California’s new protected bikeways law could get a boost from new research


As Caltrans implements a new CalBike-sponsored law that will help accelerate the construction of protected bikeways throughout California, new research from Canada shows that bikeways that provide even a little protection from adjacent vehicle traffic can cut bicyclist injuries significantly.

Last month Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 819, a bill sponsored by CalBike that requires Caltrans to establish a process to enable communities to conduct pilot projects with bikeway designs not covered by its outdated bikeway standards. Under existing law, communities face increased liability for implementing bikeways that are in widespread use in other parts of the U.S. and Europe but not reflected in Caltrans’ Highway Design Manual, the only bikeway design standards recognized under state law.

Some communities, like San Francisco, are confident their forward-thinking approach to bikeway design can stand up to legal challenges. But communities that don’t want to take the legal risk of innovating are stuck with Caltrans bikeway designs that increasingly fail to meet the safety needs of current and would-be bicyclists.

AB 819 is intended to free more of those communities to implement modern protected bike facilities. So far Caltrans has pledged to create a largely turnkey process where communities submit a detailed application describing their pilot project. This would be a major improvement over the multi-year Caltrans process a community must go through to implement a non-standard traffic sign, signal or pavement marking.

We’re hopeful the new research from Canada will motivate Caltrans to create an AB 819 process that frees communities that are eager for the safety benefits of modern bikeway designs. That research shows that bicyclists riding on streets with bike lanes and no parking suffer half the injuries of bicyclists who ride on streets with parking and no bike lanes. Injuries drop by 90% for bicyclists on dedicated routes, such as buffered bike lanes and cycle tracks, that are physically separated from traffic.