Why protected bike lanes should be called protected bike lanes (not cycle tracks, separated bike lanes, etc)

© April Streeter

It has long been clear that we need protected bike lanes in order to encourage mass bicycling. But the topic of which term to use is much less clear.

By the time I did my master's thesis on the relationship between bicycle infrastructure and bicycle transportation, there were numerous studies showing that people wanted protected bike lanes. Empirical evidence showing that people biked more when protected bike lanes were present was also building. But I didn't find any studies regarding how we should refer to this bicycle infrastructure, what we should call it.

I recently ran across a long article on PeopleForBikes about this topic, and it argues that we should use the term "protected bike lanes."

The first things that stand out to me with this term are that it: 1) portrays a sense that it is really safe to bicycle on these facilities; 2) indicates clearly that they are not conventional bike lanes but something protected from the car lanes, yet is also loose enough that it can be applied to bike lanes that are protected in a wide variety of ways; and 3) makes bicyclists seem important in that they are given protected space on the road, not simply a white stripe and a glass- and rubbish-filled strip of pavement.

Andersen make some similar points but also adds some I wasn't aware of or didn't consider:

  • Emotionally resonant: "Protected bike lane" conveys to people, whether they're in cars or on bikes, the reassuring feeling of safety that these lanes offer.

  • Technically precise: "Protected bike lane" also conveys the other two key characteristics of these lanes: they're just for bikes and they're part of the roadway.

  • Easily modified: One type of protected bike lane is a parking-protected bike lane. Another type is a bollard-protected bike lane. A third is a curb-protected bike lane.

  • Popular: Among English-language news mentions tracked by mention.net, the phrase "protected bike lane" is consistently about 3.5 times more common than "separated bike lane."

  • Non-alienating:In focus group tests by Wild Alchemy, the word "separated" carried a negative connotation, while "protected" was neither strongly positive or strongly negative.

  • Embraced by peers: "Protected" is the style at Streetsblog, the leading national news source on urban transportation. Various other sites have followed.

All good points, in my opinion. So, unless you have a strong argument otherwise, I encourage you to start using the term "protected bike lanes." For much more discussion, head on over to the PeopleForBikes article or even check out the full report: Selling Bike: A New Study On The "Swing Voters" Of The Street.

Before leaving you for the day, however, I'll admit that I had a couple of issues with the article linked above. First of all, it includes several terms that could be used for protected bike lanes, but I think that two in particular are very specific facilities that warrant their own name. Colored bike lanes ("green lanes" of "blue lanes," when they are green or blue) are one type. They're colored. That stands out immediately and that really warrants them having their own name.

The other type are off-road bike paths. I think they could simply be called "bike paths," but I have generally used the term "off-road bike paths" to be excessively clear. Paths are typically not something you associate with a roadway, and I think this term better fits bike facilities that go through parks or are completely separated from the roadway (by distance, not simply a barrier). I'm bringing these issue up because the key survey PeopleForBikes used in order to get a sense for the terminology normal people tend to use really complicated things, in my opinion, by showing a picture of a colored bike lane (see above), and then making generalizations about terminology for protected bike lanes in general. But, anyway, bike terminology dorkiness from me now concludes.

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