New MassDOT separated bike lane guide another step to encourage healthy transportation

By Robbie Webber
At the November 4 Moving Together conference on healthy transportation, MassDOT will unveil their new design and planning guide for separated bike lanes. But details of the new guide, developed by Toole Design Group, have already been released via news stories and a presentation at the New England Bike-Walk Summit.
Lou Rabito, Complete Streets Engineer at MassDOT, thinks this is the first state guide to reference the CROW design manual from the Netherlands, considered by many advocates as the global gold standard. It also clearly defines what constitutes a separated bike lane as, “An exclusive space for bicyclists along or within a roadway that is physically separated from motor vehicles and pedestrians by vertical and horizontal elements.”
Rabito says this guide came about in reaction to a combination of bicycle advocates pushing for separated bike lanes and of communities, especially Boston, asking for guidance on how to build them. “If we want families and novice riders to use a bicycle for transportation, we have to provide connections from our shared use paths to destinations at the same level of comfort. We can’t just dump them out onto an arterial with standard bike lanes.” A graphic from his March 2015 presentation on planning for the guide outlines the advantages of separated bike lanes.
Since it focuses on a northern state with harsh winters, the guide makes clear that maintenance must be a consideration when building separated bike lanes. This, along with limited right-of-way in many areas, has been a concern for some communities. But Rabito says that these concerns are fading as communities realize that some of their roads actually have excess capacity, while lane widths can be narrowed on other roads to provide space for the new bike facilities. As public pressure for safe biking increases and the advantage of the lanes for all road users becomes clear, communities are embracing the new designs.
Massachusetts was the second state to endorse the NACTO Bikeway Design Guide, and they welcomed the FHWA guide that came out in May. Rabito said Toole made sure to discuss their work with the FHWA consultants to be sure both guides would deliver consistent information. But Massachusetts has been aggressively working on improving bicycling options and safety for many years. The 2006 Project Development and Design Guide included chapters stressing routine accommodations for multimodal transportation as well as a separate chapter on shared use paths and greenways.
In 2012, then MassDOT Secretary Richard Davey announced an ambitious goal to triple biking, walking, and transit trips by 2030. Davey followed up with the Healthy Transport Policy Directive in 2013 that laid out specific requirements for accommodating biking, walking, and transit based on roadway width, adjacent development patterns and density, and examination of past crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists. Engineering directives followed in 2014 to clearly state both what bicycle and pedestrians accommodations are required on state roadways and the limited circumstances where design exceptions will be granted.
Although the guide and previous policy documents affect only state roads and state-funded projects, MassDOT is also developing a complete streets funding program authorized in the 2014 Transportation Bond Bill. The new program would provide grants to communities to improve local streets for all users.
With their dedication to improving bicycle transportation, Massachusetts achieved fourth place in the League of American Bicyclists rankings this year, and the new separated bike lane guide will be a model for other states as well.
Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.