Greenest city by 2020: Green bike lanes and green bike boxes


Freshly-painted new bike lane on Smithe at Burrard!!Have you noticed that Vancouver’s going green? No, seriously: all across the city parts of our bike infrastructure are being painted green. You can see the green paint on some of the downtown bike lanes, the Central Valley Greenway (particularly the bit that goes along Great Northern Way), and various newly paved/painted roads (Yukon St near Broadway).

After experimenting with a sort of burgundy colour it seems North America and the world are standardizing on painting bicycle lanes green. The green paint is being applied to places where bikes and motorists interact: high-traffic roads, intersections, turning lanes, and so on. The paint creates a “visual separation” between motorists and bicycles, and is intended to encourage better “lane discipline”.

Mountain Equipment Co-op recently posted an article that discussed the greening of Vancouver’s bike lanes. They interview Dale Bracewell, Manager of Active Transportation for the City of Vancouver, who outlines some of the intentions and goals of the green lanes.

So, why aren’t all the bike lanes green? Frances Bula asked City transportation engineer Jerry Dobrovolny about this and it turns out to be the usual: money. Presumably some portion of the city’s road improvement budget will be dedicated to applying green paint and gradually the green bike lanes will be the rule rather than the exception.

The other interesting bit that Mr. Dobrovolny mentioned was that the city is adding sand to the green paint, so the green lanes should be less slippery than normal asphalt.

One other feature that you might have seen around the city, also painted green, are bike boxes. Apparently a standard feature in cities around the world, their introduction in Vancouver hasn’t been accompanied by any sort of education program whatsoever. In fact, other than a brief mention on the City of Vancouver website, you’re hard pressed to find any local information on how to use them. The City of Ottawa actually seems to have the best description that I’ve found.

Cycle track crossing

Bike boxes are intended to be a way for cyclists to put themselves in front of motorists at stoplights. The idea is: you’re riding in a bike lane and the stoplight turns red. You continue up the bike lane and then take the lane by occupying the bike box while waiting for the light to turn green. By putting the bikes ahead of the motorists, it increases their visibility and makes it safer for cyclists. It makes it easier (and safer) for the bikes to turn left and avoid being hit by cars turning right on the red.

This sounds good in theory, but in practice the bike boxes don’t seem to be working terribly well. Motorists rarely stop behind the bike boxes, and cyclists rarely use them. They only “come into play” when the light is red — when the light is green bikes are much safer integrating with traffic to make left turns. And, who can blame anyone for the confusion, as no one has been told how to use them. They’ve had less exposure than even our dreaded traffic-circles. And it’s not just Vancouverites that are confused.

What do you think? Is painting the bike lanes green an effective way of separating motorists from cyclists? Do they increase awareness and safety? Do you know how bike boxes work?

Last modified: August 22, 2012

3 Responses to " Greenest city by 2020: Green bike lanes and green bike boxes "

  1. Phil Johnston says:

    Always glad to see more cycling infrastructure being implemented, but I feel ambivalent about bike boxes. I think helping to differentiate the lanes by painting them a brighter color is a great idea – hopefully it will help Hornby. I’m still finding cars are constantly turning into cyclists on that street, particularly at Hornby & Davie. I think drivers need more signage to remind them they need to shoulder check when turning right.