Precast Curbs Providing Safety for Cyclists, Motorists

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More and more Americans are ditching their cars and riding a bike to work, with one study showing bike commuting doubling in the 50 largest U.S. cities from 2007 to 2016.

Many cities are embracing this trend, creating dedicated bike lanes on existing roads. Unfortunately, many times these lanes are nothing more than paint on a street, providing little safety to cyclists and uneasiness for motorists.

Officials in Winnipeg, Canada, wanted to provide a safer option for cyclists and motorists and turned to precast concrete for the solution. The city recently concluded a pilot program that used precast concrete curbs to create protected bike lanes, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Photo Courtesy of Winnipeg Public Works Department

“Having a protected bike lane makes it a lot more comfortable for the users,” said Chris Baker, the pedestrian and cycling planner for Winnipeg’s Public Works Department. “This was an effort to make it better for people who cycle now, but also to encourage people who aren’t all that comfortable riding in traffic or riding on a painted lane. It gives them an opportunity to bike around the city too.”

Baker said other cities have used plastic bollards or precast curbs before, but they wanted to test a couple of designs to see how they would stand up to snow plows. Winnipeg tested two designs – one with channels on the bottom of the curb to allow for drainage and one that had no channels with curbs placed a few inches apart to allow for proper drainage.

Photo Courtesy of Winnipeg Public Works Department

After the pilot program, they changed the design some to create a larger rectangular gap on the bottom, which doesn’t clog like the smaller channels and allows crews to easily move the curbs should they need to be adjusted.

“We’re still learning, and we’re going to learn a lot more as we install them on bigger projects,” Baker said.

Baker noted that cast-in-place would be an option only if they were completely re-paving the streets.

“If we did cast-in-place and had to do any type of roadwork, we would have to completely tear them up as part of the work, so it creates a lot of inefficiency,” he said. “Using these precast curbs allows us to provide a protected bike lane without a much larger project and gives us a lot more flexibility.”

After hearing back from 200 cyclists and 100 motorists, it was evident people were happy with the project.

“The cyclists really liked the curbs, which was a bit of a no-brainer,” Baker said. “But the drivers really liked them too. They liked that the cyclist would be safe behind the curb, but they also liked the surety that the cyclists were going to be over there and the motorists would be over here.

“It’s hard to drive across these, and really helps delineate because you’re not just going to drift into the bike lane.”