In talking about roads and bike lanes and all the other things that affect how we get from point A to point B while cycling, it’s clear that this blog needs a glossary. There are several terms and phrases, such as “take the lane” or cycletrack, that make sense once you’ve heard a definition, but that might not be immediately clear otherwise.
Transportation terminology is set by AASHTO – the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. Although I could cut and paste the AASHTO definitions here, I suspect that there are more terms defined than we really need to cover. And the descriptions, while thorough, aren’t always so user friendly. So what follows is the PedalFC Bike Glossary – personalized for day-to-day Front Range commuters. (With a couple of exceptions where I’ve quoted AASHTO because I don’t feel confident enough to write my own definition. When I say “Dummies like me” I mean it. I’m still learning this stuff.)
Let’s start with the umbrella term for much of what follows:
Bicycle Infrastructure: Bike trails, bike lanes, signage, etc., anything that’s used by the public for bicycle transportation is included under the overall heading of bike infrastructure. It refers to all of the structural pieces that vehicles, in this case bicycles, use for traveling.
So in my previous article on right hand turn lanes at the intersection of Harmony and Ziegler, it covered 4 types of bicycle infrastructure related to cyclists and motorists making right hand turns.
Bicycle Infrastructure Terms
Bikeway: Like roadway, bikeway is a catch-all terms that refers to any pavement that a bike might travel on. So bike trails, bike lanes, and travel lanes can all be bikeways.
Barriers to Travel: Anything that keeps someone from traveling by bicycle is a barrier to travel. So for cyclists that might be a steep hill, or a lack of connecting bike lanes, or even a fear of impatient motorists yelling obscenities at them.
Bicycle Facility: This terms seems to be used interchangeably with “bicycle infrastructure.” Anything that a public agency builds to encourage bicycling is considered a bicycle facility. Wayfinding signs, various types of striping for bikes or other changes to bike lanes, bicycle parking, etc. are all considered bicycle facilities. The only difference I’ve been able to tease out between infrastructure and facilities seems to be a matter of nuance. Infrastructure seems to include anything used when traveling by bike (even if it’s crappy infrastructure) whereas a facility seems to come with the implication that it’s going to make biking easier for those that use it. (Think of the Spanish word facil, which means easy. So a bike facility makes biking easier (or safer, or more pleasant).
Bollards: Bollards are posts that are used in pavement. They may be made of wood, metal, or plastic and they’re often screwed into place or installed in some other way that makes them easy to remove if needed. Plastic bollards tend to be more psychological than physical barriers as they bend when driven over. Bollards may be installed along a buffered bike lane to create an added feeling of enclosure or protection. Or they might be placed at the end of a bike lane or pedestrian area in order to keep out motor vehicles.
Bulb outs: Bulb outs are largely a pedestrian facility, but they do have the effect of helping to slow traffic somewhat, so they’ll be mentioned in posts on PedalFC along with other improvements being made to intersections. Bulb outs generally only happen at intersections. They’re created when the sidewalk is extended out into the intersection slightly. The intersection of Laurel and Remington will soon have bulb outs around the new traffic circle that is being installed. (See image to right.)
Chip Seal: By adding a chip seal to a road, it extends the life of the road at a cheaper cost than putting on an asphalt overlay. The combination of tar and rock chip can create a bumpy surface.
Classifications of Bike Facilities: There are four “classes” of bicycle facilities that are described by AASHTO with Class I being the most comfortable (Riders feel very safe on them.) and Class IV being something like a “at least you’ve got something” sort of level.
Class I – Separate Facility: Our bike trails would come under this level. For the most part, these trails are completely separated from motorized traffic.
Class II – Bike Lane: A part of the roadway (where cars are) that is designated for bicycles through the use of paint, signage, etc.
Class III – Bike Route: This appears to be an unmarked bike lane… which leaves me scratching my head. We have a couple of these around town and none of them seem particularly like good places for cyclists to inhabit, in my opinion. If you feel like you “get” bike routes, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Class IV – A Bike Friendly Street: Let me boil this one down to its nuts and bolts. Essentially it’s a street that’s not marked at all for a bicycle, but that has a curb and gutters that won’t kill you if you drive over them. I really think all this class has going for it is that it’s not as bad as W. Vine Street.
Cone of Vision: “The area of roadway and roadside visible to a cyclist when riding seated, with hands on the handlebars and eyes in the direction of travel.” (IBF definition)
Grade Separation: “1. Vertical isolation of travel ways through use of a structure so that traffic crosses without interference. 2. Spatial separation of two facilities.” (IBF definition)
Multi-Modal Travel: Cars aren’t the only way of getting around. There are multiple modes of travel — walking, cycling, skateboarding, jet packing, roller blading, Segwaying, and horseback riding (among other modes). We may not be able to widen streets, but we can shrink the size of vehicles by building a system that makes using other modes of travel as easy and safe as it is to travel by automobile.
Pavement Markings: This is just paint on the road that tells vehicles where they should be. But it’s not always right. There are times when bike lanes are painted into door zones and sharrows are positioned in places that encourage motorists to drive too close to cyclists. If the city paints it wrong, they’re apparently not liable if you follow the paint and end up getting injured or killed. So use your noodle and bike where it’s safe, especially if the paint is telling lies.
Right Sizing (AKA Road Diet): There are some streets that are two lanes in either direction, but there are no turn lanes to speak of. (Taft between Prospect and Elizabeth jumps immediately to mind.) A road diet takes a 4-lane road and turns it into a 2-lane road (one lane in each direction) and adds bike lanes and turn lanes. This often provides not only space for bicycles, but allows for a better flow of traffic for motorists as well. A very successful road diet was done on Laporte Avenue in 2010 that has greatly improved the traffic patterns along the street. Where once you were getting caught behind cars that were turning from within the traffic lanes, now those cars pull over to the right or left, allowing through traffic to move continuously along the street. Taft Hill Road, between Mulberry and Laporte, was “right sized” just this past month.
Sharrows: The symbol of a bicycle with two simple arrows indicates that a bicyclist should “take the lane” (see below). Sharrows should direct a cyclist to pedal about where they’d be if they were in the drivers seat of a motorized vehicle, but there are several parts of town where the sharrows have been painted too far to the right. Remember, don’t ride in the door zone. Even if the paint tells you to be there, the law says you should ride where you feel safest, and you’ll feel a lot safer outside of the door zone.
Traffic Calming: This term is used most often to refer to the management of motor traffic. In places where motorists might be tempted to travel faster than is safe (for themselves or others in the area) there are techniques that can be used to slow that traffic. Narrowing lanes, installing speed bumps, preventing through traffic and other changes can be made.
Warrant: “A minimum requirement for justifying the authorization of a traffic control device, for example; traffic volume, accident statistics and existing design.” (IBF definition)
Other Bicycle Terminology that Might be Helpful to Know
BAC – Bicycle Advisory Committee: Fort Collins has a Bicycle Advisory Committee that’s a subcommittee of the Transportation Board. Like other boards and commissions, anyone can apply for these positions, and members are selected by the City Council.
Saddle: This is just another word for a bike seat.
Taking the Lane (AKA Lane Control): When there is a bike lane, and it’s not in the door zone, then you may feel most comfortable riding there. But if you’re in a lane with sharrows (see definition above), or you’re in a lane that’s on the skinny side, then you’re safest if you “take the lane.” This means positioning yourself in the center of the lane. My rule of thumb is that if there’s room for the full width of a car, then a 3 foot cushion, then at least 3 or 4 feet for me, then I right to the right hand side of the lane. But if squeezing both a car and me would be a tight prospect, then I ride in the center of the travel lane to discourage motorists from trying to dart around me and knocking me with their side view mirror or some other part of their vehicle. Places you should plan on taking the lane include pretty much anywhere in City Park, sections of Mountain and Mason where there are sharrows, Riverside and Jefferson (scary as that might sound).
The International Bicycle Fund has a Glossary of Bicycle Transportation Terms, which I used to create this list, although I wrote my own definitions (and didn’t include even half of what they had listed). The only exceptions are stated as being the AASHTO definition, although they came from this web page and I haven’t verified that they’re actually terms of AASHTO.
I’m sure this list will be updated and added to over time. If there’s a term that you think should be included, just let me know – firstname.lastname@example.org.
The “Why i am traffic” image came from the iamtraffic.org infographics page. It’s well worth checking out if you have the time.