Hopping on a bike may be the happiest way to get to work, but it's not an entirely safe way. More than 700 cyclists were killed in traffic in the U.S. in 2012, according to recently released data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It's no wonder that cyclists gravitate toward protected bike lanes, which provide a physical barrier between soft human bodies and speeding hunks of metal.
But even on streets with protected bike lanes, the barriers between cyclists and cars usually melt away at intersections. Here's an idea for a better way: a protected bike intersection that increases drivers' ability to see bikes and minimizes the chance that a car will turn on top of a cyclist.
Nick Falbo, a Portland-based urban planner, proposed this protected intersection design for a transportation challenge organized this winter by George Mason University's School of Public Policy. These design elements are uncommon in the U.S., but are similar to how junctions in the Netherlands—where a third of the population commutes by bike—are set up.
It consists of a corner refuge island, a raised island that forces traffic to turn farther into the intersection, protecting right-turning bikes and giving bikes crossing the street lead time before cars start turning. It's much like the concept of "leading pedestrian intervals," a technique in programming traffic signals to give pedestrians a few seconds head start to get into the crosswalk before traffic moves. The crosswalk and bike crossing would be set back from moving traffic by at least the length of one car, so that by the time a vehicle encounters the crossing, the car has already turned 90 degrees, again increasing the chances that drivers will see cyclists and pedestrians.
"It doesn't matter how safe and protected your bike lane is if intersections are risky, stressful experiences," Falbo says in the video. Getting more people to ditch the car and bike around town can improve the health and happiness of residents, and the congestion of our streets. It would help if people could feel completely safe doing so.