Colored BIke Lanes: Pretty, Practical, and Proven by Josh Switzky

While we San Franciscans may see our city as cutting edge in terms of technology, politics, and social change, our palette of improvements to make our city bicycle-friendly and to build a truly world-class Bike Network is pretty timid and threadbare. There exists a whole host of design tools and techniques that have been employed successfully in cities worldwide for years that our city has barely even considered. The SFBC is working to get many of these incorporated into the new Bike Plan and standard street engineering practice (see Creative Solutions for Safer Streets).

Take, for example, bike lanes--the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes, of bike infrastructure. A typical bike lane in San Francisco is defined by one or two unassuming white stripes, only distinguishable to the motorist and cyclist as a bike lane by its narrow width, marginal location, and the occasional stencil indicating "BIKE LANE" or a friendly little bike arrow. But these visual clues are often too meager to discourage rampant abuse by motorists, such as double parking and even driving in the lanes, and the lanes are not visually prominent enough to notify motorists of the presence of cyclists when the motorists merge (or rather, swerve) across the bike lane to make right turns.

Colored bike lane in Europe.
Using colored pavement in the bike lanes has several benefits: safety, comfort, and promotion. Colored pavement helps visually elevate the prominence of the bike lane on the road, further defining the cyclists' space and helping differentiate this road space from that which motorists feel free to use. The coloring is a constant and bold visual reminder to motorists that the bike lane (and hence, cyclists) are present.

The eye-catching asphalt also serves as an advertisement of sorts for bicycling. As it does in European countries where the treatment is prevalent, it makes the statement that bicycling is important to San Francisco-and that the city is taking great strides to improve the experience of bicyclists.

The SFBC's preferred color choice for bike lanes is a brick red, reserving brighter colors like blue for shorter discrete high-conflict zones. There's no need to fear slick paint-colored asphalt technology has worked on that. In fact, the only tactile difference bicyclists will notice is that the newly paved colored bike lane offers a much smoother ride than the rough and potholed asphalt we've had to endure. Portland, Oregon and Cambridge, Massachusetts have both experimented successfully with blue bike lanes in areas of bike/car conflict. A recent study in Portland found that the number of motorists actively looking for and yielding to cyclists at conflict points dramatically increased after these bike lane segments were painted blue. While no American city has yet used colored pavement for an entire bike network, such treatment is common in European cities. Colored bike lanes will help establish San Francisco as the U.S. bicycling city and will go a long way toward encouraging more people to try bicycling.

As the Bike Plan process moves forward, we need to make sure that the City considers the full range of proven design tools and techniques to make our streets more bike friendly. Please mail the enclosed postcard to Mayor Willie Brown-or write him at City Hall, San Francisco, CA 94102 to make sure the new Bike Plan considers all these important tools and options.