A protected bike lane (PBL) is a bicycle facility that provides the experience of a separated path or trail on existing city streets. It is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic and from the sidewalk. A two-way protected bike lane is often called a “cycle track”. Separating people on bikes from automobiles provides greater security and safety, and makes bicycling more comfortable and attractive to a wider range of people.
Protected Bike Lanes in the KC Region (as of December 2022):
Kansas City, MO
- Gillham Road and Oak Street cycletrack
- Armour Boulevard protected bike lanes
- 27th Street protected bike lanes
- Hickman Mills Drive cycletrack
- Truman Road protected bike lanes
- Wyandotte Street cycletrack
North Kansas City, MO
- Diamond Parkway cycletrack
- Armour Road protected bike lanes
- Kansas Avenue
Many of the protected bike lanes in KCMO can be considered “Quick Build” projects that were built quickly and inexpensively. They allow the city to try out different designs, materials, and maintenance procedures to see what works best before making additional investments in more permanent infrastructure and equipment. Read more about Quick Builds at People for Bikes.
Why Protected Bike Lanes?
PBLs are an evidenced-based strategy to improve safety and increase the number of people bicycling. Data from several cities around the United States show that PBLs achieve both goals better than conventional bike lanes. They are especially effective at encouraging the “curious but concerned” people who would like to bike if they had a safe, comfortable place to do it. Read more about the safety data for protected bike lanes at Streetsblog.
This compelling data forms the basis of BikeWalkKC’s policy position in support of protected bike lanes.
Protected bike lanes:
Increase the safety and comfort of people on bikes and eliminate the risk and fear of being hit from behind.
Reduce the risk of “dooring” and eliminate the risk of a doored cyclist being run over by cars.
Improve pedestrian safety and comfort by moving car traffic away from the sidewalk.
Cost less than other infrastructure when they can make use of existing pavement and drainage, especially when car parking spaces can be used as barriers from car traffic.
Make bicycling safer, easier, and more comfortable for people of all ages and abilities - especially those uncomfortable bicycling in mixed traffic.
Allow for retrofitting bike infrastructure onto existing streets that cannot be widened.
Are a great option for “bike highways” or arterial bike routes that provide long distance connections between different parts of the city.
Can help slow down cars when included in “road diets”, making the street safer for everyone, including people walking or biking, and even people driving. For example, a before/after analysis of the parking-protected bike lanes on Armour Boulevard in KCMO showed that cars were slowed to safer speeds and crashes were reduced for all modes of travel.
Help reduce the distance that pedestrians have to traverse when crossing the street.
What makes a protected bike lane?
The main feature is a physical, vertical barrier that protects people bicycling from car traffic. There are many options for creating this barrier, depending on location and budget:
Concrete curb stops can be used to quickly and inexpensively provide a physical barrier between bikes and cars. These can be upgraded to permanent poured concrete curbs.
Reflective pylons provide visibility to people driving cars.
Parked cars can also be used to provide a physical buffer between car traffic and bikes.
The PBL can be elevated on top of the curb, similar to a sidewalk.
Green paint warns everyone of “mixing zones” - areas where cars and bikes share space at intersections and transitions between different types of facilities.
Curb islands or bump-outs may separate PBLs from vehicle traffic at intersections while also protecting pedestrians and calming turning traffic.
How do I use it?
When you see green paint, be sure to watch for cars turning across the cycletrack. The green areas are “mixing zones” where bikes and cars share space.
At stop lights, follow the pedestrian walk signal. The walk signals on Gillham are now automated. If the traffic light turns green and you don’t get a walk signal, that means cars have a green arrow to make left turns. Over time, the city can upgrade these traffic signals to include a light just for bikes.
Welcome other types of fellow travelers! KCMO law allows pedestrians, strollers, wheelchair users, powerchair users, and scooter users to be in the bike lanes. Protected Bike Lanes can provide a crucial alternative to broken or missing sidewalks for folks who are also getting around town without driving a car. For example, a section of Gillham Road between Hospital Hill and Crown Center lacks sidewalks, but the new cycletrack gives pedestrians a new, safe place to walk.
What about maintenance?
The protected bike lanes in the Kansas City area are still very new. Local governments are trying out different maintenance and cleaning strategies to determine what is effective and affordable. North Kansas City procured the region's first bike-lane-sized street sweeper in 2022. Kansas City, Missouri added snow plows in 2021 and has streets weepers on order for 2023. Both types of equipment will benefit not just bike lanes but also narrow streets and other public spaces.
You can help local governments by reporting problems. The more reports they get, the better data they will have for creating maintenance plans. In KCMO you can send reports to the 3-1-1 Action Center via phone, web, Twitter, or the MyKCMO App. The app makes it really easy to send photos with the location tagged.
In NKC, you can make a service request here. During heavy snow events, vehicle parking on Armour Road adjacent to the bike lanes is temporarily prohibited to help crews clear snow from both the street and the bike lanes.
Some final thoughts…
BikeWalkKC doesn’t build bike lanes, but we do advocate for local City Halls to implement evidence-based solutions, like protected bike lanes, that improve safety and get more people on bikes. Like anything new, it takes time to adjust. And these new designs can feel counterintuitive at first for many people.
We know this is an especially big change for long-time cyclists who are used to taking the lane and demanding space in traffic. These veteran bicyclists have helped raise the visibility of cycling on public streets. Now, it’s time to take the next step in making our streets places for all people - pedestrians, cyclists of all ages and abilities, and people who use on assistive mobility devices to get around. By implementing evidence-based solutions, we can make our streets more accessible and safer for people of all ages and abilities.
Stay tuned for opportunities to ride the Gillham cycletrack with us and learn more about the whys and hows like the pop-up event we did in December 2021.
- "Why US Cities Are Investing in Safer, More-Connected Cycling Infrastructure" (2022)
- "A Reminder that Protected Bike Lanes Can Make Streets Safer for Everyone" (2021)
- "How Complete Streets have improved Armour Road in North Kansas City" (2020)
- "Advancing healthy cities through safer cycling: An examination of shared lane markings" (2019)
- "Why Are Bike-Friendly Cities Safer for All Road Users?" (2018)