Utah has new unusual ‘bike boxes’ for its unusual intersections

(Photo courtesy of Utah Department of Transportation) Cyclist leaves a new "bike box" at the corner of Redwood Road and Pioneer Crossing in Saratoga Springs. New bike lane designs and markings are being added at complicated intersections to improve safety.

Saratoga Springs • Bicyclist Kai Tohinaka had never tried cycling through the complicated “continuous-flow” intersection at Redwood Road and Pioneer Crossing.

But he found that an equally unusual new set of specially painted bike lanes — including a painted “bike box” for left turns — made it easy and safer.

“It gives clear guidance on how you navigate such a non-traditional intersection,” he said. Without it, “there’s a danger of going the wrong way with these left-turn pockets” — those extra far-left turning lanes that cars use after crossing traffic at signals well before the intersection itself.

The Utah Department of Transportation held an event Thursday to publicize these new types of bike lanes and bike boxes that it is adding at such complicated intersections.

They are bright green thermal plastic that is heat-welded onto the road to draw attention. Sometimes the bike lanes are located on both sides of a turn-only car lane — one to allow cyclists to turn right, and one to allow going straight or left turns.

“A bike box is a really awesome paint-marked area on the roadway where cyclists can stand and wait for their time to navigate a left-hand turn,” said Heidi Goedhart, UDOT active transportation manager. The boxes are in front of right-turn-only lanes or at a far crosswalk.

“This gives you a standard place to look for where to expect bicycles,” Goedhart said. Also, “Anytime that you see the green pavement markings, it means that you should be expecting bicyclists there.”

UDOT spokesman Geoff Dupaix said the new lanes follow maneuvers that cyclists already were making, and which are allowed by Utah law. “This accommodates it,” and more clearly shows where cyclists should travel and be expected.

“They can just stay in their own lane and safely navigate the intersection,” Goedhart said.

She said UDOT is adding the lanes as part of the agency’s work to promote alternative transportation, such as bicycling and walking.

“It is just another example of how UDOT is trying to be innovative and figure out how we can move people in a variety of ways and give the traveling public mobility options,” she said.

The new plastic markings are also durable, Goedhart said. “In some instances, thermal plastic pavement markings last longer than pavement.”

Continuous flow intersections, which are becoming more common in Utah, are designed to speed traffic through intersections by eliminating a signal cycle for left turns.

They eliminate left turns across traffic at an intersection. Cars wanting to turn line up at a signal well before the intersection. It allows them to cross over traffic into a special far-left lane, where cars turn left at the same time that most traffic is going straight through the intersection.