Nowadays, the popularity of biking has surged, making bicycle safety a pressing concern in cities across the country. To address this issue, innovative solutions such as “Bike Boxes” have emerged, providing a safer riding experience for cyclists on urban roads.
What are Bike Boxes?
Bike Boxes are designated spaces at traffic lights that allow bicycle riders to position themselves in front of motorists when faced with a red signal. By enabling cyclists to be at the forefront of traffic, Bike Boxes enhance their visibility, facilitate left turns, and reduce the risk of right-hook crashes. Additionally, these boxes can prevent motorists from making right turns on red and potentially colliding with cyclists, a message that can be effectively communicated through signage.
Examples of Green Bike Boxes, as depicted above in Denver and Lakewood, Colorado, were funded by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG). The DRCOG has developed a comprehensive plan for the Denver Metro Area based on research and guidelines outlined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).
During my involvement with Bike Jeffco in Golden, Colorado, I had the opportunity to deliver a Bike Law presentation. Subsequently, Charlie Myers, Chairman of Bike Jeffco, received a thought-provoking question from a Ph.D. student at the Colorado School of Mines regarding the legality of her riding maneuver:
“While biking to campus, I maneuvered past a line of three cars to reach the front of the intersection at 6th and Heritage in Golden, Colorado. My intention was to enhance my visibility when making a turn. This particular intersection is highly stressful due to the heavy traffic on both Highway 6 and Heritage, especially during peak hours. On a morning commute, I executed the same maneuver I usually do, positioning myself at the front of the intersection to be seen and avoid inhaling car exhaust fumes during the lengthy red light. However, when the traffic signal turned green, the driver behind me yelled, ‘Abide by the law, you stupid ***’!’ This unexpected outburst left me wondering whether their reaction was justified.”
Our response to the student highlighted that her maneuver at the mentioned intersection was, in fact, not legally permissible. However, if a Bike Box were present at that location, her actions would have been justified within the confines of the law. In Colorado, bicycles are generally required to adhere to the same rules as other motor vehicles, with few exceptions. One such exception, which we hope to see more widely adopted, is the Colorado safety stop. Another exception arises when Green Bike Boxes are present, allowing cyclists to navigate around parked cars in the designated green lane and position themselves at the front of the intersection for better visibility. Subsequently, if needed, cyclists can occupy a regular traffic lane.
Our advice to the student bicyclist was to wait her turn in line rather than filtering ahead of the stopped cars. Similar to other vehicles, she should execute a left turn and then merge as far right as safety permits. Additionally, we recommended that the student engage in discussions with local city officials or city engineers to advocate for the installation of Green Bike Boxes at locations where they are needed.
However, it is crucial to highlight that enforcement is essential to prevent cars from obstructing these designated areas!
Bike Boxes and the MUTCD
Researching the background of Green Bicycle Boxes, we discovered that they are not explicitly described in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD). As a matter of fact, Bicycle Boxes have only been implemented in the United States on an experimental basis as part of the MUTCD’s official experimentation process. The MUTCD refers to these Bicycle Boxes as “intersection bicycle boxes” and classifies them as new traffic control devices that offer various benefits for traffic control and safety. With an increasing number of streets featuring marked bicycle lanes, additional traffic control measures are necessary to accommodate cyclists riding on the right side of the lanes who intend to go straight or turn left at intersections with traffic lights.
According to the MUTCD, a Green Bicycle Box is a marked area located between an advance stop line and the intersection stop line on the approach to a signalized intersection. Its purpose is to provide cyclists with a space in which to wait in front of stopped motor vehicles during the red signal phase, thereby increasing their visibility to motorists at the start of the green signal phase.
By positioning bicyclists in the center of the appropriate lane, these Green Bicycle Boxes offer several advantages, including improved visibility for surrounding motor vehicles and reduced conflicts between cyclists and motorists. Additionally, they mitigate right-turn conflicts, provide a safe waiting area for groups of cyclists at red lights, and expedite the clearing of intersections.
Considering the relatively low cost associated with painting Green Bike Boxes, we remain optimistic that their implementation will continue to expand in areas frequented by cyclists.
Let’s prioritize bicycle safety by embracing the concept of Bike Boxes and working towards their wider adoption and enforcement. By doing so, we can create a safer and more inclusive environment for cyclists on our city streets.