California Needs Edge Lane Roads
CalBike is working to provide an important new tool to traffic engineers. It will give people who on bikes safe space to ride on narrow roads. The tool is a road design called ‘edge lane roads’ and we need your help to identify places where they should be installed.
What is an edge lane road?
“Edge lanes” create lanes that work just like bike lanes on streets that are too narrow to allow standard bike lanes. Also known as advisory bike lanes, this design is the last significant design innovation that is lacking from the U.S. traffic engineer’s typical toolbox. CalBike is committed to giving engineers this new tool.
On an edge lane road, wide bike lanes are striped on either side of the road – the edge lanes. In the center, there is a space for cars with no center line. This car lane is often wider than a normal lane but not wide enough for two cars to pass. When cars meet head-on, they negotiate the space by moving into the bike lane temporarily. The arrangement requires motorists to be flexible about the space and negotiate with each other, while giving bike riders a secure lane of their own at the edge.
Californian Michael Williams is one of the leading proponents of edge lane roads in the United States. He saw their potential while studying bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands. “It’s a way to reallocate roadway width more efficiently and more safely for vulnerable road users,” he said in a recent conversation with CalBike.
“Edge lane roads have existed for more than 50 years in other countries around the world,” Williams noted. The Netherlands alone has over 800 km installed. In the US, he knows of about 30 edge lane projects. The largest number are in Minneapolis, which has seven or eight edge lane roads. “They tried them out. They love them,” he said of Minneapolis. “They’re rolling them out all over the place.”
While Williams first saw the potential of edge lanes to create space for bikes on rural roads, they work just as well on urban streets. “An edge lane road format would be a great way to design a bicycle boulevard,” he said. “That’s really the operation you want on a bike boulevard.” He noted that Minneapolis has successfully used the edge lane treatment on urban, high-volume streets.
Why don’t we have edge lanes here?
If you’re thinking that edge lanes might be fine for the Netherlands but they would never work here, you’re not alone. “I’m all across the country advocating for edge lane roads,” Williams said. People’s first reaction is that edge lanes will create problems. “Then, when communities put them in, everybody does fine with them,” he said.
We need edge lane roads in California. It’s the last important tool to add to the planner’s toolbox for safe streets. The stripes on edge lanes show all road users what is expected of them. They give people on bikes a space to ride and a line that they can expect motorists to avoid.
Where there’s room to install protected bike lanes, that is the preferred treatment on many streets. But where there isn’t room, city planners have poor choices: reject any bike facility at all, put in “sharrows” that have proven ineffective, or stripe narrow door zone bike lanes, which put bicyclists in severe danger of injury or death from a suddenly opening car door.
“A lot of times the reason for edge lane roads to be used is because people don’t want to get rid of parking,” Williams said. Thus, an edge lane treatment could help overcome neighborhood resistance to bike lanes by preserving parking and two-way vehicular travel, while adding safe space for bikes.
The edge lane road treatment is not included in any guideline that local planners in California are authorized to use. Neither the California Highway Design Manual or the more progressive guidelines from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) includes this tool. CalBike is working to change that. You can help.
Where would you like to see edge lanes?
None of the edge lane roads in North America are in California. We would like to bring this sensible road design to our urban and rural streets. Right now, we have a great opportunity to test edge lane roads in California.
California goes through a state highway safety plan process every four years. The process opens an opportunity for pilot projects to test new design ideas. As part of this process, communities can run pilot edge lane road projects.
Is there a street or road in your community that would be perfect for an edge lane road treatment? Go to Williams’ website to learn more about edge lane roads and contact him with your project.
Somerset Advisory Bike Lane from Mathieu Fleury on Vimeo.