Protected Bikeways Act: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the goal of the Separated Bikeways Act (AB 1193)?

The goal is to encourage the development of protected bike lanes – an area in the street exclusively for bicyclists to ride separated from moving traffic and pedestrians with planters, curbs, a lane of parked cars, posts, to name the most common forms of separation. The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) sponsored AB 1193 because our goal, along with California’s local bicycling advocacy organizations, is to triple biking by 2020, and that means redesigning the streets with bikeways that are safe and attractive for everyone, not just those of us who are comfortable riding with fast traffic.

What does it do?

Two things.

1. It creates in statute a new kind of bikeway, a “class 4” “separated bikeway” or a “cycle track,” and requires Caltrans to develop design standards for protected bikeways which are currently prohibited by Caltrans’ design rules.

2. It eliminates an archaic and unusual requirement imposed on local agencies that they must follow Caltrans bikeway design rules on local streets and roads. With regard to roads, the law imposes Caltrans design standards only on Caltrans-owned highways while locally-owned streets and roads can be designed according to more flexible standards appropriate for the local community.  AB 1193 applies nearly this same flexibility to bikeways, allowing a local agency to use more appropriate standards such as those published by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

What are separated bikeways and why are they so important?

As noted, separated bikeways use planters, curbs, parked cars or posts to separate bike, pedestrian, and auto traffic on busy streets. On streets with heavy parking demand or fast traffic, they are necessary to make biking an attractive option for most people. Together with regular bike lanes, quiet, traffic-calmed streets, and bike paths, they are a key part of a complete network that can make riding a bike a pleasant and practical way for many more people (not just the bold or athletic) to make trips of a mile or two.

For decades California cities have lacked this tool in their toolbox for making complete bike networks. AB 1193 provides this tool. This 4-minute video by People for Bikes is a great introduction to the Rise of Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S.

Couldn’t cities already build protected bike lanes on their own streets and roads? San Francisco and Long Beach did.

So did Los Angeles. But that’s it. In the case of the southern California cities, they went through an extensive process to earn an exception from the design rules to install the protected bike lanes as “experiments,” adding years and tens of thousands of dollars of cost to the project. In San Francisco’s case, they simply ignored the regulation in order to implement the safest possible bikeway. Their city attorney was prepared to take advantage of liability law that would protect San Francisco from being sued if they documented their reasons for deviating from the Caltrans guidelines. That’s a totally safe decision but not one most City Attorneys are willing to make.

What does this mean for Caltrans?

Caltrans is required to update its standards to provide guidance for separated bikeways by January 1, 2016. The California Bicycle Coalition will work with Caltrans to encourage the best possible design guidance. We will look to NACTO, of course, but also to leading manuals in Europe that propose “protected intersections” to complement “protected bike lanes.”

What does this mean for my city? Can we use the NACTO guide to build a protected bike lane right away? What about the “public hearing” requirement? 

Yes, your city can build a protected bike lane right away. The decision to use the NACTO guide must be explicitly approved in a public hearing, but an agenda item dedicated to that decision is optional. Alternatively, that decision could be simply acknowledged in the description of a project that is approved at a public hearing. A city whose engineering team is reluctant to deviate from the conservative Caltrans manual might benefit from a public hearing where the governing body can hear the reasons to build protected bike lanes and the public support for them.

Is there a difference between separated bikeways and protected bike lanes and cycle tracks?

No. These are different words for the same thing. The law refers to “separated bikeways” to make it clear that these facilities are not the same as bike lanes that cyclists are required to use when present. Nevertheless, “protected bike lane” is the term that the public best understands.

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