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Proof That Protected Bike Lanes Make a Big Difference

Proof That Protected Bike Lanes Make a Big Difference

When I hear someone say, “bike lane,” I always ask them to clarify exactly what they mean. Are they referring to a street with a bicycle painted on the ground every few blocks? Or are they referring to a lane that’s actually separated from car traffic? It’s important to make the distinction, because there’s a gamut of bike lanes, and not all are created equal.

What’s the crème de la crème of bike lanes? The protected bike lane.

A protected bike lane is a bike lane that has a physical barrier between bikes and cars, and I think we can all agree that a physical barrier is a bit more comforting than a line of paint. If you’re a cyclist, I’d even wager that you feel safer when riding in a protected bike lane, and probably even choose protected bike lanes over other routes, given the fact that protected bike lanes have been shown to cut cycling injuries in half.

But what about people that don’t ride? Do they have the same view of protected bike lanes? Do they see them as a safe haven for cycling, and therefore feel more encouraged to ride?

It’s easy to assume that the answer to this question is yes, but as it turns out, we don’t need to assume it anymore; a new study proves it.

In fact, it’s the first major academic study of protected bike lanes in the United States. While there have been many protected bike lane studies in the past, they mostly rely on data from other countries, whose bike culture and street design are often quite different than our own.

Portland State University’s National Institute of Transportation and Communities took a look at protected bike lanes in five major U.S. cities. Analyzing the data, the research team saw that there was a very clear trend: when protected bike lanes are added to a street, more people bike there.

How many more people? In the first year of adding protected bike lanes, there was an average 75% increase in bike traffic. Even the streets that already had protected bike lanes installed saw an increase in bike riders over the course of the study.

What’s telling is that these increases either matched or exceeded citywide bike growth overall, meaning that even in places where biking is already on the rise, biking in areas with protected bike lanes rose even more.

What kind of cyclists are protected bike lanes bringing in? According to the study, about 25% of the cyclists using the bike lanes are users that are coming from other modes of transportation; the other 75% are cyclists that are switching their route to take advantage of the protected lanes. In other words, protected bike lanes are encouraging more people to ride.

This study encourages even more research, specifically on the impacts to the non-cycling community that might be persuaded to trade four wheels for two. “We’re seeing people who already bike shifting the routes that they’re taking; we’re seeing a small amount of new cycling,” Jennifer Dill, a PSU scholar who co-authored the study, told Streetsblog. “One thing that we don’t know from this or any other research out there is how long it takes for people to really start changing their travel modes.”

Definitive research will take a few more years, but as Streetsblog pointed out, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that we can use to get excited about the full potential of protected bike lanes, particularly as it relates to getting more people to ride.

“Washington DC, one of the first U.S. cities to start installing buffered and protected bike lanes — and also one of the cities that’s had the most success at getting its commuters to switch from cars to bicycles — now has several years of data on two of its routes. They’ve seen ridership grow much faster than the citywide average, year after year after year.”

Will protected bike lanes be the way of the cycling future in the United States? We’ll have to wait and see, but things looks promising, and now all you cyclists out there have the academic proof you need to back up your “more protected bike lanes are a good thing!” argument.

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Photo Credit: nPaul Krueger

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61 comments

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9:16PM PDT on Jul 2, 2014

Cyclists on footpaths piss me off, and I'm a cyclist! They give us a bad name, as do the idiots blowing red lights. Sadly, there are just as many drivers blowing the same lights. Cycling 'highways'--as I like to think of them-- make total sense. More people start riding because it feels safer. Pedestrians are safer from idiot cyclists, and drivers don't have to complain about cyclists who get through traffic faster than they can ;). If roads are too narrow, it's time for places to move to one-way roads, or start closing some roads to car traffic. The money invested saves on expanding mass transport or building highways. I think the solution is one that should make everyone happier.

3:40PM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

Great idea!

5:24PM PDT on Jun 8, 2014

Definitely for protected bike lanes!!

9:32AM PDT on Jun 8, 2014

Maybe protected bike lanes make a big difference to cyclists but they are killing small businesses that can no longer receive delivery of their merchandise because of the barriers.

3:43PM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Common sense would dictate bike lanes need protection from automobiles, especially with all the unconscious drivers that exist these days and their poor driving skills. More studies are nothing more than a waste of time and money.

12:20PM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

Yes. They're a great idea. Personally I'd like to experience protected foot paths. Too often an adult, always male, cyclist whizzes past from behind me, frighteningly close.

7:54AM PDT on Jun 7, 2014

good news

8:42PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

Yes, Denmark! On busy city streets, pedestrians get the sidewalk, bikes get their dedicated lanes ~4 inches lower, then cars get the road ~4 inches lower. Signals indicate which of the 3 can go. Very efficient, effective, and safe for all.

4:53PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

In Australia there are few "protected" bike lanes - those that exist are shared by pedestrians (some of whom think they are exempt from the "road" rules, walk 3 side-by-side with an unleashed dog and pay attention only to their conversation). I spoke to a lady from Denmark who informed me that there * the cars, bikes and pedestrians all have their own separate pathways - on different levels* ! How safe and sensible is that!?! My wish is to have that in every city worldwide.

In the meantime, thankyou for the article and, as others have pointed out, we all pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, need to be mindful of the conditions, our safety and others safety at all times.

4:27PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

When a city is expending hundres of thousands of $$ on segregated bike lanes ( which are a good idea) there should be ZERO tolerance for cycling on the sidewalks on those streets. I live on a street with a dedicated bike lane ( physically dedicated not just lines) and yet I still have to watch for cyclists on the sidewalks. I have actually seen cyclists on the sidewalks on both sides of the street while at the same time the bike lane was unused..yes make cycling more safe but NOT at the expense of pedestrians who always seem to be left out of the equation. It is also illegal to cycle on the sidewalks in my city but no one ever does anything to stop cyclists from barrelling through throngs of pedestrians.

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