How Protected Intersections Increase Bicycle Safety

By: Miovision Team | Mar 01, 2024
a first-person view of a biker about to cross through an intersection

Image source: Canva

 

Over 130,000 cyclists are injured in on-road accidents every year in the United States, with more than 27% of those happening at intersections. Meanwhile, in Canada, around 7500 bikers are seriously injured each year and most of these happen during the rush hour. There’s a clear need for North American cities to make their roads safer for bikes—in fact, it’s a must for any city where bikes and vehicles share the road. But how can they do it? 

Embracing the protected intersection design is one answer. By eliminating the need for cyclists to merge with traffic, this ingenious approach makes navigating intersections safer and more efficient for everyone involved. They can truly save lives. 

But what are protected intersections? How do they work? Keep reading this blog to learn more about them and how cities can make roads safer for cyclists

 

What is a Protected Intersection?

A busy urban street with a man on a bicycle riding through a protected intersection

Image source: Shutterstock

 

A protected intersection is one in which cyclists do not have to merge with cars—they ride in protected bike lanes that extend through the intersection. They’ve become known as part of the Netherlands’ bike infrastructure, which remains the gold standard for sharing the road.

The Components of a Protected Intersection Design

So, what is a protected intersection doing differently besides having a protected bike lane? Take a look at all the different components involved in the design: 

  • Bicycle signals and phrasing: some protected intersections require a cyclist to push a button to activate them, while others detect them automatically. 
  • Leading bicycle/pedestrian intervals: known as LBIs, these are programmed into signals to give cyclists and pedestrians a head start when crossing. 
  • Curb radius reductions: taking in the radius of the curb creates shaper angles for turning vehicles that force them to slow down. 
  • Curb extensions: bringing out the curb to make the roadway narrower creates a shorter crossing distance for people walking through. 
  • Two-stage bicycle turn boxes: these negate the need for bike riders to cut across multiple lanes of traffic when turning left. 
  • High-visibility crosswalk markings: these better prepare motorists by making pedestrian crossings more easy to detect.
  • Signs prohibiting turns on red lights: these signs override standard laws and make it illegal to turn right on a red light. 

a road sign for bikers with the words ‘left turn box’

Image source: Shutterstock

 

The Safety Benefits of a Protected Intersection

Of course, the Dutch-style protected intersection is not just revered for its visual design but primarily for the benefits it provides. Let’s break these down in detail. 

 

Increased Separation Between Bikes and Motor Vehicles

Bike lanes often disappear or merge into regular traffic lanes at regular North American intersections. As such, the most immediate safety benefit of protected intersections is creating more separation between cars and cyclists with dedicated bike lanes. 

Sharing the road can be challenging, but this style of intersection makes it easier by giving everyone their own space. This is especially important in high-traffic areas where people are impatient and space is limited. Putting more space between bikes and cars makes it easier for them to co-exist and reduces the number of collisions. 

Bike lanes pass through an intersection while cars use a different laneImage source: Shutterstock

 

Reduced Likelihood of Left Cross and Right Hook Crashes 

Left cross and right hook crashes are two of the most common types of car-bicycle accidents, both of which can be extremely dangerous. They happen as follows: 

  • Left Cross: these happen when a cyclist and motorist are approaching each other on opposite sides of the street and the driver turns left into the cyclist’s path, often because they’re hyper-focused on making their turn. 
  • Right Hook: these happen during parallel motor vehicle traffic when a driver turns right without noticing there is a nearby biker in their blind spot, most commonly as a traffic signal is changing or about to change. 

Having the bike lane extend through protected intersections is what helps minimize the risk of left-cross accidents. However, the concrete corner islands also provide a safe waiting area for bikers when drivers are turning left in the motor vehicle lane.

Meanwhile, the positioning of cyclists in a protected intersection and the signaling phases help reduce right-hook crashes. The cyclists are more visible to drivers, and the dedicated signals we mentioned earlier allow them to get out ahead. 

 

Improved Visibility For All Road Users

The increased visibility afforded by a protected intersection design doesn’t just reduce the number of right hook crashes; it makes all facets of navigation safer. 

For cyclists, protected intersections grant improved sight lines that make it easier to see oncoming traffic as well as any potential hazards. For motorists, the design minimizes blind spots to limit all sorts of accidents that can and do occur. Ultimately, this leads to a safer and more efficient travel experience for all users. 

a cyclist riding in a dedicated bike lane in a protected intersectionImage source: Canva

 

Why Hasn’t Everyone Adopted the Protected Intersection Design

With all these benefits, you might understandably be wondering why city transportation officials haven’t implemented protected intersections into their road networks. As with many things, however, it comes down to two things: cost and resistance to change. 

Building a protected intersection isn’t inexpensive when factoring in the additional concrete corner islands, signage, and signal systems. There are also the space requirements to consider as building one could require expanding existing roadways. 

Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that the protected intersection design is simply quite different from conventional bike intersections. Many developers and planners fear the pushback that could come with change. 

What’s important to remember is that saving lives is priceless—people will learn to embrace protected intersections when they see how it keeps them safe! 

 

Technology to Build Safer Intersections

Cyclists deserve to travel safely. By creating space for cyclists and helping them get ahead with intuitive signaling, the protected intersection design is something more cities should be open to implementing—it’s worth the effort. 

Increasing road safety for cyclists and all other travelers is multifaceted and requires a foundation of data. Miovision’s products and platform provide municipalities with the tools they need to better understand their intersections and identify opportunities for improvement. We arm you with the data you need to inform actionable change. 

Contact us today to start building safer intersections!