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Bicycle Junction What’s Your Function?

April 2, 2016  |  By Blair Smith

The equation sounds simple enough: more people riding bicycles more often in cities = happier, healthier places to live. City governments and urban planners across North America are working on ways to create happy places where cyclists, pedestrians and drivers can safely co-exist. But when you look at what happens in downtown Manhattan at 28th Street and Park Avenue, this place seems far, far away.

It’s like the real life version of Frogger out there! How about Amsterdam? It’s recognized as the Copenhagenize Index 2013 #1 bicycle friendly city in the world. So this should be much more civil, right?

No, don’t stop! What’s going to happen next? The edge-of-your-seat terror is enough to make you want to give up leaving your home altogether; let alone go out for a ride through the city.

Look at the videos more closely and you’ll notice a thread connecting New York City and Amsterdam. The cameras aren’t focused on stretches of bike lanes. All of the harrowing action happens when transit modes collide (literally) at the intersection. Improvements like more dedicated and protected bike lanes are happening. However, it’s the intersection that’s the real opportunity for forward-thinking cities in North America.

Nick Falbo, an urban planner and designer in Portland, envisions bring more European city cycling design sensibility to North American urban planning with the Protected Intersection for bicyclists. Heavily influenced by Dutch junction intersection design; four design elements address the nuances of navigating left turns, right turns and straight through movements. Currently, these designs aren’t commonly used together outside of Europe.

The Corner Refuge Island
The key element of the plan. This space extends the protection of a bike lane further into the intersection and acts as a physical barrier from cars. “Think of it as a curb extension for cyclists” says Falbo.

The Forward Stop Bar
While drivers stop behind the pedestrian crosswalk, this element allows cyclists to stop farther ahead in the intersection. Cyclists making left turns also use this space to wait. This makes cyclists very visible to cars and provides a “head start” when the light turns green.

The Setback Bike and Pedestrian Crossing
Conventional bicycle crossing runs next to cars. In this case there is separation, ideally one car length, which provides additional space and time for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers to react to what’s happening in the intersection. Even if there is chaos, and there will be, the risk is decreased.

Bicycle-Friendly Signal Phasing
Complementing the physical design of the Protected Intersection is the meaningful use of signals to manage how people move through the intersection. Falbo proposes a number of different options to consider.

Yes, there are challenges with the Protected Intersection design in North America that Falbo briefly outlines in his plan. Such as how to deal with trucks that have wider turning radius. But at least now there’s a vision to work towards and start testing where it makes sense to integrate within existing bike routes. The ultimate goal is for cyclists to “never feel stranded, exposed or unsure of where to go or how to get there”. With increased visibility and protection being key functions of any successful design. As long as there’s progress towards this goal then more people will stop watching YouTube and start getting outside to find their own cycling happy place.

The ultimate goal is for cyclists to never feel stranded, exposed or unsure of where to go or how to get there – Nick Falbo

(Image courtesy of: Bicycle Dutch)

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