Enjoy The Death Zone

Bicycle infrastructure that violates the rules of safe movement is unsafe by definition. It doesn’t matter how much pretty green paint or fancy yellow reflectors you use. Take a look this from Boston University:

Typical Intersection or Driveway Treatment

Never mind for a moment that what we see here is a door-zone bicycle lane. Take a look at that green paint. Let’s call it the death zone.

That green lane puts bicycles directly into danger from right-turning and left-turning traffic (assuming this treatment on a 2-way street). Right-turning motorists are expected to look in an unnatural direction for traffic that should not be on the right in the first place. A right-turning motorist’s attention should be focused on the turn and what is in the direct line of the vehicle — not what is behind them to the right.

Bicyclists are also in danger from left-turning traffic (if the graphic showed this treatment on a 2-way street) because they may become blocked from view by through traffic on their left.

In short, that green lane is exactly where bicyclists should not be.

And yet this is offered as a way to keep bicyclists safe.

The problem as I see it: There are a lot of people out there — planners, engineers, bicycle advocates — who frankly haven’t the first clue what they are doing. They are functionally stupid.

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Comments 26

  1. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    I’ve been calling it “engineering malpractice” of late. Putting a through-traffic lane to the right of a lane from which right turns are optional is all but criminal, to me.

    “What could go wrong?” is answered too often.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 10:46 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Tom… I’m just simply flabbergasted that such a thing is even possible.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 10:49 am
  3. Kevin Love wrote:

    What engineering incompetence. If an engineer were to design a bridge by ignoring design engineering standards and it collapsed. It would be obvious that this was engineering negligence and incompetence.

    Similarly, any traffic engineer that designs an intersection while just ignoring the CROW design engineering standards is incompetent and negligent.

    Here is a video explaining the right way to do an intersection.


    And here is another video showing several real-life examples of good engineering in practice.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 11:05 am
  4. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Kevin, the Dutch design you so love to post does not prevent turning conflicts unless there’s a light with separate green phases. On junctions with a separate green light phase, cyclists must stop and press a button to go straight, making the journey slower than it needs to be. Cyclists are not pedestrians. Why not just go straight through in the general traffic lane – that would make everyone’s commute less complicated. We don’t need expensive reworking of junctions to create islands and pedestrian lights – this is not progress. All we need is simple integration.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 11:18 am
  5. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Also, if you notice at 2:31 that cycling on the bike track is chaos, with cyclists passing each other in the intersection with only about 6ft of space. The narrator says “there are no long waiting times”, yet it takes the cyclists 40 seconds to cross the road (and that’s not including the time wasted by the first cyclist coming to a stop in order to press the button at the light).

    Would the cyclists find a green light if the parallel road had a green light? Yeah, I didn’t think so, otherwise there would be a risk of a right hook. But “there are no long waiting times”. Riiiight.

    And, while the cyclists get a green light, motorists on the parallel road must wait extra time. But “there are no long waiting times”.

    Propaganda from the “let’s make cycling annoying and complicated” crowd.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 11:37 am
  6. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Last text in the video: “Car runs a red light”.

    Yeah, but this design is ‘safe’ because of the light phases. And no one gets impatient when the light phase takes longer than a regular traffic light? So why “car runs a red light”?

    And this red light runner was in the Netherlands. If anyone thinks American or British motorists are going to dutifully wait back behind the island and not run the red light to turn right when they see nothing there except their own desire to obey the law, they are in fairyland.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 11:47 am
  7. khal spencer wrote:

    The intersections I saw in Bremen did have separate light cycles. As Ian says, they reduce level of service. They also, I suppose, require compliance.

    But if you are going to “protect” cyclists with green lanes, you need to protect at intersections with protected light cycles.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 11:47 am
  8. Kevin Love wrote:


    As those who use them can attest, protected intersections do not impose any overall delay. I particularly like the “free” right turn on a red light. People turning right on a red light do not usually even have to stop.

    And yes, in any system that involves human beings, there has to be law enforcement. The Netherlands does have police and jails. In addition to criminal law, “Strict Liability” civil law puts the responsibility for harm squarely upon car drivers.

    Public education helps too. See, for example, this television campaign:


    We can go methods that have a proven track record of success or with alternatives that have proven track records of failure. I choose success.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 12:17 pm
  9. Tom Armstrong wrote:

    With “Right turn on red (after stop, but who notices THAT?)” so prevalent, having a separate signal phase for cyclists won’t work very well in the states. I’ve seen too many people slow then go in places where there is good reason for the “NO turn on red” sign that is posted. To change an intersection to have “NO turn on red” from it being legal will result in additional carnage, not reduce it.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 12:48 pm
  10. Angelo Dolce wrote:

    Tom, Andy,

    THey don’t just put the bike lanes to the right of lanes where right turns are optional, they put them to the right of RTOL lanes where right turn is required. (DE – new bike lanes on Philadelphia Pike at Gov. Printz Blvd, on Faulkland Road just past Rt 141; Philadelphia South Street Bridge, RTOL onto I-76 where motorists are required to turn right and bicyclists are prohibited.)

    The explanations I received in DE were
    (1) Motorists are never legally required to yield to bicyclists – they usually do to be courteous, but the bicyclist is liable in any collision
    (2) The planner for Philadelphia Pike was not comfortable riding in traffic and would rather risk being doored than make motorists change lanes if he placed the new bike lanes outside the door zone.

    Advocates in Philadelphia admitted that the design had problems but said we should support all bike lanes so we can get more. (The Spring Garden Lane in place for 30 years has the same problem – to the right of RTOL on to I-76 – it is taking US planners more than 30 years to figure out how to fix this problem.)


    From conversation with a Canadian friend, I can assure you that the US political and legal environment is very different from Canada. Currently the US effectively has strict liability for bicyclists (see (1)) unless motorists are drunk. I have seen special signals installed for bicyclists in New York. I also saw police (and taxi drivers and many other motorists) turn across red lights when the bicycle lane had a green light to go straight. I suspect this is one reason the bike had few bicyclists.

    I don’t think US bicyclists need more facilities built by planners that are afraid to ride in traffic – even the planners don’t use their own facilities.


    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 1:03 pm
  11. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    “People with too much smoke and complicated tricks and methods in their brains start missing elementary, very elementary things. Persons in the real world can’t afford to miss these things; otherwise they crash the plane.”
    — Nassim Taleb, “Antifragile”

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 1:14 pm
  12. Mighk Wilson wrote:

    The basic argument for separation is thus:
    People are afraid that motorists will violate the rules for vehicular movement and collide with bicyclists. So let’s create a design that adds NEW rules for motorists to violate. And when they violate that new rule we’ll blame everything and everyone except the design that made the new rule necessary.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 1:21 pm
  13. Khal Spencer wrote:

    The reason for a protected light cycle for bicyclists is that when the cyclist has a green light to pass through the intersection, it is prohibited for a motorist to make a left or right turn that would encroach on or cross the bike lane, as would be required in Andy’s photo or Kevin’s movie. That sort of arrangement would eliminate the right hook/left cross situation, at least if everyone complies. As we saw, one motorist in the movie blew the light.

    Compared to not having a protected light cycle, a normal RTOR/left turn allowed scenerio creates the conflict we are talking about. So prohibiting these turns while the cyclist has the right of way almost has to reduce LOS, at least when there are a lot of cyclists and/or motorists passing through the intersection. (Level of service is defined in terms of how long it takes to pass through an intersection).

    If cyclists have to trigger the protected light cycle with an on-demand button, that could increase LOS for motorists when there are no cyclists around while providing some decent LOS for cyclists when they are around. Given, of course, that the local traffic engineer doesn’t short sheet bicyclists’ duty cycle. Any takers on that bet?

    I’m not taking sides here, just asking that we discuss what intersection countermeasures we need to implement if these green lanes are to be taken seriously, their costs, and effects on traffic movement. Hopefully, John Allen can chime in. He has thought about this a lot.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 2:29 pm
  14. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I note that in both of Kevin’s videos, different traffic, and crossing traffic, have separate light cycles, as I mentioned above. That sort of arrangement can presumably be incorporated into traffic models (such as SIDRA) used in the U.S. to see what effect it has on LOS. Anyone know of any papers?

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 2:43 pm
  15. Andy Cline wrote:

    Angelo … Thanks for the information re: Philly Pike. I’ll be visiting my family there this summer (sister lives just of the Philly Pike). I’ll be sure to get some video.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 3:54 pm
  16. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    What many British motorists do when they’re presented with a phased light system with advanced stop zones (ASZs) is go past the motor vehicle stop line and wait right by the cyclists’ advance stop line. When this happens, the whole point of the island and the advanced stop zone is lost.

    As noted in the Guardian Bike Blog (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2011/aug/24/safety-red-lights-cyclists):

    “Although it’s an offence for a motorist to enter the ASZ at a red light, if they were already in the box when the light went red, it’s not an offence to stop there – in fact the law requires them to do so.”

    And, according to http://ukcyclerules.com/2011/08/22/advanced-stop-zones-enforcement/:

    “ASZs can be difficult to enforce – the police need to see the motorist enter the box in order to know whether an offence has been committed.”

    Transport for London (TfL) did a study on this issue (Behaviour at Advance Stop Lines) which showed that 61% of motor vehicles went beyond the motor vehicle stop line, while over 12% of these stopped ahead of the advanced stop line for bicycles – that’s 12% who went past BOTH stop lines and waited right at the corner.

    And the numbers would probably be higher, since they must have counted cars that waited at the motor vehicle stop line purely because they were behind someone who didn’t.

    So in London, we have a situation in which Kevin’s preferred installation is abused by MOST drivers – they ignore the motor vehicle stop line and advance into the ASZ or even beyond the bicycle stop line. Also, the law is such that ASZs of the sort Kevin proposes cannot possibly work to prevent hooks because cars are allowed to stop in the ASZ in some cases when traffic is heavy, and police cannot ticket motorists who move into the ASZ, unless they happen to see the movement.

    Dutch ASZs do not work in the UK and they won’t work here, for exactly the same reasons. The UK and the USA are not Holland – road users’ attitudes are completely different.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 6:44 pm
  17. Kevin Love wrote:

    In many cases, it is possible to construct a traffic network that enables cyclists to completely bypass traffic lights altogether. There are several examples given here:


    The first video is a particularly good example. There are basically two reasons why cycle traffic outnumbers car traffic. 1) Cycle traffic is safe, using the principles of Sustainable Safety. 2) Cycling is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of getting from A to B.

    Where these two conditions apply, we get far more liveable, safe and pleasant cities.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 7:01 pm
  18. Michael wrote:

    I’m in Salt Lake City right now, which has been transformed over the last decade or so, into bike and light rail mecca. There are bikes everywhere and the trains I’ve ridden were all at least 50% full.

    There’s some green-lining going on, they seem to be using it just like sharrows. I haven’t seen anything that looked unsafe or that I wouldn’t ride. I don’t have my bike with me this time, but I have taken a couple of trips in bike taxis and they ride in the green lines.

    Posted 26 Apr 2013 at 10:16 pm
  19. Keri wrote:

    Salt Lake City was one of the first to implement an experimental green sharrow lane:


    Posted 27 Apr 2013 at 8:35 am
  20. Michael wrote:

    I found a couple of door-zone bike lanes this morning. They look like they’ve been in place for about forever and they were on low speed neighborhood streets that didn’t need anything bike wise on them. Over all, it looks like Salt Lake has done a really good job for cyclists.

    Posted 27 Apr 2013 at 10:14 am
  21. Angelo Dolce wrote:


    I’ll be interested to see your experience in the DE bike lanes. The plan for Philadelphia Pike showed parking with DZBL. In practice, this has not been that bad, but I think this may be because there are very few cars parked on the Phil Pike in the current economy. Most of the businesses have parking lots, and the parking spots on the street are not used much.

    I was disappointed by DelDOT’s striping bike lanes to intersections, but some of the advocacy groups indicated that novice bicyclists are concerned when the bike lane disappears. Note I am talking about bike lanes with straight arrows to the right of travel lanes explicitly marked for straight/Right turns, including on Phil. Pike. DelDOT has marked bike lanes to the left of RTOL lanes in a number of other locations, so I don’t know why the bike lane is to the right at Gov. Printz Blvd. (Also, the traffic loops are in the main lanes, with no detection of bicycles if there are no cars.)

    I’d also be curious about your experience with the bike lanes on Marsh Road between Silverside and Veale/Wilson. I find the southbound lane seems to create conflicts with motorists leaving and entering the Shoppes at Graylyn. I suspect it is a visibility problem – drivers don’t seem to have a problem if I use the regular lane for this stretch, but didn’t respect my right of way the few times I tried the bike lane when it was first installed. (After which I resumed using the regular lane.) YMMV.

    Posted 27 Apr 2013 at 11:18 pm
  22. Andy Cline wrote:

    Angleo… I rode all over Brandywine Hundred as a kid. My main route to Brandywine High School was Marsh to Silverside to Graylyn.

    Here are two videos I made a couple of years ago showing Silverside mostly between Philly Pike and 202.


    All I experienced were shoulders with bicycle lane symbols painted in them.

    Posted 28 Apr 2013 at 10:01 am
  23. Steve A wrote:

    Why not follow good advice and simply ride safely regardless of where they put the BS paint?

    Posted 29 Apr 2013 at 7:21 pm
  24. Edward wrote:


    You have misunderstood a couple of things about the video:

    1. “Kevin, the Dutch design you so love to post does not prevent turning conflicts unless there’s a light with separate green phases.” There generally is a separate green phase depending on the type of junction and the road it is on.

    2. “cyclists must stop and press a button to go straight, making the journey slower than it needs to be … Why not just go straight through in the general traffic lane”. The cyclist must only stop and press the button if the light is red. You could go through in the general traffic lane if you want but that light might be red too. You do not have to wait very long if you are on a bike.

    3. ” at 2:31 that cycling on the bike track is chaos, with cyclists passing each other in the intersection with only about 6ft of space.” Only one cyclist passed in the other direction. He was on the wrong side of the road. Was it really chaos though?

    4. “The narrator says “there are no long waiting times”, yet it takes the cyclists 40 seconds”. Quite possibly but are you suggesting that you never have to wait that long at a red light on a road in Maryland? Isn’t that normal? It seems quite short to me.

    5. “Would the cyclists find a green light if the parallel road had a green light?” Quite possibly but not against right turning traffic. It avoids the very thing that this blog post complains about.

    6. “If anyone thinks American or British motorists are going to dutifully wait back behind the island and not run the red light …” Seriously? Is that how US and UK drivers behave now?

    7. “Dutch ASZs do not work in the UK and they won’t work here”. Nor do they work in the Netherlands. You will find the few that remain are being replaced. They do not work.


    Posted 03 May 2013 at 10:03 am
  25. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    I agree with the concept of the ‘death zone’. I think perhaps we need to define it. I suggest it exists on every road from the point at which the average car’s right fender edge is, all the way to the right hand side curb – any cyclist or pedestrian in this zone is far more likely to be sideswiped or hit by vehicles straying too far right. At an intersection, I suggest it exists even farther right, to the rightmost edge of the sidewalk, due to the risk of turning collisions with gutter cyclists and fearful cyclists using on the sidewalk.

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 7:46 am
  26. Ian Brett Cooper wrote:

    Edward, I understand all those points. The problem is, they are not persuasive in terms of the Dutch facilities being safer or more efficient than the alternative of simply riding in the lane with other traffic.

    As for #3, yes, it was chaotic. there was not enough room for contraflow traffic.

    Regarding #6, people in the UK and the US absolutely do behave that way now. Virtually no one observes the requirement to stay behind the white stop line if it is far back behind the corner. What makes you think that they will do so at any time in the future?

    Posted 15 May 2013 at 7:58 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 1

  1. From Carbon Trace - Of Advocacy and Stasis on 15 May 2013 at 7:07 am

    […] There are many answers to why (e.g. increase participation). I have yet to hear one that’s persuasive. Or, one might not have thought it through far enough to see that what one is asking for is a death zone. […]