Wanted: More protection for cyclists at intersections

A number of people have sent me this post from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announcing a solution to one of the city’s most dangerous intersections — the protected intersection. The suggestion is clear: Maybe being a bicyclist in our cities doesn’t have to be a life-or-death challenge at intersections.

It’s a fascinating concept, the linchpin of which seems to be a simple design concept: concrete islands at every corner that make cars slow the heck down when making a turn, while giving cyclists some protection when rolling through an intersection.

Here, take a look.

Nick Falbo, an urban planner in Portland, Ore., acknowledges there are few academic studies showing the idea works. The intersections do seem to become a bit of a chokepoint for cyclists as well as cars, for example. But he says there is growing anecdotal evidence — from other countries, of course — that it could work.

One commenter notes a potential flaw:

Have you realised already that intersections like these are actually punishment to cyclists because to make left turn they have to wait double the normal time on lights?

But the stop lines for cyclists are crazy too, forcing people to stop when a car is going same direction, but taking right turn. Yes, there are different light configurations, but in the end you always move slower by bike, than in a car. So how do you convince people to pick a bike instead of a car?

Falbo put the video together a couple of years ago and since then, several U.S. cities have either tried the design, or are debating whether to try the design. Still, there are only 7 intersections in the country using the design.

But some elements of the design are being used in St. Paul’s massive reconstruction of Jackson Street downtown, though a fully protected bike lane isn’t quite the same thing.

In 2014, the Minneapolis Bike Coalition tried out the design in Minneapolis with a “pop up” version during the city’s Open Streets event.

“I was really impressed with how children seemed to get it intuitively,” Falbo told BikePortland.org. “They’d roll up through the intersection and just turn slightly to the left and sit in the protected area before crossing. I couldn’t imagine the same thing happening with more conventional designs.”