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Seeing Green – New “Green” Markings in Bike Lanes

If you drive, ride or walk around the River West neighborhood you might notice something different at some key intersections on N. Humboldt Blvd. The City of Milwaukee added green pavement markings to the bicycle lanes at the intersections of Locust Street and Center Street.

The green pavement markings are being placed in “conflict zones” where motor vehicles cross the bike lanes to move into the dedicated right turn lanes at these intersections.

The goal is to improve the visibility of the bike lanes and the people using them, and to reinforce that a person on a bicycle traveling straight through an intersection has the right-of-way over a motorist moving into the right turn lane.

The green markings on N. Humboldt Blvd. are the first installation of green colorized bicycle lanes in southeastern Wisconsin.

Formal experiments to determine the benefit of colorizing pavement to enhance the visibility of bicycle lanes near/at intersections have been conducted in numerous cities in the United States for the past 10 years. The results of colored pavement marking experiments in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Portland (OR), Minneapolis, and Nashville showed they provide a positive benefit by highlighting merge/conflict areas and enhancing safety. As such, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recently approved green bike lane pavement markings for these types of applications, allowing other cities like Milwaukee to use them in appropriate locations.

The green pavement markings being installed on N. Humboldt Blvd. are not roadway traffic paint but are actually preformed thermoplastic panels melted onto the pavement surface. Preformed thermoplastic markings have a higher initial cost but can last 5 or more years (when installed on good quality pavement) unlike roadway traffic paint, which typically needs to be reapplied annually in Milwaukee.

City of Milwaukee Public Works staff is establishing local criteria to identify where more green bike lane conflict zone installations may be beneficial to add.

**Green "conflict zone" bike lane pavement markings on N. Humboldt south of Locust Street (Credit: City of Milwaukee DPW Staff)


The green bike lane pavement markings do not guarantee safety – that requires everyone’s cooperation to share the road:


            * By Wisconsin law, bicyclists are granted the same rights and responsibilities as operators of motor vehicles. When making a right-turn, you are required to make that turn as close as practicable to the right-side curb of the roadway or from a designated right turn lane if available. This means you should look for, and yield to, bicyclists before merging across a bike lane to make your turn or to access a right turn lane, whether the bike lane is colored or not.

           * For bike lanes that are to the left of a right-turn lane, look for bicyclists merging from the right side of the road to the new location of follow the bike lane. The green bike lane markings highlight these “merging zones” where bicyclists and motor vehicles must cross over each other’s paths.


          * The green markings were installed to highlight conflict areas where bicyclists and motor vehicles cross paths, such as an intersection approach where bicyclists must merge to the left of a dedicated right-turn lane, or where cars must cross the bike lane to make a right-turn.

          * The green markings are meant to improve the visibility of the bicycle lane, and have been proven to increase motor vehicle yielding behavior. However, remember that you should also continue to follow all rules of the road.

**Overhead view of typical application of green "conflict zone" bike lane pavement markings (Credit: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Green Bike Lane Pavement Markings


1. What is a green bike lane?

Green colored bike lane segments highlight high conflict areas where bicycles and cars frequently cross paths, primarily at intersections with dedicated right turn lanes to the right of through bicycle lanes and similar conflict/merge areas.

2. Why not just mark all the bike lanes or at least at the bike lane areas at every intersection with green?

The purpose of the green markings is to highlight high conflict areas where extra attention is needed by both motorists and bicyclists in these merge areas. So installing them at all intersections or in all bicycle lanes would reduce their effect and also would simply be cost prohibitive.

3. Why did it take so long for Milwaukee to get green colored bike lanes? Other cities have had them for awhile.

All new signs and pavement markings on roadways in the United States go through very thorough experimentation and evaluation stages to ensure they are effective at addressing an identified issue. Colored bicycle lanes underwent nearly 10 years of testing in various cities throughout the U.S., not only testing the most effective types of locations to use them in but also the most effective color choice and even material options and durability.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the national body that oversees federal transportation funding and policy oversees these experiments. The use of green pavement markings in bicycle lanes for high conflict/merge zones was only approved for use in 2013, which is why Milwaukee did not begin installing

4. Why are they green and not another color?

The various experiments conducted in other cities tested several different colors including blue, red and green. Red was determined to not have enough contrast in low light conditions, even on roads lit by street lights. Blue was tested but this color is already nationally associated with signs and markings for persons with disabilities. Green markings are very visible under all light conditions and

5. I heard these are made of plastic. Won’t they be slippery when they are wet?

The City chose to use preformed thermoplastic green markings versus other available green markings materials like epoxy paint because of their durability and skid resistant. Thermoplastic markings are ready made panels or shapes that are manufactured with skid-resistant grit all the way through the panels, so as they wear down over time there is skid-resistance throughout the life of the marking. Preformed thermoplastic markings are used in Milwaukee now for other types of roadway markings as well as in lots of other cities in the U.S., including cities with wetter conditions.

6. How much do these markings cost? How is it being paid for?

The City chose to use preformed thermoplastic pavement markings, which do have a higher upfront cost, but they are significantly longer lasting than green roadway traffic paint. The thermoplastic markings should last 5 – 8 years depending on the amount of traffic and severity of winters whereas roadway traffic paint generally needs to be applied every 6 – 12 months.

The three intersection locations installed along N. Humboldt Blvd. cost around $16,000, which includes the preformed thermoplastic markings materials as well as the labor and equipment cost to the local contractor (Crowley Construction) that installed the markings.

7. Where else in Milwaukee will these be installed?

City Public Works staff is looking for additional high conflict/merge locations on upcoming scheduled street projects as well as existing streets with very good pavement conditions.