Biking through Vancouver BC’s protected intersection

Posted by on February 19th, 2019 at 11:07 am

Separated bike lanes, curb bulbs, so much green paint!
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

— Madi Carlson is our Family Biking columnist.

It’s been three years since I visited Vancouver, Canada (with my cargo bike via BoltBus) and while I was very impressed with the bike infrastructure back then — it’s even better now. The most notable new thing was a protected intersection.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

I biked through the one at Quebec Street and 1st Avenue and it felt a lot like biking in the Netherlands.

We first crossed the well-marked, perpendicular bike path and had room to wait — protected by curbs — in front of stopped car traffic. Then a bright, cheery bike lane led us all the way through the intersection. The only thing missing was the mayhem of bikes everywhere and the rush of cycling cross-traffic racing through the end of the light cycle.

My children weren’t with me for this trip, but I was not without kid company. I was joined by a few friends including Lisa aka @spokesmama and her five and eight-year olds on their own bikes. During my last visit I carried my kids on my cargo bike through downtown Vancouver. We’ve also biked together (minimally) in downtown Portland and downtown Seattle. But it wasn’t the same as Vancouver. More protected bike lanes and protected intersections would make all the difference in the world for making downtown bicycling comfortable for my kids and me. Apparently a lot of people share my opinion because I’ve never tweeted a tweet with this much interest (granted most of the comments are two men arguing back and forth with each other).


PBOT says this will be installed on West Burnside and 19th by the end of this summer.

Coincidentally, three years ago is also when BikePortland contributor Michael Andersen wrote about ideas on where Portland could use protected intersections, as put forth by the concept’s creator (and Portland resident) Nick Falbo.

Sadly, we haven’t implemented even one big downtown protected intersection since then. On the bright side, PBOT plans to build a partially protected intersection on West Burnside by the end of this summer.

Bike parking covered separation while approaching the protected intersection.

The white squares are called elephant’s feet.

Elephant’s feet
In addition to the new-to-me protected intersection, I learned about elephant’s feet, the white squares on the sides of the green bike lane through the intersection. These squares let people know they are not required to dismount and walk their bikes through the intersection — which they would otherwise be required to do in a crosswalk, since biking on sidewalks is not legal in Vancouver. All bike paths that cross streets have these elephant’s feet, and all the ones I saw flanked green bike lanes, making them easy to see. These are similar to Portland’s crossbikes, but I found them to be less confusing to use.

What are your thoughts on protected intersections? Where could we use these in Portland?

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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David HampstenJonnysorenmark smithMadi Carlson Recent comment authors
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David Hampsten

Protected intersections for cars have been around for decades. I first saw protected intersections for bikes & peds in Amersfoort Netherlands in 2009, but no doubt they existed well before then. Tuscaloosa Alabama, home of the University of Alabama, put ped versions in their downtown about 5 years ago at two minor intersections. DC also has a few, especially near Union Station and on M Street, similar to your photos for Vancouver.

How was the signal timing at each intersection? Did peds/bikes get a head-start on cars? Or were signal cycles separated between each mode?

David Hampsten

The other thing that catches my eye is how wide the streets are between buildings, very similar to DC or Minneapolis, but much wider than downtown Portland. Or am I wrong? Can the wide sidewalks and wide protected bike lanes shown actually be replicated in downtown and inner Portland, without expanding right-of-way by tearing down buildings? Most of East Portland would be no problem, but those narrow inner city 50-60 foot ROWs west of 82nd?


How do left turns work? Do you proceed through in the one direction, then wait in the protected corner for the perpendicular signal? Seems like that could get crowded real fast, and more than two bikes waiting to turn left would probably block the ones trying to go straight through.


We visited there 2 winters ago and were very impressed with the bicycling infrastructure. Those protected bike lanes go right through downtown, and as I recall the lanes had their own light cycle, which was different from auto traffic in the same direction. there were also tiny sweepers, snowplows, and de-icing sprayers that fit between the curbs. There is even a separate protected lane on a flyover roadway viaduct that goes directly from the train station to downtown. Yes!

mark smith
mark smith

FOr some reason, downtown is the Sacred Cow with this massive one ways (or deathways). There is plenty of room to slow things down to human speed and put in human size intersections in. Will PBOT lead?


What I love most is that there are no plastic bollards in those images. none. I don’t recall seeing any when I was cycling there 4 years ago either.

David Hampsten

I was last there about 4 years ago, and I think I saw a few plastic candlesticks at ramp approaches for bridges, but none on bike lanes. A surprising number of Jersey barriers though.