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What Makes a Better Bike Lane Barrier?

Can something better than a plastic bollard be used to protect people on bikes in protected bike lanes? That’s the question at the center of Spin and Team Better Block’s “Build a Better Barrier Challenge”, a competition to reimagine the design of bike lane barriers and create barriers that are protective, accessible, and attractive.

I am very excited to be a judge for the Build a Better Barrier Challenge and I’m looking forward to the creativity, imagination, and practicality of the individuals and teams that submit designs. As cities around the world consider how to provide more places for people to bike and walk, Team Better Block is absolutely right that “There’s no better time to help our cities reimagine how to turn our streets into protected spaces for people than now.”

For decades, generations even, traffic devices in the United States were boring and did not include bike lane barriers. According to data from People for Bikes, the type of barrier that many bicyclists may be familiar with – the flexible plastic bollard – wasn’t used to create a barrier for bike lanes until the 2000s. Since separated bike lanes gained popularity, even receiving a guide from the Federal Highway Administration in 2015, the options for communities implementing bike lane barriers have expanded significantly. Here are my unofficial buckets of existing bike lane barriers:

Repurposed traffic control devices

Chief example is the plastic bollard but also includes concrete or water-filled jersey barriers and wheel stops. These products were originally created for other applications and the familiarity of transportation departments with them has contributed to their wide use as bike lane barriers.

Purpose-built bike lane barriers

These include Wave from Saris, the Zebra from Zicla, the BikeRail from DezignLine, and streetscapes by Dero. These products are relatively new and often have complementary components to create places for bicyclists to rest their feet or integrate bicycle parking.

Planters and other streetscaping

Where there is enough room, communities can use planters to add greenery to a gray streetscape. Streetscape changes may also include raised bike lanes, curbs, and other permanent changes that clearly make a bike lane separate from the street.

Advocate-driven temporary barriers

These include cones, plungers, Team Better Block’s wood and PVC pipe recipe, red solo cups, and tomatoes. These are not products for bike lane barriers and are meant to be temporary. The goal is to show the efficacy of protect and replace them with another type of barrier.

Based on my experiences with a variety of bike lane barriers, here are two things that I will be looking for in the “Build a Better Barrier Challenge”:

How intersections are treated

Whether at a large arterial with multiple lanes of traffic, or mid-block with a crosswalk, bike lane barriers typically leave intersection interactions up to the designer or engineer implementing the separated bike lane. How might a design provide more options to project implementers that improve the experience of people using that bike lane and crossing through it? Can wayfinding, lighting, connectivity, or other features be implemented within the barrier design? Most crashes occur at intersections, so how can barrier design improve that?

What does it mean to be a mobility lane

Scooters, monowheels, skateboards, cargo bikes, rollerblades, unicorns…there are more things than ever now in bike lanes that don’t look like the standard two wheeled bicycle. What, if anything, should that mean for bike lane barriers? Do designs need to account for the speed of modern e-bikes?

For individuals and teams interested in building better bike lane barriers, the competition has seven requirements – none listed above. If you’re interested in learning more, please join Team Better Block for an informational webinar on May 21 at 2pm CST.