The Rise of Curbs: Protected Biking’s Second Act Begins

Austin workers set modular precast curbs in place on Third Street downtown.

After five years of using parked cars and plastic posts to create the first generation of modern protected bike lanes, U.S. cities are starting to experiment with the next step: curbs.

In Chicago, Cyburn Avenue and State Street are likely to get the city’s first curb-separated bike lanes. In Seattle, the city has used two wholesale road reconstructions, on Linden Avenue and Broadway, as chances to install cement curb separations. In Austin, two blocks of 3rd Street downtown are now fitted with modular precast curbs to create a protected bike lane. And Long Beach, Calif., has been using curbs for protected bike lanes since 2011.

Chicago bike project manager Mike Amsden said Chicago plans to eventually upgrade all its plastic posts to permanent infrastructure.

“We see what’s happening in Austin and New York and Seattle and there is a little bit of envy there,” Amsden said in an interview. “They create kind of a sense of place.”

The sense that a curb can fit gracefully than posts into the feel of a street “goes a long way to selling these projects to people who may not care about bikes,” Amsden added.

The new Linden Avenue in Seattle is the city’s first with a low curb separator.