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Bellingham
Sunday, July 12, 2020

When a city turns green: how to navigate bike boxes

The roads of Bellingham are starting to live up to the community’s “green” reputation–quite literally.

New students settling into Bellingham may encounter these lime-colored traffic marks as they explore outside the bounds of campus.

They are called “bike boxes” and are designed to make traveling safer for bicyclists and motorists. The boxes have been implemented in different cities throughout the U.S, but the three installed this summer are a first for Bellingham on Ohio and Cornwall Streets.

What are bike boxes?

The L-shaped bike boxes function as bicycle-friendly zones at stoplights, providing a place for bicyclists to move to the front of traffic while they wait for a green light.

As the light turns red, cars must come to a stop behind the white line outlining the green bike zone. Bicyclists are able to use the bike lane and move to the front of traffic in order to stop in the bike box.

  • Drivers: STOP and WAIT
    • Must always stop behind the bike box.
    • Cannot make a right turn on red. Cars behind the bike box must wait for the light to change and then check for bicyclists before proceeding.
  • Bicyclists: MOVE TO FRONT, WAIT IN THE GREEN, POSITION BIKE
    • Enter the front bike box by bypassing cars using the bike lane.
    • Come to a stop before the crosswalk and wait in the green zone.
    • Move to a position in the box based on the direction of travel. If making a left turn, move to the top left corner of the box. If planning to travel straight, stay in the center. If turning right, stay right and wait for the light change.
      • [ Suggested: Use hand signals to indicate where you will turn]

Why are they important?

Without a bike box, bicyclists who are traveling straight could be at risk of colliding with cars making a right turn. Instead of having bicycles scattered throughout a line of traffic, the bike boxes create a spot designed for the bicycles to group together—creating less waiting time once the light turns green as well as a safer environment for everyone to navigate in. Additionally, bicyclists will be better able to make a left turn, which could be difficult at intersections without bike boxes.

Why do we have them?

Bike boxes are not a new phenomenon, though they may be unfamiliar to those in Bellingham.

The City of Bellingham implemented the boxes as part of the city’s strategy to encourage bicycling, increase traffic safety and help bicyclists and motorists share the often-busy streets.

Kim Brown, the Transportations Options Coordinator in the Public Works Department, said the bike boxes were installed as part of the city’s plan to make the city more bike-friendly.

“The main goal of the plan was to make it safer and more comfortable for people of all ages and abilities to bike,“ she said.

When did we get them?

The boxes on Cornwall and Ohio were installed mid-August of this year. According to Brown, the city will eventually be installing more, with no date set yet.

Where are they?

Bike boxes are being used around the country, especially in large cities with many bike enthusiasts.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, at least 20 cities currently use bike boxes, including Seattle and Portland.

Katie Brown, who has worked at Kulshan Cycles for several years, says she hasn’t used the new bike boxes in Bellingham yet, but she’s had experience with them in other cities.  “I love that they’re bright green,” she said. “I think it makes then much more visible.”

At Public works, Brown said the community response has varied.

“By-and-large, I see the majority of people understand what to do and are using it properly. I’d say that’s the case for most bicyclists and people driving,” Brown said. “But it’s new and it’ll take people a bit of time to understand it and get comfortable with them.”

**Video courtesy of the City of Bellingham website.

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