decades. I'm not sure why it's taken this long to adopt such innovations in this country.

The United States, in general, is slow to adopt solutions that have been proven to work elsewhere. It's an inefficient stubbornness.

My sense is it's both being slow to adopt and our collective piss poor record at maintaining infrastructure in the US. Look at Metro and many of our streets. How bad did the 15th Street Cycle track have to get before riders had to plead to get it repaved? Adding color makes perfect sense and I'm all for it, but it will be of limited value if its visibility (and therefore utility) isn't maintained over time.

by Jonathan P on Dec 9, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

Crickey7,

I think it's more of an individual vs. System response. I think anyone riding personally should do so defensively, highly visible, and willing to take the lane. From a systemic/policy perspective I think that hasn't been enough and is an inappropriate response when we ask how to get more people cycling.

Shorter: people should take personal responsibility but govt/advocates should try to make it so one doesn't have to do all the work.

by Drumz on Dec 9, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

We worked for car safety at both ends. Roads are safer, cars are safer--heck, we even require more systematized driver ed instruction for kids.

Other than with helmets (great, but a little oversold), we don't do that for bikes.

by Crickey7 on Dec 9, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

I think there is plenty of attention to bike lights (and high viz clothing) as a safety measure.

Bike lights as a way to change perceptions of streets? Well good luck with that. Im not sure that multiple lights makes drivers more likely to think multimodalism than riding with fewer. But to the extent the bike orgs get more people to bike with SOME lights instead of none (which is NOT uncommon after dark in places with lots of working class riders, like some parts of NoVa) we are achieving both, I think.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 9, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

@Bill: Bike boulevards still cost tens of thousands of dollars per mile -- not only for signage, but also for little things (like turning stop signs) and big things (building diverters for through car traffic). In fact, they're more expensive than bike lanes on arterials. They're also better suited for residential Portland, with fairly low densities and little through traffic, than for a spread-out downtown thronged with suburban commuters (aka downtown DC).

The best approach for bicyclists is an all-of-the-above approach, since that addresses the needs of different kinds of cyclists in different kinds of environments.

by Payton on Dec 9, 2013 4:59 pm • linkreport

Is that true? I'm not being facetious.

Cursory googling seems to indicate that most cyclists that are killed involve a car. Per capita rates of collisions indicate that cycling is safer than driving all things being equal.

But to stick with your point about helmets, it's the perfect illustration my earlier comment re: responses. I'd reccomend anyone wear a helmet but we've seen how helmet requirements or govt bike initiatives that basically just remind people to wear them are ineffective and can discourage cycling.

by Drumz on Dec 9, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

BTW, have we not insisted on safety standards for bikes? Are there new bikes sold that are unsafe at any speed?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 9, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

BTW, as info, unlike helmets, bike lights ARE mandatory for all cyclists after dark, but I think thats only "be seen" lights. And its not really enforced, AFAICT.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 9, 2013 5:02 pm • linkreport

It's my own form of bike advocacy, to get out there and acclimate drivers to the presence of cyclists by festooning myself with more flashing red lights than an Amsterdam brothel.

No need to thank me.

by Crickey7 on Dec 9, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

>is the green paint slippery when wet?

No. It's not actually paint. It's a high-friction coating that is grippier than normal pavement.

by BeyondDC on Dec 9, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

Driver assaulted a cyclist for taking the lane on Route 1 in Beltsville last week. Right under a "Bikes May Take Full Lane" sign. Pulled ahead, stopped car, got out, hit cyclists (no injury). Cop didn't know what he was supposed to do.

This post is right on. Even some of the most pig headed drivers can be taught to share. Right now, our street infrastructure essentially teaches them to not.

by Greenbelt on Dec 9, 2013 5:20 pm • linkreport

This post is right on. Even some of the most pig headed drivers can be taught to share. Right now, our street infrastructure essentially teaches them to not.

Ha..couldn't help but think of the two times in less than a week last year, just before and just after daylight saving time in the fall when, just on the DC side of Rt. 1, two separate drivers did "punishment passes" on me and then yelled to "share the road" when I pulled up to them at Eastern. In my experience, "share the road" means one thing to drivers and another to cyclists. For drivers (the bad ones), it means GTF Outta my way!

by thump on Dec 9, 2013 5:29 pm • linkreport

As for Bike Boulevards, DC is supposed to get one on 41st Street and Jennifer Street NW, if DDOT is ever able to get its stuff together to put it in. We've been waiting at least 6 months for this.

I hope those who have points to make on this an other issues show up and testify at Mary Cheh's hearing on DDOT and bike infrastructure: http://dccouncil.us/events/transportation-and-the-environment-roundtable-on-bicycle-infrastructure-mas

For the record, I am a much faster cyclist than 202-cyclist, but still want separated bike lanes.

And the person who said cycling advocates are schizophrenic is incorrect. Of course the preference is for separated infrastructure, but in most cases that is not possible to achieve. Half a loaf, my friend.

by fongfong on Dec 9, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

"Of course the preference is for separated infrastructure . . ."

Is it? Then you are surely in for some disappointment.

by Crickey7 on Dec 9, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

@thump -- I don't take Route 1 for this reason -- it seems to have a special ability to create angry drivers. Happily, there are great parallel bike trails or routes to get you pretty close to where you need to go!

by Greenbelt on Dec 9, 2013 5:52 pm • linkreport

Kevin, AAA lobbies against bicycle lanes and accommodations.

by Capt. Hilts on Dec 9, 2013 5:53 pm • linkreport

I do like the green painted designated bike lanes and I agree they signal to most drivers that the street is a multimodal public space. Typically I’m a fan of all quality bike infrastructure but I question what this infrastructure and the green painted designated bike lanes signal to drivers about the general traffic lanes.

To quote a DC based anti-bike blog:

“I have never complained or shouted obscenities at a single bikef*#k who was peddling along in a bike lane…or on a bike path…just the f#%@n seatmonkeys who block traffic and engage in general f#%tardary on public roads…”

I’d be willing to guess this guy thinks green painted bike lanes are to help bicyclists see where they NEED to be.

What I’d like to see in addition to the increase in separated bike infrastructure and green paint is more campaigns educating drivers on bicyclists right to take the lane as well as campaigns to educate cyclists when they ought to do so and how to do so because even with the 70 miles of cycletrack pipe dream that I read about a couple weeks ago, most bicyclists will still at some point during their ride need to take the lane.

@Crikey7 I saw a rider a while back with three rear blinkies spread out horizontally on a rear rack with some sort of extension arms to help show their width…was a very nice set up.

by UrbanEngineer on Dec 9, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

@Bill

I actually agree with your libertarian viewpoint. All street markings, signs, and stoplights should be removed. Research indicates that, perhaps counter intuitively, it is the safest design. When you make people responsible for their own safety, lo-and-behold, the result is safer streets.

One of many sources:

http://www.brake.org.uk/info-resources/info-research/road-safety-factsheets/15-facts-a-resources/facts/472-naked-roads

by Falls Church on Dec 9, 2013 9:09 pm • linkreport

@Greenbelt-It actually happened on RIAve..inside DC. Opposite side from where Evan Wilder was intentionally knocked off a few years ago. Unfortunately, there is no better way to get to my house. I come out on Newton and have to take RIAve/Rt. 1 just past the Mt. Rainier circle. Other option for me is crossing Eastern Ave. speedway at intersections w/o signals. No thanks. Tried it for a while and just didn't work, have to go way out of my way.

by thump on Dec 10, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

Research indicates that, perhaps counter intuitively, it is the safest design. When you make people responsible for their own safety, lo-and-behold, the result is safer streets.

This is true if the roadway is redesigned completely. Doesn't work if you maintain the same types of geometries seen here. You need to dramatically narrow approaches and use different pavement treatments.

by thump on Dec 10, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

I thought this was a well written post until I got to "sewers for car traffic." You lost the audience you were trying to reach with that line.

by js on Dec 10, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

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