Class II and Class III routes, how important are they?

New Reader Pete Van Nuys has a couple of interesting questions:

How important are Class 2 routes to the promotion of bike commuting? Is the stripe twice as important as just the Class 3 sign?

OK, so let’s start by defining the difference of a Class 2 and Class 3 route:

Bike Lane in Tampa
Class II Bike Lane – A lane set aside in city streets exclusively for bikes.

Picture courtesy of

Class III Bike Route – Purportedly safe city streets connected into a means of getting from one place to another on a bike.

My 2 cents: I like Class II bike routes, I do feel a little safer riding a bike lane because it sort of gives me my own little space on the road. Now, Class III bike routes… Those I could careless for and in fact, I would love to have some of those route signs taken down . There’s an avenue (Slauson Ave, East of the 605) that you wouldn’t pay me to ride it to work. It is a 3 lane road with vehicles traveling at 50 mph with a sliver of room for a car and a cyclist. And yes, it is designated as a ‘safe street’ to ride.

Would a bike lane promote bike commuting? I would think so. Is the stripe twice as important as a class III sign? If a route is actually safe to ride, I don’t think so. What’s your opinion?


  1. Ghost Rider

    Well, as a frequent user of the above Class II lane, I can say that it hasn’t done much, if anything, to promote bike commuting in the Tampa area. I rarely see anyone else using that bike lane, but I regularly see people riding their bikes on the sidewalk adjacent to it.

    Painted bike lanes can give a false sense of security. I know lots of experienced cyclists who don’t like bike lanes at all and would rather just share the travel lane with motorists. The safest bike lane method is to physically separate the bike lane from the road via curb or row of parking (like NYC is doing on some streets). Just because that stripe of paint is there certainly doesn’t prevent some douchebag in a car from ruining your day!!

    Me, I like bike lanes, but I also want “complete routes” — a pattern of bike lanes coupled with safe streets, maybe some off-road multiuser paths so I can get to a variety of destinations easily. Around here, there is no completeness — bike lanes appear and disappear at random; some streets have appropriate “Share the Road” signage while others are devoid of them, and the MUPs are way off in the country and don’t help anyone using their bikes as transportation.

  2. Jeremy

    Ghost Rider is right about bike lanes giving a bit of a false sense of security. They also tend to have a habit of putting you right where cars are going to want to turn through.

    The problems with physically separate bike lanes start to become apparent when you have a lot of curb cuts or driveways — drivers don’t expect to see someone coming at bike speeds there (they expect pedestrians walking along the sidewalk) and thus will often miss seeing a cyclist as well. And this completely ignores the problems of the lack of a large connected network of such non-road paths leading to people having to use the regular roadway anyway.

    Thus, traffic calming and education, both of cyclists and drivers, really is the best way of improving things. Sadly, not the easy answer but the best answers rarely are.

  3. Carl

    In Portland, we have “bike boulevards”, which work much better than bike lanes on busy arterials. There is much more to a bike boulevard than a sign. The routes are chosen carefully to get bikes to where they want to go with minimal use of busy intersections and generally run parallel to busy arterials a few blocks away. Cross street have stop signs. Only the busiest non-arterial cross streets are four-way stops; generally bikes can just go. When the bike boulevard intersects a major arterial, cars must turn, but bikes and pedestrians can go straight across. Turning from the arterial to the bike boulevard is prohibited.

    Like I said, these work really well. Almost my entire route to work is on bike boulevards. It’s much more pleasant than being in a bike lane on a busy street. But there’s a lot more to making a successful bike boulevard than putting up a sign or two.

  4. jt

    I’ll ride the class III streets on the weekends, but I adjust my route to use the class II streets on my ride to work. In Phoenix, I find the drivers don’t actively attempt to encroach on your bike lane, but they do resent you using space on “their” streets during drive-time.

  5. Dominic Dougherty

    Bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.

    Bike lanes segregate traffic and according to many studies have resulted in more accidents than vehicular cycling. When a cyclist is removed from the motorists’ sight-line, they disappear into the background, and thusly are no longer thought about. How many times have you been crossed in-front-of by a motorist?

    Oft-times striped bike lanes end at intersections and force the cyclist to make last-minute decisions and dangerous maneuvers to get proper lane positioning. In older cities, bike lanes are a complete after-thought and are frequently routed in dangerous ways (including pocketing the cyclist into on-ramps, being in the door-zone, or not serving any particular destination).

    Stripped bike lanes also serve to promote motorist aggravation. When they are stuck in traffic and see a bike lane that is taking up enough road space to be another lane, they start to wonder why so much road space (sometimes up to 25%) is being dedicated to less than 1% of the population.

    Now think about that street you love… the one that traffic piles up on and you just cruise on by, uninterrupted in your bike lane. Where are you in relation to cars? On the right? Passing on the right is counter (in at least 42 states) to the basic speed positioning rules of the road.

    Cyclists are much smaller than cars, and therefore their visibility is greatly reduced. When a cyclist is riding in a bike lane (hugging the curb, as most bike lanes do), their vantage is greatly reduced. Meaning, their sight-angles are narrowed by the roadway edge or street furniture (signs, light poles, shrubbery). This also puts them in a dangerous position from the motorists POV – you know, the one pulling out of the driveway or trying to make a right turn. If the cyclist is in the travel lane, they are visible by all motorists; those behind them, in front of them, and those at the next intersection (and I mean ANY intersection; alleys, driveways, streets, etc.).

    Bike lanes may also trap a cyclist in the way that many feel that they HAVE TO be in the lane if it is there – regardless of any hazards or debris that may be in their path.

    I could talk about this for hours, but I feel that it all comes down to this: all roadway users would benefit greater if funding were spent more on education and less on special exceptions (bike lanes, paths).

    Integration over segregation.

  6. Mike Myers

    I live in an area with very few bike lanes. The new one on SR 44 through Crystal River is nice, but there are two very dangerous areas. 44 intersects two main arteries, and drivers turn right and don’t look for cyclists. Therefore, I have to enter the traffic lane at those areas, which can be tricky.

  7. Eric

    Bike lanes? What are those? Class III signs? In Connecticut you’re lucky if you get a few inches of shoulder along Rt. 1 in many spots. It doesn’t matter that these are city streets with stop signs and stop lights – people will still do 50m.p.h. if they can going from corner to corner…

  8. Wayne Myer

    I think the bike lane promotes newbies to try out biking and bike commuting. But bike lanes such as the one you pictured and sidepaths result (IMO) more right- and left-hooks because drivers are not paying attention to what is not right there with them in traffic.

    I would rather ride on a thoroughfare with rush hour commuter and commercial traffic than use a sidepath. Furthermore, at least here in “bike-friendly” (HA!) Vermont, the bike lanes are not maintained well. The road debris gets kicked into the bike lane, and the broken glass from recycling lurks in those bicycle-designated paths.

  9. Jamis_Bater

    We don’t have many Class II in Springfield, MO where I’m from. Where they are present, cars are usually parked right next to them which offers the opportunity for getting doored. Mostly they collect a good deal of road debris, and are not long enough to really enter the consciousness of the drivers. I like them being there, but our city has a long way to go before they are really useful. Class III in this town is generally the safest bet for the commuter as they are laid out in neighborhoods and school zones.

  10. Quinn

    Just like a lot of places Reno has both, as far as “will bike lanes help promote commuting?” I think they will help promote commuting IF they are laid out properly, the problem I find here in Reno is that the bike lanes are so disjointed a rider never knowa if they are in a bike lane or just on the shoulder of the road.

  11. Russ Roca

    I’d like to see more sharrows….since they seem closer to a compromise between class II and class III markings….

    They announce that bikes should be on the road (class 3) and provide use of a lane (class 2), in this instance an entire lane of traffic…

    I think they are a step toward integration and would get cyclists and motorists accustomed to being on the same road.

    I always like to say that in my perfect world there would be no bike lanes.

    Cars and bikes would commune perfectly on the road. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and we need signifiers to modify and suggest behavior. Some can sometimes encourage dangerous behavior, as is the case with some bike lanes. Some can encourage correct behavior but appear more dangerous, as is the case with sharrows.

    It’s a matter of perception, because with either solution it’s all really just a few millimeters of paint.

  12. Ghost Rider

    Sharrows…now that’s an interesting concept — it really does seem to split the difference between class II and class III bike routes!

    My concern is that sharrows on the streets would be just another mystifying marking that motorists don’t (or won’t) understand. Couple sharrows with some serious P.R. campaigns explaining what they are and how they work, though, and I think we’d have a winner on our hands!

  13. Melanie

    We’ve definitely have more of the Class 2 than Class 3 in Salt Lake. The bike lanes are nice for getting around in and I always feel pretty reasonably safe, except for when they are iced over or filled with snow in the winter when the rest of the road is clear. There are some spots on 2nd South where the bike lane actually continues to the left of the right turn lane. I haven’t seen this in other places in town or outside of Salt Lake, but this seems like a reasonable solution as long as people are aware of you before they are getting into the turn lane. It seems like it would be hard to get right hooked there.

    As a driver, I have found some of the Class 3s to be absolutely terror inducing. Despite having tons of great signage (which many of our bike lanes do too… “share the road” all over the place) there are some spots where, particularly at times of heavy congestion, bicyclists don’t have anywhere to go and cars end up switching lanes or tailing them too closely.

    Overall though, I think Salt Lake has a great thing going on– I think the signage makes a huge difference. Now if only people could be aware of pedestrians, we’d be set…

  14. Jett

    In Atlanta, both Class II and Class III are generally good cycling routes whether or not they had been marked as such. I see it as formal recognition of what experienced cyclists already know. What I like about them is they inform less experienced cyclists and encourage them to ride where the motorists are more familiar with seeing cyclists.

  15. frid

    Hey Melanie, I used to ride up and down 2nd South all the time! Anyway, Class II is better than nothing but Class III… is nothing. Also, when driving, it is helpful to have that little stripe to aim for; it makes it less nervy when passing cyclists.

  16. Henry

    Lots of great comments and view points. One problem with Class III is that they were often designated when traffic pattern were different (ie less cars on the road). As times change, Class III often become through-fares where drivers irritated with traffic speed through, which effectively displaces the road’s Class III status. While ultimately, it would be better that bicycles do not need separate facility and signage, short term, I agree that sharrows maybe a good compromise. However, massive re-education campaign maybe needed for people to understand what it means.

  17. Jane

    From what I’ve been reading over the last few years, I have come to believe that the safety of separated facilities, especially those beyond a curb are illusory. As others have said here, they place the cyclist in places the drivers don’t expect to see cyclists. The intersecting drivers’ sight line issue is also a good point. Yes, the lanes or paths are more inviting for less experienced cyclists (or for any cyclist on a high-speed route with trucks!). But I am with those who would like to see a education campaign with use of sharrows more widespread. I noticed when visiting Munich (where they had lanes sometimes up on the curb) that the drivers in town were used to looking for adjacent cyclsits before making right turns. Maybe the cyclists on urban German streets have always been there, educating with their presence. However, I believe some places that have built separated facilities are advising others not to follow suit.

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