MassDOT gets Copenhagenized*

The MassDOT Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) recently released a forward-looking design guide for bike infrastructure. It's really a big deal, since MassDOT is in charge of lots of roads and intersections all over the state that have pretty meagre bike provisions.

Here in Provincetown, the biggest opportunity to apply the new guidelines are at the three crossings of Route 6, a 50-mph highway with one signalized crossing and two completely cross-your-fingers and run intersections. When Route 6 was cut through town in the 1950s, is was laid out as a 4-lane highway with a wide median. And little has changed since then. Even the single traffic light has no bicycle detector loop, so it's easy to get stranded in the intersection at a red light (Note: Our intrepid deputy director of public works managed to include a bicycle detector in the upcoming Conwell St. Bicycle Improvements Project).

These guidelines are pretty revolutionary for the United States, where any kind of separated bike lane is still rare and protected intersections are practically nonexistent.

The guidelines were developed by Toole Design Group, the same company that wrote Boston's Complete Streets guidelines and bicycle master plans for Cambridge, MA; Portsmouth, NH; Philadelphia, PA; Denver, CO; San Antonio, TX; and Seattle, WA.

Provincetown’s only signalized intersection is this overengineered relic from the 1950s at Route 6 and Conwell Street.

The most innovative parts of the guidelines are those for intersections, which is where most crashes take place and there are the most opportunities for improvements. Too often I see people advocate for bike lanes, but there's very little advocacy for bike intersections. It's these confluences of vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes that really need a lot of attention here in Provincetown.

The recommendations are very Copenhagen-esque. Separate signals for bicycles. Corner buffers to separate turning cars and trucks from bicycles. Side-by-side bicycle and pedestrian crossings. And the bulk of the recommendations are about how to implement separated bike lanes, which are particularly needed here along the 50MPH corridor of Route 6.

Unfortunately, the guidelines primarily address urban streets; there is no specific mention of highways. But there are some encouraging images of multi-lane roads, roundabouts with separated bike lanes, and a whole chapter devoted to bicycle-specific traffic signals.

* "Copenhagenize" is the name of a transportation consulting firm in Copenhagen, Denmark, and that bike-friendly city is commonly used as a reference across the world for its extensive bicycle infrastructure.