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Winter Bike Lane Maintenance: A Review of National and International Best Practices

By Alta Planning & Design

As bike infrastructure continues to grow in the US, so does the need to maintain these facilities year-round. The regular maintenance of bike infrastructure is especially important in towns and cities with established bicycling networks and significant bicycling populations – if jurisdictions provide bicycle facilities, they can expect that people will use them year round.

The winter maintenance of bikeways should be a planned, regular activity in cities and towns that receive significant amounts of snowfall. Bicycles have different winter needs than motor vehicles—for example, less weight and tire surface area means they are more sensitive to snow and ice—and winter roadway maintenance programs should have specialized practices to respond to these needs. However, many cities fail to adequately maintain their bicycling networks in the winter months. This is typically due to inexperience with winter bikeway maintenance, constrained roadway maintenance budgets, and/or inadequate equipment.

This white paper provides collected best practices on winter bikeway maintenance as seen in North American cities and around the world. The paper covers snow removal from bikeways, different types of de-icing surface applications and their advantages/disadvantages, and best practices for winter maintenance prioritization and scheduling. The paper also includes a brief discussion on innovative winter maintenance techniques either in use or in development.

Snow Removal Best Practices

A heavy snowfall will typically require the initial removal of snow from the bikeway to restore the functionality of the facility. A proactive and reactive de-icing program (discussed in the following section) in conjunction with scheduled snow removal is necessary to help maintain good riding conditions along bikeways in the winter. There are many considerations that factor into how to best remove snow from bikeways in the winter.

These factors are the bikeway type, the storage of snow on or off the roadway and the presence and type of vertical protection or separation along a bikeway.

Snow Storage and Roadway Design

One of the best ways to facilitate the removal of snow from bikeways is thoughtful roadway design. While in some cases, snow is removed from the roadway and relocated to a storage site (such as a nearby commercial parking lot), most roadway maintenance programs plow snow off the main portion of the road to the shoulder if one exists, as close to the roadway edge as possible or along a sidewalk buffer if one exists. Unfortunately, with roadways that include typical, unprotected bike lanes at the edge of the roadway, the bike lane often becomes the area for snow storage on the roadway. This practice leaves bicyclists either trying to share the vehicular lane or riding to the edge of the roadway while trying to avoid piled-up snow and stay clear of the vehicular path – both are unsafe and uncomfortable conditions for bicyclists on roadways with designated bike lanes. There are several roadway planning and design considerations that can be taken to avoid this situation.

Plan Roadways with sufficient right-of-way

On new roadways or in roadway re-engineering projects that include bike lanes (or may include them in the future), provide enough right-of-way for preferably a six foot bike lane and a six foot storage space on the side of the road or in the buffer space between the road and the sidewalk (cities that typically receive heavier snowfall such as Montreal prefer an eight foot minimum storage space). This will allow typical truck-mounted snow plows to plow snow into the designated storage space rather than the bike lane. The six foot width of the bike lane will also allow for some narrowing of the bike lane due to snow while still maintaining its functionality.


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