Edge Lane Roads – Good or Bad?

Edge Lane Roads clarify positioning and priority on roads too narrow to provide a reserved travel space for people on bicycles or pedestrians. When pedestrians or bicyclists are present, motorists must yield to those in the Edge Lane before passing.

Terminology – Edge Lane Roads are known also as Advisory Bike Lanes, Dash Bike Lanes, Bicycle Advisory Shoulders, or Shoulder Lanes. As is not infrequently the case, transportation terminology can be confusing and less than informative. (Try “Sharrow” or “Slip Lane” for examples.) The Edge Lane Road is a shared street roughly (but not exactly) similar to the Dutch “bicycle priority” street. It has some similarity to the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Bicycle Boulevard or Neighborhood Greenway. In both these cases, the road or street design is to suggest that those on bicycles or foot have priority and motor vehicles are “invited guests.”

Edge Lane Roads use a dotted white line to delimit the “bicycle-pedestrian priority” area. Motor vehicles can cross a dotted line – and thus briefly use the edge lane to allow another on-coming motor vehicle to pass. Motor vehicles cannot cross a solid line, so for example, a road shoulder or conventional bike lane is “off limits” to motor vehicles except in emergencies and for entry to parking areas or, say, driveways.

HOW IT WORKS – The basic configuration is a road that does not have room for two-way motor vehicle travel lanes and conventional bicycle lanes. Instead, dashed lines on the pavement identify the Edge Lanes. People on bicycles have priority use of this lane. People in cars have to yield to the cyclists. If a car is coming in each direction, the drivers visually (or otherwise) negotiate which car will pull into the unoccupied Edge Lane to let the other vehicle pass. The passing vehicle may also (have to) use the unoccupied Edge Lane on its side of the road.

Features – Here are the desired Edge Lane Road characteristics:

  • Open to motor vehicles, people on bicycles, and pedestrians.
  • Low speed – even as low as 20 mph (30 kph).
  • Main motor vehicle travel lane is too narrow (under 20-22 feet) to allow motor vehicles to pass by each other.
  • No centerline in the main motor vehicle travel lane.
  • Low motor vehicle traffic volume.
  • Low bicycle traffic volume.

Traffic Volume – If there are “too many” bicycles or “too many” motor vehicles on a road, it is not a good candidate for Edge Lanes. If the bicycle lane has a steady stream of cyclists, there will be no break into which a car can pull. If there a many cars coming from both directions, they will create their own “bottleneck.”

AN APPLICATION IN ALBANY – An Edge Lane Road candidate in the City of Albany would be Berkshire Blvd. that is already a favored bicycle route, connects parts of the city, and has low motor vehicle traffic volumes. Success of this application would involve treating selected residential connecting streets in a similar fashion so that the street becomes part of a bike-safe network. Wayfinding signage would also be needed.

FEDERAL RECOGNITION – Edge Lane Roads have federal recognition as shown in this edited extract from the Federal Highway Administration’s “FHWA Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks Guide – 2016:”  Edge Lane Roads provide usable shoulders for bicyclists on a roadway that is otherwise too narrow for a shoulder (thus the terminology “advisory shoulder”). Pavement marking and pavement color delineate the edge lane. Motorists may only enter the shoulder when no bicyclists are present and must overtake these users with caution due to potential oncoming traffic. Motorists must yield to bicyclists and pedestrians if present when vehicles traveling in opposite directions meet. The “Advisory Shoulder” prioritizes shared space for bicyclists and occasional pedestrian travel. Contrasting paving materials will visually differentiate the shoulder from the roadway and discourage encroachment. Motorists can travel in both directions and share a center lane, encroaching into the Edge Lane as needed to facilitate passing movements.

FHWA Diagram

Benefits – Benefits include the following:

  • Provides a delineated but nonexclusive space available for cycling.
  • May reduce some types of crashes due to reduced motor vehicle travel speeds.
  • Minimizes potential impact on visual or natural resources through efficient use of existing space.
  • Functions well within a rural and small town traffic and land use context.
  • Increases predictability and clarifies desired lateral positioning between people bicycling or walking and people driving in a narrow roadway.
  • May function as an interim measure where plans include shoulder widening in the future.
  • Supports the natural environment through reduced paved surface requirements.

ADVANTAGES – One of the advantages of an Edge Lane Road is low cost as opposed to exclusive on-road bicycle facilities. In some cases, especially where there is on-street, curbside car parking, the design may actually provide a safer environment for cyclists. Since the width of the Edge Lane can exceed that of a standard bicycle lane, riders can stay out of the door zone of the parked cars but also have more (shy) space between them and cars passing by them in the travel lane. On narrow city streets where motor vehicle speeds are low, Edge Lanes provide a “shared road” option for street designers.

DISADVANTAGES – Similar to shared lanes (where people on bicycles are merely guests in a motor vehicle travel lane), safety for people on bicycles is solely dependent on the alertness and consideration of motor vehicle operators. As is frequently the case, people in cars will pull out and around a cyclist if there is no opposing motor vehicle traffic but will try to squeeze through – rather than yield – when the lanes are too narrow. This puts the cyclist – who is now alongside the car and out of view – at great risk. Traffic planners with modest awareness of the safety needs of cyclists may be tempted to install Edge Lanes where conditions are unsuitable.

CAVEATS – As with any new traffic directional, there will be long learning curve for both people in cars and on bicycles. Signage is barely adequate. Witness “IN LANE,” “SHARE THE ROAD,” and “BICYCLE MAY USE FULL LANE” as well as crosswalk “zebra strips” which have not been universally understood or accepted even after many, many years of use. Here is one case of an Edge Lane Road installation is Edna, MN, a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis (one of the US’s “bicycle capitals”): “The drivers of Edina are not happy. ‘ Ridiculous,’ ‘odd,’ ‘absurd’ and ‘confusing and dangerous’ are just a few of the descriptions irate drivers have used . . . [with] city officials about the weird bike lanes that have popped up around the city this fall.” As the FHWA states, “Unlike a conventional shoulder, an advisory shoulder is a part of the traveled way, and it is expected that vehicles will regularly encounter meeting or passing situations where driving in the advisory shoulder is necessary and safe.”

CONCLUSIONS – This analysis suggests that traffic-wary cyclists will not feel safe on Edge Lane Roads. As with the shared lanes concept, those who are comfortable riding deeply engaged with motor vehicle traffic will continue do so with our without one of these quasi bicycle facilities. Several resources rely extensively on Danish and Netherlander applications. While these are excellent case studies of where New York State and the country should be headed, these successes also reflect a deep-seated and long-standing cultural appreciation of bicycle travel in a shared road environment. In certain instances, assuming “Dutch style driving practice,” Edge Lane Roads would be a poor choice. Implementing Edge Lane Roads should be done with great caution so that early applications will be successful.

RESOURCES –

2 Comments

Filed under Bike Lanes, Edge Lane Road

2 responses to “Edge Lane Roads – Good or Bad?

  1. Janet Nardolillo

    After bicycling on the designated bike lanes on Madison Avenue, and encountering idling trucks and cars, broken glass, downed tree limbs, and buses, I gave up my bike because these obstacles made me feel unsafe. Edge Lane roads may be even worse unless there are far fewer cars on the road and drivers are more courteous.

    • Janet et al.: The challenges you cite would make anyone feel unsafe. These partially result from the City of Albany going for “bare bones,” low-grade bicycle lanes rather than the Protected Bike Lanes called for by citizen and bicyclist group that initiated the 13-year campaign to calm traffic on Madison Ave. Our proposal called for the parked cars to form a barrier separating the bicycle lane (at curbside) from the motor vehicle travel lanes. This would have protected cyclists, kept trucks and other parked vehicles out of the bicycle lane, freed the bicycle lane from buses, and reduced the impact of broken glass and other road trash. The city’s design coupled with its failure to connect the 1.6 miles of lanes on Madison Ave. to any other point or bicycle facility (such as the lanes on Clinton Ave. or the South End Connector) have reduced the potential for these lanes to encourage more cycling. LMW 1-28-22

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