Example of a bike lane on the Second Street Bridge (BS Diagram)
Example of a bike lane on the Second Street Bridge (BS Diagram)
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Last summer, Vancouver installed a test protected bike lane on one of their bridges, and now they have seen a 30 percent increase in cycling. Despite some sharrows painted on Louisville’s Second Street Bridge, cycling across the span can feel pretty dangerous and this perception has been a deterrent to many cyclists.

I have never tried to bike across the bridge for just that reason, but every time I walk across, it’s still a little death-defying as motorists routinely ignore the posted speed limit and fly by at amazing speeds. This seems especially true of dump truck drivers who often use the bridge (or perhaps it’s just the sheer mass of their vehicles).

The only time the bridge is really congested is during the rush hours. The rest of the time it’s wide open, which has the effect of inducing speeding. Sure, the Big Four Pedestrian & Bike Bridge will open sometime, but that’s over a mile and a half away from the intersection of Second and Main Streets.

But what if we followed Vancouver’s example and tried out a protected bike lane? Because the bridge is relatively narrow at four lanes, it would be important to implement reversible lanes to maintain auto capacity. Congestion only occurs in one direction, so one lane in the opposite direction for the rush hours shouldn’t be a big deal.

During the morning rush hour, two lanes would flow from the Indiana side into Louisville and in the afternoon, two lanes would flow from Louisville to Southern Indiana. While motorists are stuck in traffic, cyclists would have a clear, protected path to breeze by stopped cars. (The protected bike lane would also get timid cyclists off the already-too-narrow sidewalks as well.)

Second Street Bridge with a bike lane (BS File Photo)
Second Street Bridge with a bike lane. (Branden Klayko / Broken Sidewalk)

Above is what the Second Street Bridge looks like today and an example of what the protected bike lane could look like. A jersey barrier would be installed to block off a lane for bikes which would then be divided in two to create a distinct lane for each direction.

I believe positioning the lane on the west side of the bridge would be ideal as the intersection with Main Street on the Louisville side would avoid more turning conflicts and feed directly into the arena site. There are similar benefits on the Southern Indiana side.

What do you think of a dedicated lane? Is it a good idea that would increase safety and ridership or way too idealistic or just generally a bad idea? It would be more difficult to install on a test basis as it would require the configuration of a reversible lane system, but could the region benefit from such an innovation?

If you don’t now, would you be more likely to ride your bike across the bridge with a protected lane? Or if you already do, would you feel safer with the lane?

StreetFilms put together a look at the Vancouver trial. It took Vancouver 15 years to implement the lane after residents began to petition for it, but after almost a year, Streetfilms says “most are happy with the implementation and residents favor continuing the trial by a margin of 2 to 1.”

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Branden Klayko


  1. I have been riding this bridge regularly and have had similar ideas. The only issue is whether the bridge is too narrow to comply with AASHTO standards for bike lanes. A protected lane may help eliminates some of the spacing requirements.

  2. Branden, I like the flex lane configuration (the one on the right), but what would you think about the bike lanes being separated – one on each side of the three lanes of auto traffic?

  3. I think such a proposal is a great idea. I was miffed with the “deal with the devil” in which funding for the Big Four bridge completion was earmarked and advanced in exchange for the removal of bike/pedestrian facilities from the planned future downtown bridge. (Of course, I would hope such a bridge is never, ever constructed, but that’s another issue).

    Many cyclists widely view the 2nd St bridge as all but impassible–at least safely. I will cross it, but it takes every ounce of my large reserve of nerves. Requiring a road-warrior mentality to cross the (only) bridge is no way to encourage cycling. The sharrows don’t help. The juxtaposition of the purple ‘Bicycle-Friendly Community’ sign on the Louisville side with the car tire-worn, largely-ignored sharrows is unfortunate. And neither do much to bring back the color to cyclists’ white knuckles.

    There are many “barriers” to cycling in the area, but the inability to cross the Ohio safely seems huge to me. However, I have no idea of cross-state ridership–current or potential. Maybe a survey is in order?

    I am a fan of dedicated bike infrastructure–be it dedicated paths, physical separation, or simply striped lanes. The 2nd St bridge seems to be a good example of the failure of sharrows (at least on this particular roadway and with our populations’ mentality/ignorance of traffic control).

  4. I thought about the possibility of putting a lane in each direction, JC, but I opted for the layout described above for a couple reasons. With both lanes on one side, it created a larger entire bike space (9-10 feet wide instead of 4-5 feet wide – the width of one car lane less the width of a jersey barrier).

    There would be a stripe down the middle to assist with organizing different flow directions, but at times when there’s a larger group or family cycling together and no one is going the opposite direction, the wider lane would allow side-by-side cycling. Even cycling alone, a wider lane might feel more comfortable.

    The other big reason is the ability to turn around while on the middle of the bridge. With both lanes on one side, a cyclist could potentially ride to the center of the bridge and decide to turn back safely. If the lanes were on opposite sides, the cyclist would be required to lift his or her bike over two jersey barriers and run across three lanes of traffic to turn back.

    Putting a lane on the east side of the bridge also has some conflict issues at the Louisville base of the bridge at Main Street, but those could be worked out if necessary.

    The biggest benefit I see for a lane on each side is that the sidewalks on both sides are protected by jersey barriers. A slight downside is that on a narrow bridge, another jersey barrier takes up space that could otherwise go toward an extra foot or 1.5 feet of bike lane.

    Any other considerations I overlooked?

  5. Good points on keeping two lanes together on one side, Branden. Not sure if the flow of bicycle traffic mirrors that of autos but, assuming it did, cyclists meeting one another heading opposite directions would be rare anyway (mostly in-bound morning, reverse for the afternoon). A single bi-directional bike lane would seem to work fine.

  6. I’d like to see real money applied to River Road with bike lanes all the way to Prospect. 4-wheelers are waaayy to rude on that road.

  7. I can see the appeal of a protected bike lane to non-cyclists and cyclists with little experience, but I think it is misguided. Like other forms of segregation, seperate bike lanes create classes, in this case of travelers, and end up with one group ceding rights and convenience. In many cases bike lanes are clearly more dangerous than just riding on the street, and not just because they give inexperienced riders a false sense of security. I favor making the motorists do the ceding, on grounds that they squander more resources than they need to. I think cycling would be safe in the existing lanes on the bridge if motorists obeyed the speed limit, or — better — if the speed limit were lowered to 25 mph and then they obeyed it. Dirk Goin says egineering studies show that the least effective way of slowing traffic is to lower the speed limit, though, so more drastic measures need to be taken. I think a special task force of police with representatives from both sides of the river should undertake special projects from time to time, accompanied by a lot of publicity, to make speeding on the bridge really hurt the speeder. There should be signs all across the bridge like those in construction zones on Interstates that promise double fines for speeding. If that doesn’t work, triple them. If that doesn’t work, speed bumps. The offending behavior on the bridge is wilful, and it should be met with wilful enforcement.

  8. The only reason I support bike lanes is because they increase bicycle ridership. This has been scientifically proven.

    In reality every lane is a bike lane.

  9. Joe,
    See your point (and certainly respect your bicycling credentials!), but old habits die hard (in the case of motorists) and old fears and superstitions (in the case of would-be new cyclists) have a habit of sticking around. While I agree that cohabitation of the roadways is the rightful and most progressive way to promote cycling/sustainability/congestion relief/etc, motorists will remain crazy and selfish for a while to come. And fear of said motorists will not disappear overnight.

    In a town that still notoriously gives directions based on long-defunct stores and landmarks (take a right at the old Bacon’s), sharrows and rigorous traffic/speed enforcement could take a decade to substantively change behavior of longtime residents.

    Protected (and, yes (though I don’t like the concept), segregated) bike lanes might just change our scene a little quicker. Don’t get me wrong…the ultimate aspiration should be as you describe; peaceful sharing and coexistence. But, no matter how good the PR, I don’t think news that Clark Memorial Bridge speed limits are to be better enforced will cause a groundswell of new, bridge-crossing cyclists. A bike lane just might, though.

  10. Edit to above: "(in fact, ours goes further, if you consider the fact that we who drive less exert less wear and tear)" should read "(in fact, ours goes further, if you consider the fact that we who ride when we could drive less exert less wear and tear)"

  11. I agree with Brent’s assessment — while in reality every lane is a bike lane, marked bike lanes do increase ridership. They also act as ‘nurseries’ (I’m thinking more like the protected pools where fish fry live than the neonatal unit) for new cyclists who don’t yet feel confident riding in traffic, and who might otherwise not ride at all.

    When I first started riding in the city, I thought Louisville drivers were wildly aggressive, and I clung to our alleys, bike lanes, and bike paths like they were life rafts. I’m now an extremely confident road-going cyclist who holds his own in the general flow of traffic (and still enjoys the bike paths on weekend rambles or where they make good shortcuts). I’ve ridden the 2nd Street Bridge crossing on occasion, but I doubt I would’ve done it as a new rider.

    Where bike lanes are concerned — I see them as a sort of ‘happy medium.’ In the short range, they’ll get more cyclists on the road. In the long range, as more people ride and drivers grow accustomed to us, they can be removed.

    My only other concern is that non-cycling drivers will see this as another attempt by ‘those pushy, selfish bikers’ to deprive them of ‘their’ road space (an extension, perhaps, of the ‘you’ll never take my car, you pinko commie’ logic that’s floating around out there).

    A great number of a certain group of drivers don’t seem to realize that many (perhaps most) cyclists also drive (and as such pay gas taxes, etc) now and then, and most of us work and pay taxes that, in part, are used to build and maintain roads. There’s a perception that their money pays for the roads, but not ours (in fact, ours goes further, if you consider the fact that we who drive less exert less wear and tear). One hopes that polite discourse might help, but people tend to ‘get heated’ about topics like this before the opportunity for polite discourse has arisen.

  12. I found this post while asking Google for something almost unrelated: can I have a chart showing bike ridership over time? ( Has it gone up or down? How does it compare to gas prices, long term? ) But I find myself riding on a lot of bridges in Seattle, so if you don't mind, I'll try answering your question.

    First, riding on the sidewalk is much, much more dangerous than on the street. Bridges with only the sidewalks open to bikes are bad news. They aren't as dangerous as normal sidewalks, because there aren't intersections on a bridge … but you're still dodging and menacing pedestrians.

    The diagram looks like an improvement for most cyclists, although at the expense of angering or enraging motorists. My only problems with bike lanes are that they aren't maintained like the rest of the street, and that they're usually in the door zone; being on a bridge would fix #2, and probably #1 also. With a physical divider, I think most cyclists would be comfortable enough to take this bridge regularly. The bike path on I-90 ( 60 mph posted limit ) gets plenty of use.

    I generally will "take the lane" and ride more or less where the sharrows are. This prevents cars passing you at 30 mph with inches of clearance … any fault in the road surface, or anything else that causes either the car/truck or the bike to swerve, can be fatal. And the law allows a bike to ride anywhere in the lane for safety, at least in my state. However, bridges and other bottlenecks tend to make drivers more aggressive. While many cyclists get used to this, it keeps others in their car who might otherwise be on a bike.

  13. Also, dangerous (for cyclists) expansion joints could be better addressed on a dedicated lane. Maybe a small ramp over preserving the function of the joint.

  14. I like your proposal. When I look carefully, I'm always surprised how much bike/ped activity is on the bridge.

    With all due respect to Joe's opinion, we're in a state that considers ineffective traffic law enforcement a civil right. The legislature has structured matters so that police get no economic incentive to enforce traffic regulations. And forget about speed enforcement cameras! In such a situation, we have few options for sustainably changing driver behavior.

    I think we can somewhat accomodate Joe's concerns by simply allowing wheelchair users onto the facility as well. They can actually pass some cyclists on the uphill, with their battery assist. They're currently screwed and have no way to cross the river (the sidewalks are not wheelchair accessible).

    The plus for cyclists? Then the facility is no longer "marked for the exclusive use of bicyclists". Why is that important? See 601 KAR 14:020. Cyclists could then use the general purpose lanes or the separated facility at their discretion.

    I don't like the 2nd street bridge as is. My friends don't feel comfortable travelling with me. And honestly, I don't particularly like it either.

    We've already lost two cyclists on this bridge to incompetent driving. That's extremely costly to society – total damages perhaps on the order of $6m. Not to mention the loss of economic opportunity from having an accessible bicycle cross-river link for all these years. It seems to me this plan would pay for itself.

  15. @Brent – It looks like a good plan to me, but I can just hear the highway engineers citing chapter and verse all the reasons why they can’t or won’t do it. Years down the road you might get action. I have used the Clark Bridge traffic lanes, both day and night – even during rush hour. The sharows and signs are largely ignored by motorists and most of the sharows are worn off. I believe recruitment is the best plan. We need large groups of cyclists actually creating demand for facilities before anyone will take cycling for transportation seriously. When you have thousands of bicycles using the bridge each day, you may get action. Sadly, serious injuries and even death on the bridge hasn’t changed much of anything. The sharows fade and are rarely repainted. Posted speed limits are generally ignored. Cyclists, as a constituency, don’t have numbers big enough to matter. “You have to be crazy to ride across that bridge,” is the response I usually get. And when that’s the prevailing attitude, who’s going to take these projects seriously? Recruit thousands of citizens to take the risk and Occupy Bike Seats. Then you’ll see change. Read my manifesto at http://OccupyBikeSeats.com.