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There’s been a lot in the news recently about bike lanes – cities worldwide have installed pop-up lanes during the pandemic and are now looking at how to make them a permanent fixture. There are so many ways to achieve this and many different types of cycle lane divider – from a simple line painted on the road, to plastic posts or big concrete planters. But how do you know which kind is best for your urban project? Here are some of the main characteristics to think about when choosing a cycle lane separator.
This is perhaps the most important concern when choosing or designing objects for the road. We cannot foresee all the possibilities for accidents, but we can reduce their likelihood through smart design. An asymmetrical shape is a good idea, because the car user’s needs are different to the cyclist’s. Elements which have a steeper slope on the car side and a lower, gentler angle on the bike side can be safer for both road users. They create a more visible vertical barrier to car drivers, effective in dissuading them from crossing into the bike lane. To minimise risk to either person or vehicle in case of accidental impact, look for rounded edges and smooth lines, with no sharp corners.
The material used also has important safety factors. It must be tough enough to withstand impact from motor vehicles, but also cushioned enough in case of accidental impact. Concrete can provide a very heavy and solid barrier, but it is easily broken on impact and can be hard to replace. The material must also be flexible enough to adapt to uneven road surfaces, so it can be installed easily on all roads. Plastic – light, flexible and durable – is a great option for this type of product. Choosing a recycled plastic gives the added environmental benefits of using a 100% post-consumer plastic. Sustainable products for sustainable urban mobility!
The shape and dimensions of any object to be fixed on the road also affect safety and must be carefully considered thinking about all road users. The height depends on the level of restriction you want. A higher element will be harder to cross, but at the same time can be more dangerous to faster traffic. It can also be a barrier to emergency services needing access. When planning a bike lane, it’s important to consider if the dividers are there to provide more of a visual indication or a physical barrier to road users.
Generally speaking, the wider a light segregation element, the safer the cycle lane. This is illustrated in some projects where large concrete planters provide a clear physical barrier. But the larger and heavier an element, the less likely it is to be widely installed. Sometimes, the cost and difficulty of installation and maintenance can be a hurdle some clients don’t want to deal with.
Most roads were originally designed thinking only about cars, and it’s only now that other road users are coming to the forefront. Often, bike lanes are installed in spaces designed for cars, and so they are often the width of a car lane or less. So, we must find the right balance in the width of a lane divider. An element which is too wide will likely encroach on the overall width of the cycle lane and reduce the safe space available to cyclists.
So, you’ve determined the type and size of the lane dividers you need. How far apart to place them? Guidelines vary by country and transport authority: in Spain it is maximum 2.5m; in the UK anywhere from 2.5 to 10m is recommended. It can make sense to place elements closer together on curves or before junctions for greater safety. They are often guidelines or recommendations, rather than a fixed law (but do check your local regulations). Again, the desired results should be taken into consideration. As the International Transport Forum states in their Best Practices Discussion Paper: “If the visual effect is present to deter encroachment by motor vehicles then the spacing can be left to good engineering judgement.” The ideal separation will discourage motorists from crossing into the bike lane, and yet considers access points to garages, etc. There must be enough space between elements so that cars can enter and exit without damaging them.
To be able to effectively demarcate the cycle lane, you must be able to see a lane divider. In addition, it must be different to any other road markings to avoid confusion. Look for reflective material which allows the objects to be clearly seen by day or night. The International Transport Forum highlights an important and often overlooked point: “there is some sensitivity about the effect of light segregation features on the aesthetic qualities of the street, and this matter should be thoughtfully considered in context.”
Does the lane divider fit well with existing urban design elements as well as provide visible protection? Many streets are full of visual clutter. Adding thoughtfully designed elements can be an excellent way to attract more cyclists and pedestrians.
You might want to install elements which reinforces your brand identity across all infrastructure projects. Some suppliers will give you the option to add a logo or hashtag – ask what customisable options are available. In one of our custom design projects, the Delta bike lane divider, the goal was to create an emblematic piece for our client’s cycling infrastructure plan. We designed it to be different, eye-catching, and in line with the city’s brand identity.
There can be a lot of things to think about when choosing urban products – it goes much further than just how they look. If these aspects are considered from the design stage it can make the choice much easier.
At Neko, we consult with cyclists, advocacy groups and urban mobility specialists for all of our cycling products and projects. If you’d like to chat about our options for your cycling infrastructure projects, or if you have a custom design in mind, we can help you find the perfect solution.