Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite, back by popular demand. It was originally published on May 18, 2013. Enjoy!
With cycling advocacy at a particular high during National Bike Month, communities across the country are actively debating whether to add bicycle lanes to their roads. City councils ask, “Is it worth the money? Will it be too disruptive? Is it really any safer?” Thankfully, research has demonstrated a number of benefits to adopting bike lanes:
1. It inspires more people to ride bicycles
If you build it, they will come. Time and time again, cycling studies have shown that adding bike lanes motivates more people to get out and bike. New Orleans saw a 57% increase just six months after bike lanes were marked. Los Angeles also saw a 52% jump in cyclists on their new lanes. Meanwhile, New York City found it was able to double the number of people commuting by bicycle in just a few years after introducing a few cycling initiatives including bike lanes. In a country plagued by obesity, the health benefits of a population that rides bicycles should not be mitigated.
2. It stimulates the local economy
That same increased use also results in a boost to commerce. While communities often fight bike lanes out of concern that it will discourage vehicular traffic from coming to the stores, recent studies have shown that bicycle lanes have the opposite effect on sales. In Manhattan, streets that had bike lanes put in saw their business increase by nearly 50%. A business boom, particularly one of that size, can probably be attributed to a number of factors, but surely an increase in people in the area plays a big role. Similar results were found for businesses by bike lanes in Portland.
3. It‘s safer for cyclists
Accidents happen, but research illustrates that city streets with bike lanes reduce the rate of cyclist injury by 50%. For years, the conventional wisdom was that sharing the lane with vehicles made for safer cycling, but data supports that having a separate lanes significantly cuts down on the number of cyclist emergency room visits. In fact, protected bike lanes – those with barriers dividing cyclists from vehicles – cuts the injury rate by a whopping 90%.
4. It‘s safer for motorists
When sharing the road with cyclists, drivers tend to have a difficult time gauging how much space to allow. Occasionally, motorists will get too close to bikers and cause accidents that way. However, almost 90% of the time drivers overcorrect when they see a cyclist and drift into the adjacent lane, putting themselves at risk for an auto collision. A study in three Texas cities showed that when bike space is clearly marked by paint, drivers knew how much space to allow and were less than half as likely to subconsciously swerve into another lane of traffic.
5. It has a real impact on the environment
As people feel safer and the number of cyclists grow, this conversely alters the number of vehicles on the road. As National Geographic discusses, cycling does seriously lower one’s carbon footprint by not emitting pollution or burning fossil fuels.
In fact, short car trips do the most damage. An engine releases the worst pollution as it “warms up,” so if more people were to bike instead of drive for their closest trips, this would be a boon for the environment. Since the average cyclist isn’t inclined to bike more than a few miles anyway, bike lanes would certainly help to facilitate the green choice.