Protected Bike Lane regulations in US
December 1, 2021 8:34 AM   Subscribe

My town claims that a protected bike lane (e.g. with vertical posts) must have a buffer and therefore cannot be implemented on most town streets because there is not enough space. This is said to be an MUTCD standard, but I'm struggling to find appropriate documentation to support that.

I have found a number of images of bike lanes in my state where there is no obvious buffer, but it's not clear to me what the regulations are that my town is referring to.

Is this really a thing? If it is, what are productive alternatives to advocate for?
posted by idb to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you're in Virginia, as you seem to be, contact the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (which works in VA, MD, and DC). "Advocacy: — Questions about laws or policy, new projects and trails being planned, and crash reporting and support."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:52 AM on December 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

The only thing I can think that they're referencing is Figure 3D-2. Section 3D-1 indicates that bicycle lanes are "preferential lanes", but then 3D-2 specifically subsets that down to motor vehicle preferential lanes, so I don't think it's appropriate.

Anyway, the MUTCD isn't a technical design manual, per se. Your state/city can have standards that deviate from it.
posted by hwyengr at 9:03 AM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

That being said, implementing a barrier lane without the buffer means that the city is going to be replacing the barrier elements constantly from getting hit by inattentive drivers. They'll still get hit with the buffer, just not as often. This may be a local maintenance issue.
posted by hwyengr at 9:05 AM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

The NACTO Separated Bike Lane Guide (PDF) shows several configurations in which there's no buffer beyond the width necessary for the bollards.

The FHWA Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide does say "3' preferred" for separated posts, and "1.5'-3' preferred" for rigid bollards.

Aaaand, if parking is part of your separation, the engineers in my area (California) prefer at least 2.5', prefer 3+', between the parking and the bike lane to prevent dooring.

Something to be careful of (because this is currently big on my list): make sure that if you advocate for a separated bike lane you've brought up the issue of sweeping. I'm a vehicular cyclist, and when I was biking to work along areas that had non-separated bike lanes, debris in the lane that caused me to have to detour out into automobile traffic was common, and made me tend to avoid routes with dedicated bike lane markings (these days I'm working in the same town that I live in, and though our bike facilities suck, the routes I'm taking aren't as complex).
posted by straw at 9:10 AM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: All great answers. Thank you. I wrote to and they got back to me with a pretty comprehensive response, including a link to this page on the Virginia DOT site and this FHWA page.

The consensus seems to be that if there isn't room for a buffer then you shouldn't have vertical separators, but the WABA person indicated that you could make room for the buffer by reducing lane width if that was feasible.
posted by idb at 10:52 AM on December 9, 2021

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