The US is coming to know it as a ‘Protected Intersection,’ but it’s the same thing, an intersection that extends protected bike lanes into the intersection and creates a much better experience for less confident and new bicyclists. A right-turning queue space is created in the intersection for cars to wait for people bicycling straight through the intersection. Cars also wait here for pedestrians to cross. You can see this action in the image at right, from MassDOT’s new guide to protected bikeways. You may also notice the crossing distances for both bicyclists and pedestrians is much shorter.
As we have known for a while, people interested in bicycling for everyday trips but concerned about safety will only get on a bike if their entire trip is perceived to be safe. It’s not enough to build a nice bike lane part of the way. And what makes a bike lane comfortable is separating it from moving cars, and physically protecting people to increase perceived safety. This enhanced comfort level is particularly important for parents with children, senior citizens and generally less experienced and less confident people who want to bike. Protected intersections help complete the bikeway.
Protected Bike Lanes Only Get You So Far
When they are complete, we hope you enjoy the new protected bike lanes on Telegraph Ave in the KONO District, but even today with more upgrades to come you will quickly notice that the comfortable protection you enjoy on Telegraph’s curbside bike lanes ends when you approach the intersection. There, you will see thru bike lanes and mixing zones until the other side of the intersection, where the protection of parked cars resumes. You have to mix with cars at the intersections, a deterent for some people. The NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide has no guidance for a Dutch junction, but Caltrans now has new Class IV Design Guidance for protected (or separated) bike lanes, including protected intersections. While we work to upgrade intersection designs, we know that protected bike lanes are proving much safer, and attracting many more people to try bicycling.
A piece of good news is that Oakland recently received a $5.9 million grant to upgrade and extend bike lanes on Telegraph Ave up to 41st St in the Temescal District. This funding includes money for bicycle traffic signals at busy interestions, a key feature of protected intersections. At busy intersections such as 27th St, MacArthur Blvd, and 40th St., bicycle traffic signals may be designed to stop right turning car traffic while you proceed straight on a green bicycle signal, and then vise versa. Fully signalizing turning movements is one way to better protect you at intersections. But you still should not have to feel vulnerable at the intersection while you wait your turn to cross. Enter protected intersections.
How Protected Intersections Complete the Picture
You may have an easier time understanding protected intersections if you think of them as short crosswalks for bikes, or ‘cross bikes’. Protected intersections extend protected bike paths through the intersection, while smartly allowing for right turning car movements.
Shown right is Alta Planning’s protected intersection design. Each intersection corner includes:
- Corner safety island
- Forward stop bar and waiting area for bicyclists
- While not labeled here, extended protection up to the pedestrian cross walk
This protected intersection design also includes a bicycle crossing that is set back a little to create a queueing space for right turning vehicles. Bike traffic signals are optional, preferred at busy intersections but not necessary at minor cross streets. And note the shorter crossing distance for both bikes and pedestrians. This is a huge safety benefit of protected intersections.
How Do I Make a Left Turn?
Left turning bicyclists should first proceed straight through the intersection on a green signal to the far corner, then turn left and complete their crossing on a 2nd green signal. While this may seem added work for a left turn, the Dutch do a clever thing here to speed you through. They control the traffic lights with bicyclists in mind. First, straight thru traffic is allowed, both cars and bikes, while right and left turns are prohibited for moving cars. Then, left turns for cars are allowed while the second leg of your bike left turn is also allowed. It’s clever and works. This is better explained at the 3:00 minute mark in this Dutch video. Experience bicyclists can always leave the protected bike lane before the intersection, or avoid it all together, and ride like a vehile making a vehicular left turn, as many people do on Amercian streets today.
Where are Protected Intersections in North America?
There are currently six protected intersections in or under construction, with more coming.
- Davis, CA
- Vancouver, BC
- Austin, TX
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Chicago, IL
- Montreal, QC
- San Francisco, CA
- Berkeley, CA
Protected intersections are generally designed where protected bike lanes and bike paths currently exist, but this is not necessary. Data from the effectiveness of these protected intersections is coming in and being closely studied. Some considerations are:
- How are right turning cars yielding to straight thru bikes?
- Are pedestrian and bike movements co-existing well?
- Is ADA accessibility well designed?
- Can large trucks navigate these narrower intersections?
Innovation is iterative, with continual improvements being made as safety data is gathered. And this will continue as protected intersection concepts are applied to a variety of intersection types.
Where is Bike East Bay Eyeing Protected Intersections in the East Bay?
There are several locations in the East Bay where protected bike lanes are being looked at or advocated for, all potential locations for a protected intersection:
- Telegraph Ave and Grand Ave (Oakland)
- Treat Blvd and Oak St (at Pleasant Hill BART)
- Bayview and Carlson (Richmond)
- E.14th St and Lewelling Blvd (Ashland Cherryland)
- Grant St and Concord Blvd (Concord)
- San Pablo Ave and Rumrill Road (San Pablo)
- Walnut Ave and Civic Center Dr (Fremont BART)
- Fremont Blvd and Mowry Dr (Fremont)
- Stanly Blvd and Valley (Pleasanton)
- Other locations?
In addition to a fully protected intersection, it is possible to incorporate protected intersection elements into more conventional intersections, and it’s also possible to have half protected intersections, or even quarter protected intersections, where less than all four corners are protected.
Sidewalks: Protected intersections need additional space on a street over regular bike lanes, to make room for the lateral right shift of the bicycle crossing (creating right turn car queue space) and to create expanded waiting areas for bikes at red lights. To make room, the Dutch junction sometimes narrows sidewalks, which is not something Bike East Bay supports doing as a matter of course. You can see this in the drawing here from Alta Planning’s Guide. And having bicycled in The Netherlands and Denmark, both countries don’t mind prioritizing bikes over pedestrians if necessary, which is not something America is ready to do. It’s one drawback to the northern European approach.
Only on streets with the widest of sidewalks would America consider taking space from the sidewalk for bikes, with a strong preference to reconfigure the intersection vehicle lanes first. Options include combining some of the through and right turn lanes or through and left turn lanes, thus narrowing the street to make room for fully protected bikeways, while still accommodating traffic volumes. In addition, a multimodal approach to reconfiguring streets, with enhance bus service and smart parking management can often reduce demand for vehicle space, freeing up space for better bikeways and even widen sidewalks.
Danish Way: Copenhagen has as many people bicycling as The Netherlands, but does not use Dutch junction design. Instead, Copenhagen prefers raised bike lanes next to travel lanes and parked cars (at least in confined areas), and the bike lane extended to the intersection, with cars having a set back stop bar. Right turning cars have a duty to yield to thru bikes. Sometimes, bike traffic signals are used to fully control car and bike movements at busy intersections. Two-stage left turns are required, with Danish commuters queueing in the cross streets’ bikeway.
Read our “Lessons from Copenhagen: What the Danes Would Do” for more information about the Danish approach to intersections. Here we summarize many of the innovative things the Danish do to encourage more bicycling, and it’s working. Over 50% of trips are made by bike in the World’s bicycling city.
The Ultimate Way: if there is one nick to the northern European approach to bikeway designs, or perhaps one way their designs could be improved, it involves placemaking and shared streets, which mind you they are also doing a much better job of than Americans. Northern European streets that are great for bicycling are great for many of the same reasons some American streets are great for driving–they are engineered for the movement of the ‘design vehicle,’ whether bikes, cars, buses or all of them. The detailed engineering of the street works well for moving people up and down the street, but not well for people hanging out on the street and enjoying it. You kind of want to get inside or off the street as soon as you arrive at your destination.
The Copenhagen street shown here has been fully engineered for bicycling, moving cars, parking cars, and buses. The sidewalks are narrow, but you can walk too. The shortcoming is that there is not anywhere to hang out, and thus you don’t see anyone doing that in this photo. Yes, Copenhagen has done great work creating green parks, playgrounds, plazas and pocket parks, and continues to reinvent itself with more space for its residents to enjoy. I wish Oakland worked as hard. But still, it raises the question of the priority for streets–moving people thru the neighborhood or providing space for them to enjoy the neighborhood, whether its a residential neighborhood, commercial neighborhood, or civic area. There is an inherent tradeoff in over engineering a street for moving people.
The shared street concept is perhaps the next level of innovation. You see more and more shared streets around the world, and of course many northern European cities pioneered these types of new modern shared public realms. A shared street is first and foremost a street for enjoying the neighborhood. It’s OK to stop and talk, for example, or sit down and people watch.
Here is an image from the new Downtown Oakland Specific Plan design concepts. It’s San Pablo Ave near city hall, with Clay St shown as well. The intersection of these two streets has been reimagined as a place, not just a street. You can come and enjoy Oakland a lot more than you can now. In fact, no one hangs out at this intersection today. But tomorrow maybe they will. You can also drive or bike through this plaza-like street. Get inspired by #PlanDowntown Oakland.
While bicycling through this plaza like area would be quite safe, would less experienced bicyclists feel comfortable? Speeds would be below 25mph, and probably below 20mph, which starts to mimic a calm neighborhood street. It’s an interesting challenge as we reimagine our busy streets: how much should we engineer them for the safety of moving people rather than design them as great places where people want to be? Decide for yourself.
And thanks for your continued support of Bike East Bay as we work with cities to figure all this out and redesign the streets you use every day. Join today.