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2015’s Top 10 New Bike Projects in North America

Cyclists on Portland’s car-free Tilikum Crossing bridge (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

Day to day, month to month, progress for bike advocates in North America is slow and hard-won. New projects still take enormous political capital to build, and when they’re built, they’re often piecemeal parts of an infrastructure network that will take decades to complete. Because of that, the number of bicyclists grows by fractions of a percentage at a time.

But when looking at 2015 as a whole, there are victories worth celebrating. North American cities took some important steps with new, high-quality, physically separated bike infrastructure — the kind that helps more people feel comfortable riding, which in turn encourages DOTs to build more infrastructure, which then gets more people riding, and so on. Coupled with other noteworthy items, such as another year without any bike-share users dying in the U.S., the renewal of the $500 million TIGER grant program and a shifting understanding (however slight) of the importance of racial equity in bike advocacy, it feels like North America is making progress. Here are my picks for the year’s most important new bike infrastructure.

Covell Boulevard Protected Intersection (Davis, California)

Davis took a major leap forward when it opened North America’s first protected intersection in August. Protected bike lanes are an important advance for bicyclists, but tend to leave riders vulnerable at intersections where the physical separation of bollards or planters is replaced by green paint. Ideally, protected intersections solve this issue by extending the curb bulb out to slow down turning drivers and increase the amount of physical separation for bikes. They also have bike-only signals to help the flow of traffic, make left turns easier for bicyclists, and help shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians. Davis’ doesn’t include all these elements, but marks an important first step.

200 West Protected Intersection (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Salt Lake City also took a cue from Dutch planners with their own protected intersection. Opened in October, it includes even more elements of planner Nick Falbo’s design prescriptions such as a forward bike bar for riders to lean on. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t have dedicated bike signals.

Fly-through animation of the planned protected intersection layout at 200 West and 300 South in Salt Lake City (Credit: Salt Lake City)

Protected Intersections (Austin, Texas)

Austin really drives home that 2015 was the year of the protected intersection. They actually built two protected intersections in late 2014 in a new residential development, but residents didn’t move in and start using the intersections until 2015. Earlier this year they announced plans for two more protected intersections closer to the downtown core.

Western Ave Protected Bike Lane (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Western Ave is one of Cambridge’s major arterials into Boston. This year, a half-mile of it got a major makeover with the inclusion of a curb-separated protected bike lane. Though protected bike lanes have become increasingly common in the U.S. over the last few years, the physical separation is often done with flexible plastic bollards or parked cars. That separation is certainly better than paint-only bike lanes, but it isn’t as clear to drivers and new bikers as the separation provided by a curb. Western Ave separates bikes from cars with a cement curb (and bikes from pedestrians with street trees).

Protected Bike Lane on Cylbourn Ave (Credit: Chicago Bicycle Program)

Cylbourn Ave Protected Bike Lane (Chicago, Illinois)

Similar to Cambridge, Chicago demonstrated their support for safe biking when they installed their second curb-protected bike lane on Clybourn Ave. The infrastructure was installed in part as a response to the death of Bobby Cann, a bike commuter who was killed by a drunk driver while riding on Clybourn.

Tilikum Crossing Bridge (Portland, Oregon)

Though it’s not solely a bike project, Tilikum Crossing is an important piece of infrastructure. The bridge was built primarily as an extension of one of Portland’s MAX streetcar lines. It also includes space for buses, bikes, pedestrians and emergency vehicles. Notably absent? Private cars. It is the first major bridge project in the U.S. to ban cars and marks a key shift in thinking for America’s car-centric planners.

Rendering of N Street Protected Bikeway (Credit: Lincoln)

N Street Protected Bike Lane (Lincoln, Nebraska)

Adding to the growing list of curb-protected bike lanes in the U.S., the N Street bike lane opened in Lincoln in the closing weeks of 2015. It is a two-way cycle track separated from cars by a wide curb. The city bolstered the infrastructure value and aesthetics by installing a rain garden in the separation.

Point Grey-Cornwall Protected Bike Lanes (Vancouver, BC)

Opened this summer, Vancouver’s Point Grey-Cornwall project reads like a checklist of North American street design best practices. It has one-way protected bike lanes, realigned intersections, banned left turns, a road diet that reduced car lanes from three to two, no on-street parking, a closed driveway into a mall parking lot, a bicycle pedestrian path through a nearby park and more. To top it all off, the changes came after major protests from drivers and residents, which demonstrates Vancouver’s ability to get important projects done, even when they’re politically difficult.

Downtown Calgary Bike Lane Network (Calgary, AB)

Protected bike lanes in Calgary, AB (Photo by Sean Marshall on flickr)

Calgary’s new protected bike lanes aren’t necessarily innovative. They installed two-way, bollard-separated lanes. But, unlike most cities that install one piece of infrastructure at a time until they’ve cobbled together a connected network, Calgary decided to open three new protected bike lanes at once that are either connected to each other or connected to existing protected and non-protected bike lanes. In doing so, Calgary demonstrated they want to make bicycling safer, rather than trying to score points or save money by building an island of safe infrastructure disconnected from everything else.

Harbor Drive Protected Bike Lane (Redondo Beach, California)

Year-round sunshine aside, Redondo Beach probably doesn’t strike you as a progressive bike city. But their Harbor Drive protected bike lane rivals some of the best North America has to offer. It is a two-way, curb-protected bike lane along one of the main oceanside business areas. To accommodate the project, the city downsized the road to one lane in each direction for cars.