There’s been a lot in the news the past year about bike lanes – cities worldwide have installed pop-up ones 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 concrete planters. The design process for any urban product involves considering many more aspects than just how it looks. On all our cycling projects we consult with cyclists, advocacy groups and urban mobility specialists. When designing bike lane separators, what are the main characteristics to consider?
Perhaps the most important concern when designing objects for the road. We cannot foresee all the possibilities for accidents, but we can reduce their likelihood through smart design. This is one reason why many lane dividers are asymmetrical, because the needs of the car user are different to those of the cyclist. Higher elements with a steeper slope on the car side and lower and gentler on the bike side can be safer for both road users. Ensuring there are no sharp edges or corners minimises risk to either person or vehicle in the case of accidental impact.
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. It must also be flexible enough to adapt to uneven road surfaces. Recycled PVC is a great option for this type of product, with the added environmental benefits of using a 100% post-consumer plastic.
Shape and Dimensions
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 will always depend on the level of restriction desired: 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, we need to consider if the dividers should provide more of a visual indication or a physical barrier.
In general terms, the wider a light segregation element, the safer the cycle lane – 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 – the cost and difficulty of installation and maintenance can be a hurdle some clients don’t want to deal with. It’s also important to remember that 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 originally 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 2.5-10m 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 discourages motorists from crossing into the bike lane but 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. Reflective material allows the objects to be clearly seen by day or night. However, ITF 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 it fit well with existing urban design elements and provide visible protection? Many streets are full of visual clutter. The addition of thoughtfully designed elements can be an excellent way to attract more cyclists and pedestrians.
Some clients want to install elements which bring together a consistent aesthetic across all their infrastructure projects. 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.
If you’d like to chat about our options for your cycling infrastructure projects, or if you have a custom design in mind, contact us, we’re here to help you find the perfect solution.