Seventeen years ago, Northwest Arkansas leaders and planners kicked off a long-term planning process that would see hundreds of miles of soft-surface and shared-use paved trails built over the following decade. The Razorback Greenway—far and away the most notable of the former—has inspired thousands of Northwest Arkansans to buy bikes and lead healthier, active lives.

But the Greenway alone won’t suffice if we want biking to become a viable means of daily transportation; it’s like an interstate with few exits and a handful of access roads, like Bentonville’s Downtown Trail. Unfortunately, you can’t blaze trails everywhere, which is why we need protected bike lanes connecting the Greenway to the places we live, work, play, and shop.

Imagine being able to saddle up at home with your kids and bike safely and comfortably to the Greenway, school, the farmer’s market, the park, or the grocery store. Imagine passing by lunchtime traffic instead of being stuck in it.

To make those dreams a reality, we need a seamlessly connected system of on-street protected bike lanes that will allow everyone—regardless of ability, age, or socioeconomic status—to travel by bike between daily destinations. Cities around the country that have built networks of protected bike lanes have seen widespread adoption of biking as a means of daily transportation.

So, what is a protected bike lane? According to PeopleForBikes, the national organization leading the way in advocating for better infrastructure for people to ride bikes, protected bike lanes are defined by three key characteristics:

1. Physical separation: Protected bike lanes have some sort of physical, stationary, vertical separation between moving motor vehicle traffic and the bike lane. Examples of vertical separation include plastic posts, bollards, curbs, planters, raised bumps or parked cars. Protected bike lanes can be at street level or raised, either to sidewalk level or a level in between street and sidewalk level. Paint alone does not create a protected bike lane.

2. Exclusively for people on bikes: Protected bike lanes must define and allocate space exclusively for people on bikes, not shared with pedestrians or motorized traffic except for brief mixing zones where necessary and at intersections. If the designs are sidewalk level, there must be separate, identified space for people on bikes and people on foot in order for the facility to be considered a protected bike lane.

3. On or adjacent to the roadway: Protected bike lanes are part of the street grid. In some instances, a protected lane may be separated from the road by landscaping or other features, but it runs parallel and proximate to the roadway. This distinguishes protected bike lanes from off-street pathways that follow waterways or rail corridors.

Building a network of protected bike lanes is going to take a group effort.

This summer, BikeNWA will lead a delegation of more than 20 regional elected officials, city staff, and community and business leaders to the PlacesForBikes conference, where protected bike lanes are a primary topic. We’re also developing a series of technical workshops that will empower planners and engineers with the expertise to build world-class protected bike lanes according to tried-and-tested best practices. We’ve also begun planning for the next series of pilot projects that will demonstrate how protected bike lanes can improve Northwest Arkansas communities.

We also need your help: tell us where you’d like to see protected bike lanes in your community by taking this quick three-question survey.

If you live in Fayetteville, we also encourage you to get involved in the development of the Fayetteville Mobility Plan. No expertise necessary—just show up and make your voice heard.

Together, we can make Northwest Arkansas the bike-friendliest region in the nation.