New Oak Street Protected Bike…What is That?

Like a vestigial twin growing its own weird, hairy tumor, the already complex Washington Avenue transit mall has sprouted a new unsightly appendage:


Looking North from the West side of Oak St. at Washington Ave.

The Oak Street protected bike… whatever this is. I was very skeptical of protected bikeways for a long time and this is exactly why. For someone who is relatively comfortable biking in traffic, any gains made in the pleasantness of biking along the street are outweighed when you are shunted into quagmires like this at intersections.

That’s why I was so stoked after I watched this video.  The video depicts a design for incorporating protected bikeways into intersections that manages to keep things efficient and intuitive for bikes, while also improving crossing for pedestrians by allowing them to cross the bikeway and then the rest of the street in stages.

Protected Intersections For Bicyclists from Nick Falbo on Vimeo.

Contrast that to this design. Look at all those arrows! Take a moment to appreciate how completely crazy it looks.

Here’s a diagram of how it’s supposed to work:


To proceed straight/north or turn right/east from Oak Street SE, there are 2-stage turn boxes – Cross Washington with the light, wait, then cross Oak St. to the northbound lane or eastbound Washington (link)

Is that two-stage right turn really going to make a vulnerable or inexperienced road user feel protected, or just perplexed? After all, something that used to be intuitive and safe to do immediately most of the time now takes an additional signal phase and sets up the possibility of a right hook from southbound traffic coming off Washington.

Cyclists are often hit in crosswalks because they’re moving faster than what drivers usually anticipate from a crosswalk (i.e. walking speed). It seems like only a matter of time before a car with a green light heading east on Washington turns right with the way apparently clear, just as a cyclist completes Phase I of their Right Turn Operation and begins their personal journey toward Phase II, putting their paths into sudden, unavoidable conflict.

Yes, the protected intersection in the video does require an extra smaller-than-one-signal-phase amount of delay to turn left, but turning left usually takes a long time and blocks up other traffic at busy intersections anyway, so adding a relatively small amount of delay to the left turn process would reduce overall delay and solve more problems than it created, while converting right turns into a two stage process adds delay and creates new problems, such as the right hook described above.

It’s concerning that, like the rest of the transit mall, this bikeway (or at least the intersection with Washington Ave.) will turn out to be an instance of trying to micromanage traffic so minutely from a theoretical remove, that most of what’s prescribed will be frequently ignored or misunderstood because it seems to have no bearing on the actual situation at hand. I’ve personally never, ever seen anyone using one of these bike boxes along Washington for example:


The fact that no one ever uses these makes it even weirder that they’ve almost disintegrated already.

I suppose, in fairness, we should give this design a chance to play out. The city does have a pretty good rationale for the design they chose: “One-way protected bike lanes result in more parking removal.”

Joe Scott

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