When cyclists want to get from one place to another, one of the places they could be expected to ride is in a bike lane. While many people would agree that bike lanes are helpful, not all bike lanes are made equally.
In fact, there are several kinds of bike lanes that could be implemented in a city. Common forms include:
- Conventional bike lanes, which are marked with lines or other signage
- Contra-flow bike lanes, which go in the opposite direction of traffic
- Left-side bike lanes, which are drawn on the left side of the road on median-divided streets and one-way streets
- Buffered lanes, which have extra buffer space between the motor vehicle lanes and bike lane
- Protected lanes, which may have rods, poles, walls or other protective features in place to separate the bike lane from the main roadway
Each of these has the potential to help minimize the number of crashes, but some are better than others. For example, a fully buffered lane separates cyclists enough that it would be unlikely for a driver to come close to the bike lane without making a serious error. This kind of lane gives cyclists and drivers more room for error than the conventional lanes, which are not designed with any kind of buffer zone.
Why don’t all cities use protected bike lanes?
Arguably the best option, protected bike lanes separate cyclists from the faster motor vehicle traffic and give them a safer place to ride. There may be a median wall between the bike lane and other lanes of travel, too.
These are harder to set up, especially when there is no additional space to expand a roadway. For that reason, it is sometimes easier to install a conventional lane or to make a lane shared even though doing that may not make the lane as safe as it could be for cyclists.
As a cyclist, it’s important to know the different kinds of lanes and to be prepared to ride wherever you are. Drivers should be cautious no matter which lane you’re in, but it always pays to be aware of your surroundings to stay safe.