First Protected Intersection for Bicycles in North America

The bicycle- friendly City of Davis, California has built the first protected intersection for bicycles in North America.  The intersection is, for the moment, one-of-a-kind on this continent in that it offers cyclists passage through the intersection that is both physically- and time- separated from vehicles.  An article in the Davis Enterprise highlighted some of the aspects of the design as well as some reactions from locals using the intersection.

As I mentioned in previous posts, protected bike lanes (that protect cyclists from vehicles along segments between intersections) are not enough to ensure safe passage for cyclists on major arterials. Most interactions between different road users occur at intersections, which is where the “protected bike facility” ceases to offer protection. In order to create infrastructure that is safe and comfortable for cyclists both road segments and intersections must be protected.

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Protected intersection recently built at E. Covell Blvd and Cannery Ave in Davis, California – diagram taken from the Davis Enterprise

There are many great design elements in the protected intersection – they can be summed up in four features:

  1. A forward waiting area gives cyclists stopped at a red light a leg-up on motorized vehicles.  This feature makes cyclists considerably more visible to motorists and allows them to enter the intersection before the first motorized vehicles after a red light.  This feature is similar to the bike boxes (the green painted rectangles located at several intersections in Montreal including: Milton and University, Laurier and St. Laurent and, more recently,  Villeneuve and St. Urbain), however it offers even more comfort and security because cyclists are protected by a curved concrete structure creating a corner refuge island.
  2. In addition to creating a safe place for cyclists to wait, the corner refuge island has a number of other safety benefits. Firstly, it narrows the road making it virtually impossible for motorists to take a right turn at reckless speed.  This dramatically reduces the likelihood of a right-hook collision between cyclists traveling through the intersection and right-turning cars.  The presence of the refuge island also creates space for a waiting area for turning motorized vehicles. This area allows turning cars to clear through the intersection enabling vehicle flow through the intersection and gives the turning motorist full visibility of cyclists before clearing the waiting area and completing the turn.
  3. The setback crossing gives physical separation between pedestrians/cyclists and turning vehicles and allows all users more time to react to the presence of other users in the intersection.
  4. A dedicated bicycle signal phase further reduces potential conflicts between cyclists and turning vehicles.  There are several ways to incorporate this feature into a protected intersection – each way offering a different level of protection. Firstly, a leading bicycle interval gives cyclists a three to five second head start before turning vehicles get a green, when paired with the forward waiting area, this gives cyclists both space and time to clear the intersection before vehicles can enter the cycling space.  A more secure option, the fully protected signal phase, fully separates conflicting movements between through travelling cyclists and turning vehicles.  A third option, the green scramble phase, gives all vehicles movements the red-light while allowing all cyclist movements through the intersection.  This type of phase programming exists for pedestrians in many cities across the world and has the added benefit that left-turning cyclists can complete the turn in one stage rather than two.

The City of Montreal would be wise to look to the City of Davis as inspiration and pilot some protected intersections where highly-used protected bicycle facilities cross major arterials, such as: De Maisonneuve at Peel, Rachel at Saint-Denis and Rachel at Papineau.

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