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How to Make Bike Paths and Pedestrian Pathways Safer

A bicyclist riding through a city

The condition of bike paths and pedestrian walkways is an issue of public safety. It’s the difference between a pleasant ride around the block and a potential accident, easily avoidable with the proper precautions. Of course, not everyone knows how to make bike paths and pedestrian walkways safer.

The subject isn’t as simple as some may think. Older pedestrians often have poor motor skills that limit their ability to cross the street or navigate an area. Young children have similar issues, walking at a slower pace than adults, and these vulnerable groups of people create problems if you don’t account for their limitations.

Fortunately, you have many methods to improve the safety of bike paths and pedestrian walkways in your corner of Pennsylvania. When you place greater importance on promoting safe walking and cycling, you’ll mitigate risk and reduce accidents in your area. In truth, the issue is more extensive than many believe.

The Dangers of Pedestrian Road Safety

The subject of pedestrian road safety deserves more attention than it receives. Some citizens see it as a problem of the past, something they no longer have to worry about with the security of modern markings. They inherently trust the traffic control devices in their area to maintain order and prevent issues.

Even with these devices, accidents are going to happen. The systems in place are far from perfect, and drivers and cyclists aren’t always aware of their surroundings. Their negligence — and the flaws in bike paths and pedestrian pathways — can create an unsafe environment with a high likelihood of accidents.

Traffic accidents in the United States were responsible for the deaths of 840 cyclists in 2016. Needless to say, communities across the nation have to prioritize the safety of cyclists in hopes of reducing these numbers, though they provide only a partial view of the bigger picture next to other statistics:

  • The 840 fatalities in 2016 represented an increase of 1.3% from the previous year.
  • Pedestrian fatalities were even greater, numbering 5,987 from accidents nationwide in 2016.
  • One pedestrian died every 1.5 hours on average as a result of a traffic accident in 2016.

Concerning the situation in Pennsylvania, it reflected the same trends in fatalities and injuries that year:

  • Pennsylvania had as many as 172 pedestrian fatalities, with an additional 4,218 injuries.
  • Pedestrians who were 19 and younger represented around 10% of all fatalities.
  • Pedestrians who were 65 and older represented around 20% of all fatalities.
  • The majority of cycling injuries occurred while navigating an intersection.
  • The number of fatalities spiked between 2015 and 2016.

So what can we learn from these startling statistics, and how can we work to preempt this type of problem?

Pennsylvania Bike and Pedestrian Pathway Laws

The state of Pennsylvania places bicycles in the same category as vehicles and treats them accordingly. As context, Pennsylvania defines a vehicle as, “Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway…” Pennsylvania also considers them “pedalcycles.”

A bicyclist passing a car in a city

A pedalcycle is a more broad way of saying “bicycle” with an almost identical definition: “A vehicle propelled solely by human-powered pedal or a pedalcycle with electric assist.” When reviewing the regulations for pedalcycles, cyclists have to conform to Pennsylvania bike path laws and related rules and regulations.

Many cyclists are familiar with these rules — remaining on the right side of the road, for example. They know to travel at a speed less than the speed of traffic, as close as practical to the edge of the roadway or the right-hand curb. That said, cyclists need to leave the right-hand curb in certain situations:

  • The cyclist is overtaking and passing a vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
  • The cyclist is preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a driveway, private road or alley.

However, these requirements don’t always apply. The exceptions above aren’t relevant in the following scenarios:

  • The cyclist is using any portion of available roadway because of unsafe surface conditions.
  • The cyclist is using a roadway that has a width of not more than one lane of traffic in each direction.

Citizens need to adhere to similar rules for road safety as well. As an example, Pennsylvania requires the driver of a motor vehicle to leave four feet of space when passing a cyclist, doing so at a reduced speed. Pennsylvania is the only state with a four-feet passing law under all circumstances.

In addition to safe passing laws, drivers who are turning right cannot cross the path of a cyclist who’s riding near the right edge of the roadway. Since drivers rarely look in their right mirror before making a right turn, this section serves as a critical precaution to protect cyclists from a right-turning vehicle.

Distracted driving laws are another precaution, and just as important. They restrict the use of an interactive wireless communications device — like a smartphone — during the operation of a motor vehicle on a roadway. When that vehicle’s in motion, the driver can’t read, write or send a text-based communication.

Beyond these regulations, other Pennsylvanian laws apply:

  • Cyclists can ride on the shoulder of a highway traveling in the same direction as traffic.
  • Cyclists on a roadway shouldn’t ride more than two abreast except on designated paths and parts of the roadway.
  • Cyclists must have a front lamp emitting white light, red reflectors on the back and amber reflectors on either side.
  • Cyclists on sidewalks have to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before passing.
  • Cyclists can’t ride on sidewalks in a business district without the relevant traffic control devices or when a bike lane is available.
  • Cyclists or passengers on a bicycle under the age of 12 have to wear a protective bicycle helmet.
  • Cyclists under age 16 cannot ride “e-bikes.”
  • Cyclists cannot wear ear buds or headphones.
  • Cyclists cannot ride under the influence.
  • Drivers cannot open their doors if it interferes with traffic.

Failure to acknowledge the summarized guidelines in this section can result in fines.

Advantages of Color Safe Bike Lanes for Pedestrian Safety

A bicyclist riding under a tree

You’re likely familiar with many of the laws in the previous section, but sometimes, these laws aren’t enough. If a community wants to ensure the safety of its cyclists and pedestrians, it can invest in colored pavement for its bicycle lanes. The benefits of colored bike paths make them a popular addition:

  • Increased visibility of cyclists
  • Increased instances of motorist yielding
  • Increased cyclist comfort through a defined space
  • Decreased bicycle conflicts with turning motorists
  • Decreased likelihood of illegal parking in a bike lane
  • Promotes the multi-modal structure of the corridor
  • Raises motorist and cyclist awareness of potential areas of conflict

How & Where Should Colored Bike & Pedestrian Lanes be Used? 

Concerning the use of these colored pavement markings, you can employ them in a diverse variety of settings. It depends on your specific requirements — and areas of conflict — but you’ll find many situations in which this safety feature is relevant. The applications below are some of the most common:

  • Bicycle lanes or cycle tracks
  • Vehicle right turn lanes and similar turning conflict areas
  • Intersections, whether wide or complex where the path is unclear
  • Driveways and stop- or yield-controlled cross-streets
  • Where vehicle movements encroach into a cyclist’s space
  • Along an entire corridor, with gaps to indicate crossing areas

Why Use Green Colored Bike Paths?

In addition to the benefits and applications of pavement markings, the color of the markings also matters. You need them to appear visible to both vehicles and non-vehicles while preserving the aesthetic of the area. Fortunately, you can clearly delineate your bike lanes without sacrificing your town or city’s visual appeal.

Many customers choose green pavement markings when they make the necessary adjustments. Naturally, those who are interested in the markings often ask, Why are bike paths green? It separates them from other traffic control markings, minimizing confusion and maximizing the visibility of the path.

That said, the path isn’t an unbroken shade of green without any variation. The standard white lines appear on either side of the green lane, providing a frame of reference for cyclists while remaining consistent with other markings. It also assists with nighttime visibility to ensure safety at all hours of the day.

When a cyclist is passing through an area later in the day, they need these high-visibility features to keep them on their course. In acknowledgment of the increased risk, the green pavement markers and white lines are bright and easy to distinguish from a cyclist’s surroundings, day or night.

Furthermore, your city can and should include a “Yield to Bikes” sign at the intersections or driveway crossings where colored markings are present. This recommended feature reinforces the function of the bike paths, illustrating that cyclists have the right-of-way in colored bike lane areas.

When looking at the design of green bike paths, the composition of the surface material also deserves attention. On the subject of visibility, it should have retro-reflective elements that stand out to drivers as they’re navigating an area. A skid-resistant surface is also necessary for safety.

Though the material itself requires a certain degree of maintenance, it has strong color retention and a low life-cycle cost. It can withstand bike traffic and vehicle traffic, retaining its visibility through inclement weather and extreme conditions. However, it’s essential to treat the paths as you would any other marking.

How Pedestrian Pathways Can Be Safer

A bike lane under construction

A public works department and related organizations can preserve pedestrian pathways with regular maintenance. They should attend to them as they would their bike paths, removing trash, broken glass and similar debris which might compromise the safety of citizens. It’s a small measure, but crucial nonetheless.

Planning professionals can also design infrastructure that’s friendly to pedestrians. They should give thought to the benefits of colored bike paths — but they should also look at the solutions available for people who prefer to walk. Many methods can ensure their continued safety:

  1. Improved lighting: An investment in an area’s lighting will enhance visibility and reduce the risk of accidents. Pay special attention to intersections and crossings — areas where pedestrians, cyclists and drivers pass through a shared section of the roadway.
  2. Raised crossings: The addition of raised crossings in an area will separate the flow of traffic from walkways. Pedestrians remain safe in an elevated area as the drivers beneath them enjoy an unimpeded roadway where they don’t have to stop or slow down.
  3. Paved shoulders: Though it may seem like an obvious precaution, not every roadway has paved shoulders where a pedestrian can walk. In these areas, planning professionals should install or widen shoulders, so drivers have a better understanding of their boundaries.

A combination of these features will significantly increase the safety of citizens. With the convenience of improved lighting, raised crossings, paved shoulders and, of course, colored markings, pedestrians can traverse a busy intersection with confidence. Then again, these aren’t the only strategies at your disposal.

Some communities will lower the speed limit at intersections to limit the frequency and severity of accidents. Naturally, when a driver is passing through an area at a reduced speed, they’re less likely to harm a pedestrian. If they hit a pedestrian, that person will have a far better chance of recovering from the incident.

According to data from Bloomberg Philanthropies, a 25% reduction in speed results in an 80% reduction in risk. That’s the difference between a driver going 40 miles per hour and a driver going 30 miles per hour. Taking just 10 miles per hour off the speed limit in a high-risk area can save a person’s life.

Best of all, this is a comparatively low-cost adjustment next to other options. Though an investment in lighting or a raised crossing is well worth the cost, a community can make a difference with smaller changes — like bollards or separate paths for coming and going. Accident prevention is possible without spending a substantial sum of money.

On that point, a public works department can preserve the safety of the general public through the continuous management of existing infrastructure. Simple corrections like repainted lane markings will enhance visibility, and smooth, even pavement will allow for easy driving and fewer issues.

In short, a roadway that’s safer for drivers is safer for pedestrians. How you address this particular issue is your decision, but it’s essential to remember you have a variety of safety measures for roadway bike paths and pedestrian pathways. Even on a limited budget, these solutions are often accessible.

Why Pathway Safety Is Good for Everyone

A public works department will maintain its pathways for numerous reasons. Among these reasons, the obvious motivation is risk management. When citizens can safely walk along roadways and ride bikes, a community will enjoy a far lower rate of traffic accidents and fatalities than other areas in their region.

Communities will also encounter less congestion in their walkways and roadways. A person who would otherwise pass an area on foot may choose to ride their bike if they have access to designated paths. The same holds true for drivers, who may see the paths as an opportunity to exercise and save money.

As an example, Arlington, Va., saw a 15% to 20% decline in traffic on several of its arterial streets. The most significant reductions were in areas that provided more freedom for cyclists and pedestrians. It likely wouldn’t prove too challenging to replicate those results in a Pennsylvanian town or city.

These towns and cities would also see an improvement in the overall disposition of their residents. They’d naturally feel less anxious traveling from place to place with the security of new traffic control devices, whether they take the form of green bike paths, paved shoulders, raised crossings or a similar feature.

Of course, these additions have advantages that aren’t immediately apparent. A citizen who decides to walk or ride their bike instead of drive will save an enormous amount of money in health care expenses. Cycling for just half an hour each day can decrease the probability of the following issues:

  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Colon cancer

Clearly, an investment in increasing bike path safety is a smart choice. The residents of a community will feel happier and healthier, helping themselves as they help the planet. Their reduced reliance on motor vehicles will gradually decrease the carbon emissions of an area, improving the quality of the air and the quality of life.

It’s difficult to believe a green bike path can bring about so much change, but something as simple as pavement paint can truly make an enormous difference. More than safety measures, the solutions above represent a commitment to the well-being of residents and an alignment with Pennsylvanian values.

Take the Next Step in Pedestrian Safety – Call D.E. Gemmill for a Free Estimate on Colored Bike Paths in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, & Delaware

If you’re concerned over the condition of the bike paths and walkways in your area, reach out. Take photos, videos and notes, and send them to local government staff, decision-makers and other community members. Raise awareness of the problem.

That said, your planning, transportation or public works department may already know about the issue. If so, you can provide input on how to make pathways safer, referencing the information from this article to inform your suggestions.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is in the process of developing an updated “Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan” to improve conditions for walking and cycling across the state. It’s a prime opportunity to present information and effect change in your community.

If you are responsible for pedestrian safety, contact D.E. Gemmill to learn about the latest in colored bike paths and bike path safety, and ask for a free estimate for our colored bike path services.

a pedestrian roadway

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