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Colored lanes aren’t just safe, they send a message

Denver’s 15th Street bike lane is the latest in a growing trend around the world to paint bike lanes in bright colors. These bright markings make cycling safer, by reminding car drivers to watch out for cyclists when driving across bike lanes. That’s a great benefit, and it works, but there’s a second benefit, that’s as big a deal for non-cyclists as it is to cyclists.


Green paint on Seattle’s Broadway cycletrack.

The broader benefit to green-painted bike lanes is simple: They send the clearest-possible message that roads are not only for cars.

Despite a century of sharing roads, and despite the fact that people walked, biked, and rode trolleys in streets long before most people owned cars, there’s a strong entitlement mentality among some drivers that roads are only for cars. A 5 second google search turns up plenty of examples.

Green-painted bike lanes accomplish what a white stripe next to the parking lane cannot. They proclaim loudly and clearly that streets are not merely sewers for traffic, through which to funnel as many cars as possible to the detriment of all else, but rather they’re fully multimodal public spaces. Colored bike lanes send the message that drivers are welcome to use roads just like everyone else, but must not expect to have roads completely to themselves.

These painted lanes are public relations features as much as they are safety features, and that matters.

Incidentally, the trick works for transit too.


Red-painted bus lanes in New York. Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid.

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6 Comments

  1. Cyclehead says:

    Should we use “Lanes of Color”?

  2. mckillio says:

    Great article and it really reinforces that the 15th street bike lane should be painted for its entirety and not just at intersections. I also like how crosswalks in Denver have started to be converted to red, this something we should continue to do.

  3. Overload in CO says:

    Does the paint change the traction available? I’ve ridden over some very slick road markings in the past, especially when wet.

  4. JC says:

    Protected (and painted) bike lanes do more than just send a message, they are safer. Last night I was driving down 15th and there were numerous cars and taxis that simply took the bike lane down multiple blocks because they were irritated with traffic. It has already been pointed out that the lane regularly has vehicles parked in it. Denver needs to do a better job of sending a message that the bike lane on 15th is for bikes only by painting it the entire way and putting up bollards sooner rather than later.

    I also agree that the painting of crosswalks sends a sign that these are spaces for pedestrians and reminds cars to stop behind them and not in them. It’d be great if Denver did something fun with their crosswalks, like adding some hopscotch crosswalks near parks or schools and some other art oriented crosswalks in areas frequented by tourists or our art districts. Bring attention and people to our streets and remind the average user that they are more than just efficient means of movement for vehicles.

  5. Dan says:

    Almost every other day I see people biking down 15th or 14th and aren’t using the lanes at all. Is there a way that these can be enforced?

    • Aylene says:

      The bicyclists don’t have to use the lanes. They can use any of the lanes in the right of way. The lanes are provided to give them a safer alternative, which is critical to attracting a larger population who will consider bicycling, but they are not required to use them.