Protected Bike Lanes: Safety and Ridership
Easier cycling is safer cycling. Protected lanes can make streets safer for all road users: cyclists, pedestrians and drivers included. For example, New York City's Prospect Park West bike lane (which you can see more of below) has dramatically reduced speeding [PDF]. Before the bike lane, 3 out of 4 vehicles broke the speed limit. After the bike lane was installed, only 1 in 5 vehicles were driving over the speed limit.
A 2009 review [PDF] of scientific literature on bicycle infrastructure by Conor Reynolds et al. concludes that “purpose-built bicycle only facilities” are the most effective way of reducing crashes and injuries.
With separated lanes, poor design at intersections can produce potential confilct areas for cyclists and drivers. Special consideration of these areas and proper design will minimize conflicts for all road users. Learn more about intersection safety.
Physically separated bike lanes along fast and busy roads will help keep cyclists off of sidewalks. In New York, the Prospect Park separated bike lane has led to a 21% reduction in injuries to all street users. After installing the prospect park bike lanes, the percentage of cyclists riding on sidewalks has fallen from 46% to 3% on weekdays and from 20% to 4% on weekends. There were no reported pedestrian injuries in the 6 months following the installation of the lane.
Prospect Park West separated bike lane in New York City. Photo: NYCDOT
According to 2010 data on cyclist collisions in Toronto, the number one cause of reported cyclist injuries (a total of 141 for 2010) was being sideswiped by another vehicle travelling in the same direction. The second most common cause of injuries (131 reported injured) was cyclists being struck by opened vehicle doors.
In New York [PDF], the majority of cyclist deaths from 1996-2005 happened in mixed traffic, on arterial roads. Only 1 of the total of 255 cyclist fatalities in that period occurred on a separated bike lane.
Separating bicycle traffic from vehicle traffic, especially on fast moving, busy arterials will go a long way in reducing these numbers.
A recent study on protected bike lanes from a group of researchers lead by Anne Lusk of the Harvard School of Public Health found that cycle tracks have a 28% lower risk of injury than comparable reference streets. In addition to this, the Montréal cycle tracks used in the study were found to attract 2.5 times more cyclists than the reference streets.
In addition to making streets safer, protected bike lanes increase the perception of safety, or comfort level, of cyclists, which is an important contributor to increased ridership. As an example, Montréal’s investment in quality bicycle infrastructure has lead to a 35-40% increase in ridership between 2008-2010. 67km of Montréal's bicycle network is separated from car traffic.
Jacob Larsen and Ahmed El-Geneidy of McGill University found that cyclists in Montréal will go up to 2km out of their way to access separated bike lanes [PDF]. They go on to state that “the preference for physically-separated facilities among more infrequent cyclists suggests that this facility design is the obvious choice in encouraging new and novice cyclists.” In Vancouver, researchers from the University of British Columbia found that separation from traffic is one of the most important motivators for adopting cycling for transportation.
Looking at European examples, John Pucher and Ralph Buehler find [PDF] that high bike ridership in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany can be explained by physically separated facilities along heavily travelled roads in all three countries. They argue that this separation is key to achieving the high levels of cycling found in those countries.
Increased ridership, in turn, increases safety. Due to increased visibility, the more cyclists there are riding, the safer they are. As found in a study by Peter Jacobsen of cities in California and towns and cities across Europe, both cyclists and pedestrians can find safety in numbers.
The more cyclists are separated from traffic, the less their exhaust intake will be. In a study from Luc Panis of the Flemish Institute for Technological Research, cyclists were found to be more exposed to toxic emissions from car exhaust than drivers. While cycling on roads shared with automotive traffic will always lead to some exposure to exhaust, the study argues that “identifying and implementing separated and dedicated routes for cyclists and motorized traffic will go a long way in decreasing exposure.”