Bicycle turn boxes are coming to Lee County next month and could appear at intersections in Collier County in the future.
The boxes, which aim to help cyclists make safer left turns, will appear in August at the intersection of Treeline Avenue and Daniels Parkway in Lee County. Although there are currently no plans to install turn boxes in Collier County, cycling advocates and county planners say the feature could be a new safety tool for local governments.
Bicycle turn boxes, which are painted onto the pavement, guide cyclists through left turns following the flow of traffic.
Cyclists using a turn box proceed straight across an intersection at a green light and turn 90 degrees to the left inside of a turn box. There they wait for another green light and pedal across the intersection to complete the turn.
Although it may take more time, requiring cyclists to wait for two traffic signals, following car flow could reduce the chance for car-bicycle collisions. The turn boxes have been introduced in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Portland and Atlanta.
Lee County's bicycle turn boxes will be the first of their kind in Florida.
While Collier County might not have as many major intersections as Lee County, its multi-lane intersections can still be challenging for cyclists, said Joe Bonness, the chairman of Collier County's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
“During the daytime when there’s a lot of traffic it can be really intimidating for a bicycle to navigate through those intersections,” Bonness said.
Bicycle turn boxes are designed for large intersections where they aim to make cyclists more visible to motorists, said Anne McLaughlin, the executive director of the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“I think they’ll begin to appear first where the (intersection) is more complex and confusing, where bicyclists could be visually lost in the mix of so much turning traffic,” McLaughlin said.
The boxes could be installed at multi-lane intersections with existing bike lanes, which narrows down the options in Collier County.
“Right now, we only really have a handful of (intersections) where we have bicycle facilities that you can work with,” Bonness said.
Bonness pointed to a 2012 accident at the intersection of Vanderbilt Beach Road and U.S. 41 in which cyclist Elayne Jackson was struck and dragged by a trailer while attempting to make a left turn. Jackson suffered multiple broken bones, among other serious injuries.
Bonness said bicycle boxes could have helped Jackson more safely navigate the intersection by distancing her from traffic and making her more visible to motorists.
While the turn boxes could improve cyclist safety, Michelle Avola, the executive director of Naples Pathways Coalition, wrote in an email that she worries some cyclists may not want to wait for two traffic signals to make a left turn. Motorists could also become aggressive toward cyclists who choose not to use the turn boxes, she wrote.
"If people safely and correctly use them, they could definitely enhance safety," Avola wrote.
McLaughlin said Collier County's MPO won’t know whether local governments plan to introduce bicycle boxes until they submit project proposals to the MPO at the beginning of August. Local governments can also introduce bike turn boxes as individual safety projects.
McLaughlin said Lee County’s coming bike turn boxes could make local governments in Collier County more comfortable with adopting the transportation tool.
Local officials say Collier County or the Florida Department of Transportation will likely introduce bike boxes because they manage many of the area's largest roadways.
The city of Naples, for instance, has no plans to introduce bike turn boxes because they aren't needed on the city's streets, said Gregg Strakaluse, the City's streets and stormwater department director.
“Usually they're for four-lane or six-lane arterials, the bigger roadways,” he said. “Here in the city of Naples we typically have the two-lane roads.”
Bonness said he hopes local governments consider installing bike turn boxes at Collier County's busiest intersections to promote the safety of local cyclists.
“The bike boxes are a fairly inexpensive item to put in place, because it really is just pavement markings," Bonness said. "It’s a very inexpensive way to be able to save somebody’s life.”