If you have been through the Farrell Street and Swift Street intersection, you might be wondering why there are large green boxes painted on the pavement. This intersection is a test site for bike boxes in South Burlington.
What is a bike box?
If you think it is something you put a bike in to ship it somewhere, you would be correct but not up-to-date.
Bike boxes are a relatively new and innovative way to mark intersections with green paint to improve safety, visibility and traffic flow for bicyclists and pedestrians. Specifically, the bike box is a designated area at an intersection, usually a green painted box, at the head of a traffic lane. It is in front of the motorized traffic stop line but behind the pedestrian crosswalk.
Cars and trucks are not allowed in the bike box and must line up at a 24-inch white "stop bar" behind the box. Likewise, bikers are not allowed in the pedestrian crosswalk.
Putting bicyclists at the head of the line gives them a safe place in front of queuing motorized traffic, making them conspicuous while waiting for a red light to turn green. When the light turns green, they proceed through the intersection first, getting ahead of the traffic.
Bike boxes are now in use in many U.S. cities including Portland, OR, Austin, TX, Boston and Cambridge, MA, Chicago, Il, New York City, Washington DC and other US cities and many bike friendly European cities.
How does it work
For cars and bicyclists wanting to turn right: While the light is red, motorists and bicyclists are not allowed to make right turns. When the light turns green the bikers in their box in front of the cars will clear the intersection first avoiding motorists making a right turn on red. This solves the problem of motorists who fail to look in their right rearview mirror when making a turn when they are in the right lane or looking but not seeing a biker who is in their blind spot. These so called “right hook” conflicts are a common cause of accidents between car and bike.
For cars and bicyclists going straight ahead: When the light turns green bicyclists will be able to cross the intersection first thus being more visible to motorists. They will also be able to re-establish themselves in a bike lane before being passed by cars and trucks.
For bicyclists turning left: Bicyclists wanting to turn left will move to the left when entering the bike box and wait for the light to turn green. When the light turns green, they are the first to make a left turn while the motorists follow after them.
Does this really work or just slow the flow of traffic: Studies have been done to test the effectiveness of bike box intersections. Not only have they reduced right hook accidents, but also the number of motorists encroaching on crosswalks has been significantly reduced.