Greater Greater Washington

Make cycling safer with protected intersections

Protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, are great for encouraging bicycling, but intersections often don't offer much protection for cyclists. Enter the protected intersection:

The design is based on Dutch designs that gives all parties more time to react to conflicts and makes intersections much safer for cyclists. The design is not standard in the US, but neither were protected bike lanes up until a few years ago. Which intersections around here do you think should get this treatment?

Thanks to reader Jeremy Frisch for the tip.

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

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Natch, as a cyclist I think all intersections should get this brilliant treatment. They look they'll have good traffic calming effects too.

by likedrypavement on May 1, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

This seems designed for when two protected cycletracks intersect. That's rare in DC. I'm having trouble understanding how it would work when a cycletrack intersects a street without a cycletrack.

by Falls Church on May 1, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

How does this design allow drivers to see the traffic around the turns well enough while they're driving a turn if the stop lines are pushed back that far? For safety's sake, you have to be able to see all the way to the right/left when turning around a corner.

by asffa on May 1, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

You know, much as I love this a cyclist, after experiencing it in Amsterdam I'm not sure it's great for pedestrians.

Better for everyone than a dangerous car-oriented street, definitely. No question about that. But not perfect. Using the pedestrian nub for bikes creates conflicts of its own.

It's not that I'm exactly opposed to this layout. I just wonder if there's a better one out there waiting to be engineered.

by BeyondDC on May 1, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

BeyondDC yes, I'm hoping there's a better one. :) Not against the concept, the layout doesn't seem the smartest though, and not worth imitating- in it's entirety.

by asffa on May 1, 2014 12:00 pm • linkreport

How does this design allow drivers to see the traffic around the turns well enough while they're driving a turn if the stop lines are pushed back that far? For safety's sake, you have to be able to see all the way to the right/left when turning around a corner.,/i>

No right-on-red allowed with this design I would think. So when turning you only have to worry about traffic in front of you.

by MLD on May 1, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

I don't have as much of a problem with drivers, for this layout. Drivers will naturally slow down and pay attention if it's an obviously slow speed street, just like with woonerfs or neighborhood cul-de-sacs. It works fine in Amsterdam, and it would work fine here provided an adequately calmed street. You wouldn't do it on a high-speed street, true.

I'm OK with calming car traffic in favor bikes and peds, but I'm not sure I want to calm peds in favor of bikes. At least not everywhere.

by BeyondDC on May 1, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

Which intersections around here do you think should get this treatment?

All. It works.

How does this design allow drivers to see the traffic around the turns well enough while they're driving a turn if the stop lines are pushed back that far?

Where else would you like the STOP lines to be? In the middle of the pedestrian crossing? That would be against DC law - You can't block a pedestrian crossing.

BTW: Your argument should that the intersections work. The lack of visibility forces drivers to slow down and negotiate their progress better. That is the point.

The problem with American traffic design is that everything is aimed at getting cars through a point the fastest way possible. That sounds fine, but comes at the expense of the safety of other drivers, bikers and pedestrians. You can only restore their safety by slowing down the drivers.

by Jasper on May 1, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

MLD A driver only having to worry about traffic in front of oneself is not true in the city.
Jasper It looks too far back to see what was going on, if the pedestrian crossings/bike crossings are placed in such a way drivers can't see, that's a safety design problem, and laws and law enforcement is supposed to encourage safety.

Choosing to create a lack of visibility for drivers is unbelievably short-sighted, pun intended.

by asffa on May 1, 2014 1:07 pm • linkreport

Why do you need to see what is going on from behind the stop line?

You are using a short-sighted definition of "safety."

by MLD on May 1, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

@BeyondDC,

How does this design "calm" pedestrians? If anything this design represents a MASSIVE improvement for pedestrians, with dramatically reduced crossing distances, greatly improved visibility between pedestrians and drivers through bulb-outs, and better protected crosswalks through tightened curb radii, which reduce driver speeds around turns.

I suspect your antipathy for this design stems from the the high volume of cyclists in the Netherlands, who may not always yield to pedestrians who are trying to cross the bike path to reach the pedestrian islands (nubs). I agree that this could cause problems with high volumes of cyclists. However, there are fairly simple tweaks that can be done to address this issues, such as raised crosswalks that indicate pedestrian priority. Here is a somewhat decent example from Montreal http://goo.gl/maps/oKOOr.

I guess I would hesitate before dismissing a good idea, especially without a proposal for anything better. Instead, let's work to tweak a good design to make even better. This is especially true now, when we're still fighting against car-centric designs (SE Blvd), and nothing even approaching this level of quality is being planned or built in DC.

by TransitSnob on May 1, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

MLD If you're about to turn, you need to see what's going on with traffic.
I've my doubts creating a lack of visibility for drivers prevents accidents.

by asffa on May 1, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

TransitSnob yes, there are parts of this idea that should work - But it should be tweaked before implementation, however. If there's anything the SSTC has reminded the world about - it costs a whole lot more to cut up concrete and repour than to do it right the first time.

by asffa on May 1, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

Designs that force drivers to pay attention are good; e.g., modern roundabouts. Designs that make it difficult to effectively pay attention are (likely) bad.

by Geof Gee on May 1, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

I've my doubts creating a lack of visibility for drivers prevents accidents.

It also looks like it would be fairly difficult to sight a left hand turn when the lane lines are set so far back from the intersection. And I don't trust people making right hand turns to not go entirely too broad with them. Looks like you'd have to almost flawlessly hug the curb to pull that off.

by Another Nick on May 1, 2014 1:27 pm • linkreport

How are tractors pulling 53' vans suppose to make turns at that intersection?

by Sand Box John on May 1, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

Looks like you'd have to almost flawlessly hug the curb to pull that off.

Also known as 'slowing down.'

by Alex B. on May 1, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

@ TransitSnob:I suspect your antipathy for this design stems from the the high volume of cyclists in the Netherlands, who may not always yield to pedestrians who are trying to cross the bike path to reach the pedestrian islands (nubs).

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Due to much improved road design, Dutch traffic runs like clockwork. Smooth. Every time I get back there, I am surprised how smooth even complex intersections work. But then I note the many traffic islands, bulb outs and other traffic furniture that just induced proper behavior.

The whole (Monderman) idea is to slow down traffic and make people negotiate their position. American traffic desperately tries to avoid that. The gain is speed, the price is safety of the weaker participants.

by Jasper on May 1, 2014 2:34 pm • linkreport

@ Sand Box John:How are tractors pulling 53' vans suppose to make turns at that intersection?

Just like everybody else. Slow down, negotiate your forward motion with others.

by Jasper on May 1, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

I'm a little concerned about the impact in high pedestrian intersections. You wouldn't want to do this on 7th st in Chinatown for example. I could see it along 15th st though and maybe Columbia and a few other places outside downtown.

by BTA on May 1, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

As long as this configuration is not on any of my car commuting routes.

by Jack Evans (not really) on May 1, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

This works in the Netherlands because people obey traffic laws there. It won't work in DC, because people don't obey the laws here.

A big key to this design working is not letting cars turn while bikes and pedestrians are going straight. If the cars are turning, it won't work well. And in DC, the cars will turn even when they're not allowed to.

Take a look at how things work at 7th and H. All turns are illegal there. But after issuing a bunch of tickets the first week, MPD stopped enforcing that. Cars frequently make illegal turns (often with police cars there), and never get ticketed. Heck, I've been almost hit by a police car making an illegal turn there.

by Rob on May 1, 2014 4:09 pm • linkreport

>This works in the Netherlands because people obey traffic laws there. It won't work in DC, because people don't obey the laws here.

And why do you think that is?

Americans are not intrinsically less capable or less willing to obey traffic laws than the Dutch. We are not biologically different. Americans have been trained to feel entitled to drive quickly by road designs that prioritize fast driving. Changing that requires changing the road design to, as Jasper says, prioritize more careful negotiation of streets (plus, I admit, time to adapt behavior).

by BeyondDC on May 1, 2014 4:55 pm • linkreport

Do you mean safer? Or more complicated. Because it's definitely the latter. Systems get better when they're simplified.

by crin on May 1, 2014 5:14 pm • linkreport

And too, those bulbous corners are essentially just cyclists biking on sidewalks. It would be a cyclist-pedestrian free-for-all, mixing bowl.

by crin on May 1, 2014 5:26 pm • linkreport

In Belgian cities, cyclists get their own lane, and the option at each intersection to spread out at the front of the car lane. Best of all, cyclists get a separate set of stoplights, which turn green a few seconds before the larger lights for cars. So everyone sees who's in the intersection.

Oddly, traffic flows well, everyone is polite, and everyone gets where they're going safely and calmly.

by Sydney on May 1, 2014 5:48 pm • linkreport

BeyondDC said "Americans are not intrinsically less capable or less willing to obey traffic laws than the Dutch. We are not biologically different. Americans have been trained to feel entitled to drive quickly by road designs that prioritize fast driving. Changing that requires changing the road design to, as Jasper says, prioritize more careful negotiation of streets (plus, I admit, time to adapt behavior)."

Um, no. It doesn't require anything that complicated. It just requires having a police department that cares about enforcing traffic laws, which MPD doesn't.

by Rob on May 1, 2014 6:28 pm • linkreport

@ Rob:This works in the Netherlands because people obey traffic laws there. It won't work in DC, because people don't obey the laws here.

This is such a frustrating argument. I hear it all the time, when an American is confronted with another country doing anything better. Somehow, it's always that Americans are special. Of course, this is nonsense. You are not special, you are just people, like any other on the world.

The Dutch are not perfect traffic angels. They do all the same things wrong Americans do. See here for a nice compilation:
http://www.geenstijl.nl/fastsearch?query=Totale+Lul+van+de+Week&zoek=zoek
(click on the links for quite horrific dashcam clips)

However, the Dutch have successfully demanded from government that traffic safety is a priority. Speeding cameras have reduced traffic deaths, and incited massive hatred. Laws have been changed. You guys install traffic cams on buses, the Dutch just automatically give fault to drivers when in crashes with bikers and pedestrians.

But most importantly, the Dutch have demanded safe bike lanes and highways all throughout the country. And somehow they got it. [It's not that the Dutch AAA is not a mighty lobby force. They are. They have delayed congestion pricing for a decade or two by now, even though traffic congestion there is much worse than even in DC.]

It's been a massive infrastructure change, between the late 80s and now. When I biked to high school, there were no bike lanes. By now, the same 5 km route has bike lanes along the entire length, with a physical separation where possible - it does not always fit on roads and bridges designed for horse carriages.

Or would it just be that our prime-minister bikes to work?
https://www.google.com/search?q=rutte+fiets+nss&client=firefox-a&hs=Yt3&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=sb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=V_NiU6juPNGHogT3iYDICQ&ved=0CE8QsAQ&biw=1243&bih=728&dpr=0.9#channel=sb&q=rutte+fiets&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&tbm=isch

A big key to this design working is not letting cars turn while bikes and pedestrians are going straight.

Turn on red is a unique American feature, that is correct. Would not work. In Europe, straight traffic always has the right of way over turning traffic. And that includes pedestrians and bikers going straight over right turning drivers.

It just requires having a police department that cares about enforcing traffic laws, which MPD doesn't.

Than demand it does. You can vote. You can petition. Stop claiming you're different. Start behaving like an American with a government for the people by the people.

@ Sydney:Oddly, traffic flows well, everyone is polite, and everyone gets where they're going safely and calmly.

You have not biked in Brussels' rush hour. Or driven, for a matter of fact.

by Jasper on May 1, 2014 9:26 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
And block traffic in all direction as he turn wide still being unable to keep his trailer wheels from running over the curbs of the bump outs.

by Sand Box John on May 1, 2014 10:17 pm • linkreport

I wrote "It just requires having a police department that cares about enforcing traffic laws, which MPD doesn't."

Jasper responded "Than demand it does. You can vote. You can petition. Stop claiming you're different. Start behaving like an American with a government for the people by the people."

Jasper, you're totally missing my point. I'm not saying Americans will never obey traffic laws. I'm saying that our priority should be getting adequate traffic enforcement (particularly in DC, where traffic enforcement is much worse than any other place I've ever lived). And until we get that, we shouldn't be worrying about new laws or new intersection designs, because without enforcement, those things don't work, and that stuff takes time and energy away from pushing for more enforcement.

by Rob on May 2, 2014 7:48 am • linkreport

@ Rob:Jasper, you're totally missing my point.

And you're missing mine.

I'm saying that our priority should be getting adequate traffic enforcement (particularly in DC, where traffic enforcement is much worse than any other place I've ever lived). And until we get that

MPD is not some foreign object that you have no control over. If you live in DC, you have influence. Use it. Contact the Chief of Police. If you don't like her answer, contact the mayoral candidates about their next appointment. Contact your CM.

@ Sand Box John:And block traffic in all direction as he turn wide still being unable to keep his trailer wheels from running over the curbs of the bump outs.

Which is perfectly fine for the three times a day a huge truck comes by. It makes no sense to build roads that do not fit the needs of thousands of users, just to accommodate a few.

In many European cities large trucks are simply banned. Aside from Green Party goals, there is the simple fact that they often don't fit on the narrow roads in old downtowns. There are two kinds of bans. Total bans, and bans allowing local-destination traffic. Amsterdam has a near total ban and invested massively in a system for transferring good from large trucks to smaller trucks (and trams) at the perimeter of the city. Germany has their Umweltplakettes which ban polluting cars (and trucks) from their city centers.

http://www.umwelt-plakette.de/englis_informations.php

by Jasper on May 2, 2014 12:02 pm • linkreport

Rob

We will never have perfect enforcement. Perfect enforcement does not exist anywhere in the US, i think. Meanwhile instead of waiting for the utopia of perfect enforcement, we need to look at how to make biking safer, both directly, and by growing the critical mass of bikers (which has multiple positive impacts - it makes drivers more aware of cyclists, it adds to the constituency pushing for improved biking conditions including enforcement, and perhaps most important, it means more drivers ARE cyclists - perphaps our biggest difference from the NL and DK) I can't speak to this particular intersection treatment, but I believe improvements in cycling infra have done both those things.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 2, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: I've already done all of the things you suggested. But the reactions I've gotten from MPD and from my CM suggest that I'm the only one complaining about the lack of enforcement of traffic laws.

@AWalkerInTheCity: I never said we need perfect enforcement. But we do need adequate enforcement. MPD falls far short of that.

by Rob on May 2, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

@ Rob:I've already done all of the things you suggested.

Glad to hear that.

But the reactions I've gotten from MPD and from my CM suggest that I'm the only one complaining about the lack of enforcement of traffic laws.

Maybe work with WABA?

by Jasper on May 2, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

Interesting concept. I assume that full-size buses in the Netherlands have no problem making right turns in these intersections. As mentioned above-would right-on-red be forbidden? Most of our major intersections end the parking lane well before, in favor of a right turn lane. By eliminating the right turn lane, traffic will be substantially slowed.
The diagram needs one tweak. Please add a bus nub on the far-side of the intersection. We can't afford to bottle buses in the stubbed-out former right-turn lane - buses move faster with far-side stops in the travel lane. That will complicate the bike and pedestrian path, as the bike path would then fall behind the bus stop - and people with disabilities along with other users would be dodging bikes to reach the bus stop. Given ADA accessibility requirements for bus stops, one will need bigger building setbacks at these intersections.

by Steve Yaffe on May 2, 2014 6:46 pm • linkreport

Maybe a start could be to have riders actually follow the laws that they demand others follow. Intersections, regardless of new ideas can be deadly if people do not do what is correct. I watch bikes on busy street simply slow and the shoot thru red lights regularly. When they get hit, people want to hang the wrong party.

by John on May 2, 2014 7:09 pm • linkreport

Let's make a deal: for every intersection we build this at, I promise to wait until the light turns green.

by Drumz on May 2, 2014 8:56 pm • linkreport

@ Steve Yaffe: I assume that full-size buses in the Netherlands have no problem making right turns in these intersections.

No, they don't. Bus companies do complain about the many small roundabouts. They still get ignored mostly.

As mentioned above-would right-on-red be forbidden?>

Right on red does not exist in Europe. Also, straight traffic always has the right of way. So, a biker going straight on the right of right-turning car has the right of way.

During driver's ed, you are taught to look over your right shoulder before turning right. Remember, if you hit a biker while driving, the default is that you are at fault.

Most of our major intersections end the parking lane well before, in favor of a right turn lane.

Most bike lanes are to the right of parking lanes.

By eliminating the right turn lane, traffic will be substantially slowed.

A feature, not a bug.

by Jasper on May 5, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

You have not biked in Brussels' rush hour. Or driven, for a matter of fact.

Jasper has a point, which helps to make my point. I should have written "Flemish towns," not "Belgian cities."

They order these things differently in Wallonië.

by Sydney on May 5, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

If you drive much in Washington you'll notice that you end up waiting, half-turned, anyway where there are high volume pedestrian street crossings. Having driven trucks in the city, I'd say that protecting the intersection, and having controlled crossing signals would benefit everyone. Who wants to hit a bicyclist or pedestrian? The only problems I've seen in city driving are 1. cars turning right or left, whether or not they have the light, without looking for pedestrians or bicycles. This is common and has nothing to do with site lines. It has to do with street design and awareness. And 2. It is often impossible to turn because by the time pedestrians get out of the intersection, the light is red again. Staged signals would help. As for waiting until the intersection design is perfected, that is not going to happen. Progress is always incremental. Do what you can now. Do better next time.

by urbangrouch on May 24, 2014 9:16 am • linkreport

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