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The Simple, Inexpensive Breakthrough That Is Transforming American Cities

The Green Lane Project brings bicycling into the 21st century -- with positive results for the nation's health, economy, environment and commutes.

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The name "green lane" was chosen not only to draw attention to the typical color of protected bike lanes but also to highlight their potential in improving the urban environment and saving on transportation costs. "Green lanes are not just a color on the street. They are paths to better cities," the project's website explains, adding that more people on bikes eases congestion and boosts residents' health, sense of community and economic opportunities.

The project will connect elected officials, city planners, traffic engineers, bike advocates and citizens in these six cities to share experiences, trade data and swap ideas, says Project Director Martha Roskowski. Until this year she ran GO Boulder, the alternative transportation effort at the city of Boulder, Colorado, which built its first protected bike lane in the early 1990s.

"For cities, green lanes are like finding a whole new drawer of tools in your toolbox," Roskowski notes. "Our mission is to expand the knowledge on how to use these tools. How to get them on the ground. How to fine tune them. How to make them work best."

Five years ago, these designs were barely on the horizon in the U.S. although they've been standard in Europe for decades. "Today, cities across the country are looking to green lanes to tame busy streets and connect missing links in the bicycling network," she says. She points to the 2011 publication of a design guide by the National Association of City Transportation Officials as a key factor creating momentum for green lanes. "The guide shows cities how to combine existing, approved design elements in new ways to create these spaces," says Roskowski.

"The idea is to create the kind of bike networks that will attract the 60 percent of all Americans who say they would bike more if they felt safer," says Randy Neufeld, a longtime bike advocate in Chicago who as Director of the SRAM Cycling Fund helped start the Green Lane Project. "It's about helping people from 8 to 80 to feel safe biking on city streets." The six Green Lane Project cities will receive technical assistance and support, backed by targeted grants to help carry out their plans. Other cities around the country will soon be able to tap into a comprehensive resource center of data, documentation and best practices compiled by the project.

Protected bike lanes are often accompanied by other safety improvements -- paint that marks bicyclists' path through intersections; designated spaces at stoplights that give two-wheel traffic a slight head start; and traffic signals dedicated to people on bikes. All these measures reduce car/bike collisions by making people on bikes more visible and clearly assigning priority at intersections. In addition, many cities around the country are also building buffered bike lanes, where wide patches of paint rather than physical barriers separate bicyclists from cars and trucks.

The proliferation of new bikesharing systems -- where people can conveniently rent bikes at on-street stations with a credit card and return them to another station near their destination -- creates new demand for green lanes by getting more riders on the streets. Bike share is now running full board in Washington, Denver, Boston, Minneapolis, Chattanooga and Miami Beach and coming soon to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities. Roskowski notes that the recent rise of bikesharing and protected bike lanes are linked. "Bikeshare puts new people on bikes who want safer, more comfortable place to ride."

Not Just for Ultra Fit Athletes

The United States has witnessed a boom in bicycling over the past 15 years, proving that bikes aren't just for kids and recreational riders anymore. They are an essential component of 21st Century transportation systems that can cut congestion on crowded streets, save money in transportation budgets, improve traffic safety and reduce pollution.

 
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