Memphis Constructing First Protected Bike Lane

Following Mayor Wharton’s May 2013 commitment to constructing 15 miles of protected bike lanes over 24 months, the city’s Division of Engineering is underway with the inaugural facility along a recently repaved section of Overton Park Avenue, from Bellevue to Cleveland (about 0.3 miles in length). This protected bike lane contains new features not currently seen in bikeways in Memphis, and represents the cutting edge of design and innovation seen throughout the country.BBL_Crosssection

The term “protected” bike lane is derived from the placement of the bike lane behind some sort of barrier that separates the movement of bicycles from the movement of automobiles. In the case of Overton Park Avenue, the barrier is a combination of a painted “buffer zone” and the relocation of on-street parking 10ft from curbside. In the absence of automobiles parked on the street, moving automobiles will travel approximately 11ft from the moving bicycles, separated by the open area for parking and the delineated buffer space. When automobiles utilize the on-street parking, the parked cars create an added physical barrier separating the movements of bikes and automobiles.

IMG_0883Under this new design, key attention is placed on how cyclists and automobiles interact at intersections and driveways. You’ll find that the treatments along this protected bike lane provide additional features to bring more awareness and visibility to cyclists and automobiles than currently exists at any other bike lanes in the city. First, at all major intersection, you will find the application of green paint. The green paint is utilized to alert both motorists and cyclists of the likelihood that one of the other modes could be crossing each other at that location. In that, the green paint serves as a method to remind all road users to be cautious and look before turning. Second, at all minor driveways, you’ll find a chevron marking created to provide the same alertness to motorists and cyclists, but at locations where the likelihood of interaction is minimal throughout a normal day. In some case, like busy business entrances, you will find both green paint and the chevron combined.


A cyclist approaches the shared bike/right-turn lane. The movement is marked with green paint.

One of the biggest culprits of bicycle accidents is known as the “right hook.” Under this scenario, cyclists may be traveling through an intersection or stopped and waiting to proceed straight, when an automobile makes a right-hand turn, sideswiping the cyclist. Two new key features of this protected bike lane are designed to minimize the likelihood of this accident occurring. First, at Overton Park Ave. and Cleveland you will find a “shared bike/right-turn lane.” The green paint clearly marks where cyclists should be riding and positions them away from the curb, which prevents automobiles from making sweeping right turns into a cyclist. Additionally, this shared bike/right turn lane  encourages automobiles and bicyclists to line up behind one another at the intersection instead of side-by-side.

On the other side of the protected bike lane, at Bellevue, the city chose to implement what is known as a “mixing zone” due to the unique configuration of the intersection and the fact that the only movements are left and right turns. Under this scenario, automobiles that wish to turn left will simply stay in the traveling lane, stop, and make the left turn when clear. If an automobile wants to turn right, it will have to turn slightly to the right, yield to oncoming cyclists, and cautiously enter a shared area for moving bicycles and right turning automobiles. The slight right-hand movement forces automobiles to slow when approaching the intersection and yield marking indicate the right-of-way for cyclists. Cyclists approaching the intersection through the mixing zone may turn left or right at this intersection as there will be no automobile turning movements to contend with. As is the same with the shared bike/right turn lane, the mixing zone prevents the automobile from making sweeping right turns into a cyclist and encourages automobiles and bicyclists to line up at the intersection instead of operating side-by-side.


A “mixing zone” like the one shown here will be installed at Bellevue and Overton Park Ave.

The good news for residents along Overton Park Avenue is that on-street parking is still allowed with the protected bike lanes. We’ve had to restrict some of the parking located closest to the major intersections in order to keep visibility a priority, but overall, parking will occur much the same as it had previously. When parking on Overton Park Ave:BBL_complete

1. Park in the floating parking lane located between the buffer zone and the travel lane.

2. Walk in the buffer zone to the nearest cross walk to get to the curb.

3. Look for cyclists when crossing the protected bike lane if walking directly to the curb.

This protected bike lane is still currently under construction, and may take several more weeks to complete. Like any new bike lane, it will take a little time for all road users, cyclists and motorists, to be accustomed to the new design and for it to properly be used. The best course of action is remain patient and vigilant as we roll out various methods of informing everyone about how best to operate under the new markings.

Since 2012, Memphis has been one of six US cities participating in the Green Lane Project. Learn more about green lanes here.