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Why build protected bike lanes, in one happy quote

A father and son comfortably bike down a slow Arlington street. They approach the new Hayes Street cycletrack. The father asks "Want to take the special bike lane?" The son responds with an excited "Yeah!"

The father and son. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

I overheard that interaction this past weekend, and had to stop and smile.

That one brief conversation sums up why protected bike lanes are so great: They make city streets safe, comfortable, and fun for even children to bicycle on. Not to mention older people, less-able people, and novice cyclists.

If Americans ever hope to make cycling for transportation a mainstream activity, cycling must feel comfortable for everyone. Getting bikes out of the path of speeding cars is a big part of that.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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My son is now 7, which is old enough that he's on his own bike. I wouldn't trust him in a bike lane on Sycamore Street but I would ride with him in a protected lane.

Instead we take the sidewalk for now until we get to less busy streets. I'm working with him on stop signs, lane positioning, how to look for what drivers are likely to do, etc.

by Michael Perkins on Aug 27, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

A father and son comfortably bike drive down a slow Arlington street during the son's first driving lesson. They approach the new Hayes Street cycletrack. The father asks "Want to take the special bike lane road without those pesky bikers?" The son responds with an excited "Yeah!"

by Jasper on Aug 27, 2014 1:41 pm • linkreport

Won't someone think of the children?!

by Scoot on Aug 27, 2014 1:56 pm • linkreport

@jasper...did you take the cycling savvy course! You nailed it!

by Joe on Aug 27, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

Who's genius idea was it to post a sign showing which side of the plastic bollards are intended for bikes and automobiles. DC could take a lesson on M and L Street NW.

by Clark on Aug 27, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

Wouldn't you know it? Already a car is illegally sitting/parked in the buffer area...although, granted, not blocking the bike lane :-)

by Dave G on Aug 27, 2014 5:52 pm • linkreport

DC is getting better at keeping cars out of protected bike lanes. DDOT just narrowed a section of the L Street cycle track, and it already appears to be functioning better:

Curbs are coming to this stretch as well:

by TransitSnob on Aug 27, 2014 6:42 pm • linkreport

Instead we take the sidewalk for now until we get to less busy streets.
You shouldn't be proud of this, as this is awful anti-pedestrian behavior. Neither you, nor your child, belong on bicycles in the sidewalk.

Next time, if you're not comfortable riding in the street or in a bike lane, get off of your bike and walk.

by Ryan on Aug 27, 2014 8:19 pm • linkreport

"Already a car is illegally sitting/parked in the buffer area"

Illegal? Buffer zone? Those are metered parking spaces!

by Another Nick on Aug 27, 2014 8:59 pm • linkreport

Ryan: no, they belong perfectly well. They should respect pedestrians on the sidewalk, but telling them they have to walk is simply incorrect.

by Mike on Aug 28, 2014 8:10 am • linkreport


Is Sycamore street in Arlington really that crowded with pedestrians? I doubt a 7 YO new to biking is going fast enough to endanger pedestrians, at most its an inconvenience. Biking is legal on sidewalks in ArlCo, IIUC, and for a kid it may well be the most appropriate place to ride (though I have seen small kids with their parents in unprotected bike lanes)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 28, 2014 8:11 am • linkreport

Ryan, in the suburbs, that's what sidewalks were made for--for pedestrians and kids with bikes. As stated elsewhere, it's perfectly legal in Arlington, and it's fine as long as everyone is respectful to everyone else. It looks to me like the writer is teaching his kid to ride respectfully.

In downtown DC, yes, it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk. But there are a lot more pedestrians there.

by DE on Aug 28, 2014 8:21 am • linkreport

Nothing wrong with riding on sidewalks where it is legal, as long as we riders treat it as a pedestrian priority space first.

by MLD on Aug 28, 2014 8:39 am • linkreport

Just another nit on the sidewalks-or-not, but given that I can ride my bike at a walking speed (and do), or walk my bike at a walking speed, there’s really no difference, except that I take up less space if I am riding. This has nothing to do with what is legal, it is merely a plain fact.

I’m curious how it would be “awful”, too.

Note, because I am sure that people are unable to avoid reading things into this that I did not write, that I almost never ride my bicycle on the sidewalk; I get all my experience interacting with pedestrians on the local MUP, where somehow it is considered completely non-awful and not-at-all antipedestrian to mix bikes and pedestrians (and rollerbladers and strollers and dogs) going both directions on a strip of asphalt 12 feet wide or less.

by dr2chase on Aug 28, 2014 12:11 pm • linkreport

The fact that a bike can safely ride in the road and on the sidewalk is an advantage to be celebrated, not discouraged.

by drumz on Aug 28, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

"Why build protected bike lanes, in one happy quote." You can't explain spending taxpayers' hard-earned money in "one happy quote."

by getreal on Aug 29, 2014 4:54 pm • linkreport

It's about safety, and it's about expectations.

As a pedestrian walking along the sidewalk, I do not expect to be interacting with bicycle traffic - ever. This is just the same as how drivers on 395 don't expect to have to negotiate horse-drawn carriages, and how bicycle riders in a cycle track don't expect (and when this happens, become infuriated and rightly so) to have to negotiate stopped vehicles.

We know - because studies have been done on this, such as this bicycle-oriented study - that mixed-use facilities as a rule are categorically less safe than dedicated infrastructure. This applies regardless of whether the mixed use is a trail shared by pedestrians or an arterial street shared by automobiles. You may choose to disregard those and other findings, perhaps because sidewalk riding was not explicitly mentioned in that study, but I would be comfortable in asserting that a sidewalk carries with it many of the same characteristics as a mixed-use trail and certainly enough to associate the two for the purposes of drawing the conclusion that sidewalk riding is indeed less safe for all sidewalk users.

To d2chase in particular I would extend an invitation to elaborate on what he would define "riding at walking speed" as - the average human walking speed is 3.1 mph and a comfortable variance for differing levels of fitness/body structure/other factors would give us a range of 2 ~ 4 mph.

I have trouble believing that you're actually cycling at 4 mph in any circumstance (and certainly, as the speed drops to the low end of our average walking speed range I have more and more trouble believing your momentum is sufficient to keep the bike upright) - more likely in my estimation is that your perception is altered by the fact of being on top of a bicycle and your actual speed is closer to 7 or 8 mph despite you feeling as though you're riding at walking speed. Mind you, 7 to 8 is certainly not moving fast and the injuries sustained by a collision at 7 mph would be far less severe than one at 15 or 20, but 7 mph is still more likely than not at least double the speed of the typical walker you would encounter.

It really does boil down to the knife cutting both ways. Just the same as cycle tracks enhance safety across all users on all modes of transportation by separating cars and bikes, so too does safety increase across all users on all modes of transportation when pedestrians and bikes are separated. In other words, I'll restate my earlier assertion: if you're on a bicycle and you have no other choice but to enter the sidewalk, you should get off your bike and walk.

And yes, before anyone asks, I'm also in favor of reconfigured mixed-use trails to have "bike lanes" and "walking lanes" - although I do not see the need for protection on a mixed use tail, and believe simply widening the pavement and striping different lanes would suffice.

by Ryan on Aug 29, 2014 6:44 pm • linkreport

Take an holiday to the Netherlands and see how our protected bike lanes work. See also:

by Stefan van Nederland on Sep 2, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport


I think you misunderstand the policy of using cycle tracks, etc to seperate traffic. They do add to safety, but that does not mean bikes should be banned from general travel lanes. We do ban cars from cycle tracks but there is always a general travel lane available close to the cycle track. We ban bikes from highways, but only because there always alternative ways to get to any give place.

In many places there is NO bike only infra, and that is likely to always be the case. For now that includes many places where in road biking conditions are intimidating to most cyclists. At the same time many sidewalks are far from crowded, and cycling on them is really not much of a problem. It does make sense to ban bikes from sidewalks in some places, but not all of them.

And yes, its not at all difficult to bike at 4 MPH or so. Indeed many newbie out of shape cyclists have difficulty going much faster up steep hills.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Sep 2, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport

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