More than 600 cyclists were killed — accounting for 2 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities — and an additional 51,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic accidents in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Sixty-nine percent of fatalities occurred in urban areas and 36 percent at street intersections. “Our basic American street design is not for bike use,” says Ron Thaniel, executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

To improve bicycle safety in cities, the U.S. Department of Transportation and NACTO have released the Urban Bikeway Design Guide, a resource for creating safer and more attractive and livable streets. The publication compiles best practices for designing and maintaining bike lanes, intersections, cycle tracks, signals, and signs and markings. “Our streets are grounded in assumptions created in the ‘40s and the ‘50s,” says David Vega-Barachowitz, NACTO sustainable initiatives program manager. “They’ve never been updated to reflect current mobility and congestion.”

Portland, Ore., is one city that is working to make its streets safer and more convenient for cyclists. It is focusing on making bike lanes and intersections more comfortable for cyclists who may not like riding near car traffic. “The best way to improve safety is to get more people riding,” says Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland. “The sheer visible presence [of cyclists] makes drivers behave better.”

Portland has reduced its bicycle crash rate over the past 20 years. While the number of reported bicycle crashes has remained relatively steady, bicycle traffic has increased fourfold during that same time period. The city has created a comprehensive bike plan through 2030 that emphasizes separating cyclists from high volumes of fast-moving traffic.

Thaniel says that the guide’s recommendations should not be viewed as an additional expense or an advocation for reconfiguring streets entirely. “This is simply part of the maintenance process,” he says. “A 21st century city includes other modes of transport, and we need a transportation model that includes all modes.”

Allison Reilly is a St. Louis-based freelance writer.