Is It Time For Simultaneous Green in the USA?

Downtown Ogden has a short stretch of world class bicycle infrastructure.   It’s called the Grant Street Promenade and it consists of the nicest protected bike lanes I’ve seen anywhere.  I like to ride it just because it’s here and I figure the more bicyclists our city leaders see on it, the more inclined they’ll be to put in more just like it.

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Ogden’s Grant Street Promenade. World class protected bike lanes.

That said, I don’t like having to make left turns off of the Promenade.  Since the lanes are protected and to the right of motor vehicle traffic, I can’t simply merge to the left and turn as I was taught when I became a Bike League Certified Instructor. Instead, I have to use the “Copenhagen Left” which requires me to proceed straight through the intersection, stop, wait for the light to change and then cross the street I was previously cycling on.  The Copenhagen Left is fine and dandy, but it turns a simple left turn into a multi-step process that requires two street crossings. It’s a form of second class treatment that motorists simply would not tolerate…the type that causes our load share numbers to remain stubbornly low.   There has to be a better way.

But to turn left requires two separate street crossings...

But left turns require two separate street crossings…

There is.  It’s called Simultaneous Green and it is growing in popularity in Holland,  throughout Europe, and around the world. I first wrote about Simultaneous Green way back in November, 2014, shortly after starting this blog.  Today I want to revisit it because the rest of the world is adopting this intersection treatment and I think we should, too.

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Simultaneous Green intersections differ from traditional intersections in one basic way.  An additional cycle is added to the traffic signal sequence in which all motorized traffic is stopped regardless of which direction it is headed. No right turns on red are allowed.   All motor vehicles are stopped and only bicyclists and pedestrians may proceed.   Bicyclists can cross the intersection any direction they choose, even diagonally.  The video and images below show how it works in real time.

Simultaneous Green in New Zealand Photo: Christchurch Cycle Design Guidelines

Simultaneous Green in New Zealand Photo: Christchurch Cycle Design Guidelines

This UK design is even better. Photo

This UK design is even better. Photo @randyhighwayman

 

While the current system still favors cars over bicycles, Simultaneous Green puts cyclists on par with motorists.  It treats us exactly the same way and that’s important.  It allows us to get to our destinations more quickly. It costs almost nothing to implement.  It’s safer, too.  This means that Simultaneous Green is one of those little things that makes cycling more attractive when compared to driving and that, in turn, creates more cyclists.

It gets even better.  Whenever bicyclists and pedestrians are present, Simultaneous Green actually allows all traffic and not just bicycles to move more smoothly than the traditional methodology, because motorists do not have to wait for the crosswalks to clear before turning right or left.  When motor vehicles are moving, pedestrians and cyclists are stopped.  When cyclists and pedestrians are moving, motorists are stopped.  It’s more predictable and that makes it safer.  It works astonishingly well.

How do I know this?  Because this isn’t conceptually new.  Way back in the 1980s when I worked in downtown Denver, this is exactly how the intersections worked.  There weren’t many bicycles then, but there were lots of pedestrians and lots of vehicle traffic.  It was called the Barnes Dance and it was de rigueur in Denver until the RTD started running light rail trains that blocked the intersections when stopped in stations and rendered it obsolete.

Pedestrians cross every which way at Denver's 16th and California Streets in this 1957 photo. Denver Post Photo

The old is new again.  Pedestrians cross every which way at 16th and California Streets in this 1957 photo of downtown Denver. Photo:  Denver Post

Simultaneous Green is one of those little things that we can easily implement and reap the benefits of.  It has an oversized impact on who cycles and how often.  By making it easier, safer, and faster to hop on a bike than in a car, simple common sense treatments like Simultaneous Green can cause bicycling load share numbers to grow here.    We need this in America.  We need it now, in fact, and I can think of no better place to start than on the corner of Grant and 21st in Ogden Utah.

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