Orange County Branch Newsletter

October 2017

ASCE OC Sustainability Committee

Class IV Bikeways, a New Way to Ride

By Rock Miller, Senior Principal, Transportation Planning & Traffic Engineering at Stantec Consulting Services Inc.

For decades, many European cities have developed networks of special bikeways within and between their urban areas.  These systems go by many names, including cycle tracks, separated bikeways, and protected bikeways, among other titles.  In the US, title Class IV Bikeways – a systems approach defined by placing physical separations between the lanes designated for bicyclists and motorists – are emerging to follow the established sequence of Class I, II, and III Bikeways.  In fact, California has moved to standardize around the title, Class IV, in legislation, and Caltrans is producing or revising its design guides to help implement these bikeways in our State.

Bicycle usage in European cities and countries with extensive (Class IV) cycle track networks are many times higher than usage anywhere in the US.  Between 35-50 percent of all commuting trips are made by bicycle in cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.  While bikeway networks alone don’t explain their popularity, these special transportation systems are generally seen as safer and more comfortable by potential cyclists with concerns regarding exposure to open traffic.

One Concept, Many Forms

The physical separations used in Class IV Bikeways can take many forms, including a difference in elevation with a curb or separation by strategically placed planter boxes.  Additional solutions can include raised median barriers, a line of parked cars, or plastic delineator posts within a striped buffer.  In all cases, the barrier is designed to separate moving vehicles from bicycles in a manner that is more effective than traffic paint lines.


Class IV Cycle Track next to parking, New York                       Separated raised Class IV Bike Lane, Portland OR

While Class IV bikeways may seem similar to existing bike trails sitting adjacent to Irvine and south Orange County roadways, there are important differences.  Class IV Bikeways are normally located closer to the roadway than sidewalks.  They also generally are designed to pass through controlled intersections with treatments that are distinctly different than pedestrian traffic WALK/DON’T WALK signals.   Finally, they are often built on surfaces that were formerly part of the roadway with the same alignment and grade as the traffic lanes. 

Growing Throughout and Above the US

Many major US cities are in the early stages of implementing Class IV bikeways, especially in their downtowns, where bicycling has the greatest promise for growth and reduction in motor vehicle traffic.  The first modern cycle tracks in the US were built in New York City on several of the one-way streets in Manhattan.  Long Beach was quick to follow the lead of New York with their Class IV bikeways in the city’s downtown along Broadway and Third Street. Similarly-designed systems are also surfacing in nearby Redondo Beach and Temple City.  In Orange County, The City of Santa Ana is implementing cycle track facilities in their downtown and transit areas, and the County of Orange is in the design phase of a four-mile Class IV facility along Hazard Avenue, spanning multiple jurisdictions.


The two-year old facility near the Redondo Beach Pier is used by about 1 million bicycle trips per year and is heavily used during the summer

Major cities throughout Canada are taking an even more aggressive approach to emulate the European networks. There is municipal competition between Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa to establish the most successful network, with many other Canadian cities looking to follow.  Montreal has a head start in this race, because they began building a cycle track network more than 20 years ago. More recently, the Albertan City of Calgary, has seen bicycle commuting grow to 10 percent in nearby neighborhoods that are well connected to the city’s downtown in less than two years. 

Cycle Track with controlled intersection, Calgary, Canada

A State, Federal Conversation

The State of California is making a strong and ongoing financial commitment to development of Class IV separated bikeways and better bicycle infrastructure.  The State has established a goal to triple bicycling in the future, which should be easily accomplished considering the existing benchmark of less than 1 percent participation.  Based upon experience in other states, many communities and many residential areas of other communities should be able to achieve over 10 percent bicycling through provision of good infrastructure and a little encouragement.  Class IV Bikeways achieve the infrastructure goal, and a little publicity about their opening helps with encouragement.

The combined State and Federal Active Transportation Program (ATP) has provided funding for pedestrian and bicycling improvements over the past five years.  The program was designed to favor disadvantaged communities in the past, but the priority system is being refined.  More importantly, the recent gasoline tax increase through Assembly Bill (AB) 1 is bringing $100s of millions into the ATP program in future years.  Agencies with goals to increase bicycling should carefully consider identifying projects that will compete for ATP funding. 

The scoring system for ATP projects often appears to favor agencies that nominate more costly projects, as long as there is clear justification and benefits for bicycling.  In contrast, simple road restriping projects to create minimal width bicycle lanes, especially on heavily used fast streets, may not score as well as projects featuring Class IV facilities in comparable settings.  Recent project scorings have clearly shown that the reviewers prefer Class IV facilities and projects that have a greater potential for increasing bicycling (or walking). 

In the past, there has been reluctance in the US to move toward construction of Class IV facilities due to potential safety concerns, especially at intersections.   Modern design techniques for cycle tracks have alleviated these safety concerns, but it is important for designers to study and consider newer techniques to reduce conflicts especially between through bicyclists and turning vehicles.  The Europeans have solved this problem with special intersection designs that can include traffic signals exclusively for bicycles and innovative channelization treatments.  These are beginning to appear with newer designs that are being opened across the US. 

Separated and controlled intersection, Copenhagen, Denmark

There is a lot of information available to help plan and design Class IV Bikeways on the internet.  Caltrans has prepared a brief design guide that integrates the design process with State design standards, plans and code requirements.  They are also presenting half-day training classes up and down the state.  More detailed guides are available from FHWA, the State of Massachusetts, and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).  Non-profit organizations such as People for Bikes also provide useful information.

Related Groups/Committees