Bike Lane or Bike Route? What’s the difference?

As Council went from Plan “A” to “C” they began turning bike lanes into bike routes. They did this because bike routes are seen as cheaper and less intrusive to the motor vehicles on our streets than bike lanes. While (slightly) less paint is required to mark a bike route, bike lanes should not be dismissed so easily. Nor should the city apply them interchangeably. We should be choosing the right markings for the right streets for the right reasons.

To learn more about these treatments, we will consult the Urban Bikeway Design Guide, recently produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. The guide has information about bike lanes, cycle tracks, intersection treatments, signals, and signs and markings.

What’s a bike lane?
A basic bike lane consists of a white stripe to physically separate motor vehicles and bicycles with painted bike symbols and arrows to signify the purpose of the lane.

Since bike lanes allow cyclists to have their own designated space on the road they mean that slower-moving bikes will not impede the flow of motor vehicle traffic thus debunking one of the opposition’s key myths.  Lanes are recommended for streets with a posted speed limit higher than 25 mph (up to 35 mph). They are appropriate for all types of riders – both experienced and novice.

Below is a before and after of Davis Drive looking North near St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church:

Before: 

After:

Benefits of bike lanes include (summarized from the NACTO design guide):

  • Increased comfort, confidence, and predictability for cyclists, allowing for even novice cyclists to feel comfortable using them
  • Spatial separation between bikes and cars
  • Increased capacities for motor vehicles, as the bikes, in their own space, do not slow cars down
  • Increased awareness of a cyclist’s right to the road

What’s a bike route?

A bike route is also called a shared lane marking. These consist of signs and lane markings which signify that a route is good for bicycles and (when properly designed) where in the lane a bicycle should ride.

Benefits of bike routes include:

  • Increases awareness of a cyclist’s right to the road.
  • Doesn’t require a greater street width as cyclists and vehicles travel in the same lane.

The design guide states that “shared lane markings should not be considered a substitute for bike lanes, cycle tracks, or other separation treatments where these types of facilities are otherwise warranted or space permits. “

Bike routes are usually best applied:

  • Where the speed differential between bicyclist and motorist travel speeds is very low.
  • As a reasonable alternative to a bike lane:
    • Where street width can only accommodate a bicycle lane in one direction. On hills, lanes should be provided in the uphill direction.
    • Along front-in angled parking, where a bike lane is undesirable.
  • To strengthen connections in a bikeway network.
  • To clarify bicyclist movement and positioning in challenging environments.

Bike routes accommodate experienced cyclists, as novice cyclists likely won’t be willing to ride in the same lane as motor vehicles. They are a visual queue for motorists that bicyclists are allowed on the road.  Since bicycles are currently allowed to ride in the street under Texas law, bike routes in Arlington would serve as an education device for motorists, but also as encouragement for bicyclists confident enough to ride in Arlington without a bike lane.

Can we use both?

There will be some instances where bike lanes are more appropriate than bike routes, and vice-versa. It is possible to combine a bike lane in one direction with a bike route in the other, to accommodate for on-street parking or a more narrow road, for example. The original proposed plan specifies that it will work with each street individually to see what treatment is appropriate for it:

In many cases, the most ideal hike and bike improvement scenario will not be achievable because of ROW issues, homeowner issues, and traffic engineering constraints. The City of Arlington should remain open to alternative solutions in these cases and utilize the entire toolbox of hike/bike treatment solutions found in Chapter 8- Design Guidelines. For example, if sidewalks are not immediately feasible due to funding constraints or ROW issues, traffic calming techniques within the roadway ROW may be acceptable ways to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.

(p. 7-4)

Regarding removing vehicle parking for a bike lane, the plan states:

Parking should not be removed unless there is a great deal of public support for the bike lanes on that particular roadway, and a full public involvement process with adjacent residents and businesses is undertaken prior to removing parking.

(p. 7-9)

Bike lanes should be planned for streets because the width and speed of the road are appropriate for them. Bike routes should be planned for streets because the width and speed of the road are appropriate for them.  At implementation time the actual design may change as needed, but the plan should be for what is appropriate overall, and bike routes should not be substituted for bike lanes simply because a road “feels” too narrow.  Bike lanes accommodate the most users and therefore, when a road’s speed and geometry allows, should be the first choice.

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