SAFER BIKE LANES: Cities around the world are increasingly changing bike lanes to make them safer in light of fatal crashes involving cyclists and cars. Image: AP Photo/Steven Senne
Boston - Cities are increasingly changing bike lanes to make them safer in light of fatal crashes involving cyclists and cars.
From Boston to San Francisco and New York to Tokyo, traditional bike lanes running alongside vehicle traffic are being replaced in favor of "protected" lanes or "cycletracks," where physical barriers like concrete curbs, planters or fences separate cyclists from vehicle traffic.
"For 50 years, we've just been putting down a stripe of white paint, and that was how you accommodated bikes on busy streets," says Martha Roskowski, director of People for Bikes, a Boulder, Colorado-based advocacy group that's calling for better designed bike lanes. "What we've learned is that simply doesn't work for most."
Change in SA
Millions of Rand has been spent creating special bike lanes in cities throughout South Africa. Since 2013, the City of Cape town spent millions creating bike-only lanes throughout the CBD.
Byron la Hoe, spokesperson for Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works, says: "At this stage a new cycling strategy is on the cards, but this still has to be approved by Council."
READ: 15 top safety tips for cyclists, motorists in SA
La Hoe adds: "In its annual assessments of provincial road infrastructure in the Western Cape, the Department of Transport and Public Works takes into account the needs of cyclists and other non-motorised transport (NMT) users. When there is sufficient demand, space, and funding, the Department builds NMT infrastructure. For example, some parts of the road reserve alongside the R44 near Stellenbosch have been used for a dedicated cyclists’ road.
"Cyclists are vulnerable road users and their safety is a high priority for the Department. We continue to make concerted efforts to improve road safety awareness in schools and in association with road safety agencies. We also encourage Western Cape municipalities to include provision for cyclists in their integrated transport plans."
Here's a rundown of how bike lanes are evolving:
Protected lanes have been sprouting up in the US since at least 2007, when New York started rolling them out on a wide scale.
Today, there are roughly 386km of lanes in 94 cities, according to People for Bikes. That's an increase from about 160km of lanes in 32 cities in 2013, though still a tiny fraction of all bike lanes, Roskowski says.
READ: 5 tips for drivers to protect cyclists
This year alone, at least two dozen cities have so far installed new types of lanes, the organization says.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to build 80km of the lanes over the next three years on top of 14km this year.
And in Boston, where eight cyclists died earlier in 2016, a short stretch of Beacon Street leading to the Fenway Park area has been reconfigured.
Rows of parked cars now serve as a buffer to cyclists, and there are plans to extend that path and incorporate the design on other major arteries.
Protected bike lanes aren't a novel idea in Copenhagen, Denmark; Amsterdam; and other European cities where they've been around for decades.
But even cities with less of a biking tradition are embracing the lanes.
London notably opened a number of "cycle superhighways" meant to eventually crisscross the city. Cyclists on these routes are separated from vehicle traffic at crucial segments by a curb.
The city has also seen lofty proposals for elevated bike highways spanning the Thames River or running above railway lines, as well as underground bike paths utilizing old subway tunnels.
Asia and beyond
Tokyo and other Japanese cities have long had a strong cycling culture, but some of their protected lanes are placed directly on sidewalks.
That presents challenges as cyclists and pedestrians sometimes compete for the same space, says Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize Design Co., a Danish firm that works with cities on bike infrastructure projects.
Two of China's largest cities, Guangzhou and Shanghai, are also investing heavily in protected lanes and other bike infrastructure, experts say, and India has made progress in improving its lanes.
In South America, the Argentinean capital of Buenos Aires has built nearly 144km of bike lanes, many of them protected, in just three years.
"Cities are becoming more rational again, after the folly of car-centric planning," Colville-Andersen says.