May is National Bike Month and to mark the occasion the US Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has released a new set of guidelines designed to promote bike safety in cities and towns across the country.
Formally titled the “Separated Bike Lane Planning and Design Guide” the 147-page document is seeks, according to the official FHWA blog, to outline “planning considerations and design options for this innovative bike facility. It provides information on one and two-way facilities, outlines different options for providing separation.” The report goes out of its way to address “midblock design considerations” – meaning situations in which vehicles need to be allowed to cut across the bike lane to gain curb access – as well as offering advice on how to handle intersections (something Portlanders, with our city’s mixed history of success with bike boxes, know is one of the more tricky elements of bike infrastructure design).
As the news release goes on to state: “The guide builds on our current policy to provide pedestrian and bicycle accommodations and on our support for design flexibility. It will inform the USDOT’s ‘Safer People, Safer Streets’ initiative as well as our efforts to improve access to opportunity for everyone.”
Simply put, the plan is the latest effort by the federal government to extend cycling culture. As an Oregon bike advocacy lawyer I know all too well that even a bike-friendly city like Portland can experience both political and logistical problems in trying to extend bike-friendly infrastructure. Bike lanes separated from traffic – the focus of this USDOT plan – are one of the best and most cost-effective ways to encourage bike riding in urban areas while also increasing safety (a key issue for many novice bike commuters). All of us need to do our best to build cycling culture here in Portland and elsewhere. It is good for the environment, good for public health and good for our community. This report is a welcome reminder that the federal government supports the idea of more extensive bike infrastructure. It is up to all of us to turn that aspiration into reality.