The bike box

If you drive or bike in Minneapolis, you’re going to want to learn what these traffic symbols mean.

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They’re contained in a new pamphlet the city has issued about the new markings. What are the odds most people are going to know what most of these mean?

The one that is the most interesting — in a Minnesota way, of course — is the “bike box.”

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Here’s how the city explains it:


A bike box is a type of advanced stop bar that is used at some signalized intersections. The bike box includes two elements 1) an advanced stop line for motorists to wait behind and 2) a marked spaced for bicyclists to wait in. When the traffic signal is red, motorists must wait behind the bike box and behind the stop line. Bicyclists are allowed to ride into the bike box and wait for a green signal. When the traffic signal turns green, motorists must yield to bicyclists before proceeding or making a turn.

The purpose of a bike box is to allow bicyclists to wait at the front of traffic queues so they are more visible to motorists. This is to improve the safety of bicyclists at intersections.

When you drive:

If the traffic signal is red, you must wait behind the bike box and behind the advanced stop bar.

When the traffic signal changes to green, you must yield to bicyclists who are waiting in the bike box.

Look for additional bicyclists that may be approaching on your side.

When you bike:

As you approach an intersection with bike box you may ride up to the front of the traffic queue. If the traffic signal is red, you may wait in the bike box.

When the traffic signal changes to green, you may proceed through the intersection or make a turn.

Bike boxes come to us from Europe and Asia, where they’ve been used since the ’80s. “Studies by Danish road engineers and transportation planners have found that bike boxes significantly reduce the number of crashes between right-turning motorists and bicyclists going straight through the intersection,” according to Street sWiki.

That’s probably true and that, of course, is a good thing. It’s also true that motorists around here hate the idea of someone sneaking in front of them. It also doesn’t appear that the city is going to brightly paint the boxes, which might be advisable.

The city installed six bike boxes in 2010 on Hennepin and First.

Here’s the pdf.

(h/t: Burl Gilyard)

  • Tom Johnson

    Could have used a bike box on 4th and 15th near the U last semester when Audrey Hull was struck and killed by a semitruck – http://tinyurl.com/6h3ffzx. Honestly, I couldn’t care less if car drivers are irritated. Taking an extra five seconds to get to your destination is well worth the possibility of saving someone’s life.

  • David G

    I’m not too optimistic about the bike box, given the large number of vehicles that stop for lights in crosswalks.

  • Tyler

    After looking at the pamphlet, most of these symbols seem redundant. I’m only more confused, not less.

  • John P.

    It looks more complicated than it is. Just stay out of bike lanes/boxes, unless it’s dashed on your side, and then you need to yield to any bikes. But that still might be a bit too much thought and awareness for someone who is chatting or texting on their phone.

    Then, the markings will probably disappear below snow and salt dust once winter comes around. It can be hard to find center lines and I know where to expect those. Then the city won’t have the money to re-paint them and then they will get hard to see.

    I will never depend on drivers to see or understand these markings.

  • Mike

    Now if we would only allow motorcycles and scooters to filter to the front at stoplights, as is customary in the rest of the world. An awfully sensitive lot, local car drivers.

  • Paul K.

    And what are the chances of having a biker actually stop for a red light? Just about zero from my experience watching bikers zip thru stop signs and red lights.

  • Kassie

    You can’t have something open for comments about bikes without someone commenting how no bicyclists stop at stop lights.

    No bicyclists stop at lights except the majority that do! I’m outraged!

  • Scott B

    Excellent! Thanks for highlighting this. With ridership increasing it is important that we keep making these investments in making our roads safer and more friendly to all users.

    I used to live in Portland, OR when they started to install bike boxes. It took a couple months, but both drivers and cyclists got the idea quickly. Bike boxes are good for both safety and traffic flow.

    Getting bikes to the front of intersections at stop lights helps reduce “right-hook accidents” where turning cars fail to give a bike going straight the right of way. It can also make it easier for bikes to make left turns.

    We can design roads for multi-modal users and this is another good step. Improving traffic flow with things like bike boxes, more bike lanes and such is better for bikes, as well as being better for buses and cars. It’s a win-win.

  • t.a. barnhart

    we’ve had these for a few years in Portland, following the deaths of 2 people killed by right-hooks. some drivers ignore them, some refuse to stop until the nose of their car is in the box, but for the most part, these are working great. cars have come to understand it helps them not run over hard-to-see bicycles. they are being using selectively, and they seem to be a resounding success.

    i love ‘em!

  • t.a. barnhart

    forgot to mention: in Portland, the bike boxes are painted green (like #2 & #7 above) to 1, make sure they are not invisible and 2, to make sure people know they are “bike” boxes. it’s an important part that you are missing.