Study: Safety of Different Types of Protected Bike Lanes


Protected bike lanes are probably the safest places to ride in busy areas. But they’re not perfect and some have proved safer than others, says a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They encourage people to ride and work best on bridges and road stretches without many intersections or driveways. And two-way cycletracks on busy streets are less safe, as they put unique demands on drivers, who need to look both ways. Streetcar and train tracks also increased risks to riders.

The institute did its study by examining cases of 604 cyclists injured in a crash or fall while riding in Washington, DC; New York City and Portland, OR. The researchers concluded you’re better off biking on a conventional bike lane than on a road without one. But “(p)rotected bike lanes vary in how well they shield riders from crashes and falls,” says the study, titled Not All Protected Bike Lanes Are the Same: Infrastructure and Risk of Cyclist Collisions and Falls Leading to Emergency Department Visits in three U.S. Cities.

“Planners should minimize conflict points when choosing where to place protected bike lanes and should implement countermeasures to increase visibility at these locations when they are unavoidable,” the authors advise.

Note: Researchers based the study on interviews of those taken to emergency rooms and some of the victims misidentified the type of facility they were riding on. (And, obviously, it doesn’t include the stories of cyclists killed while riding or incidents that don’t wind up in emergency rooms, major potholes in the data.)

Two-way cycletracks proved safer if at a raised elevation from the road. Riders on cycletracks in New York got into fewer collisions with cars than did those in Washington because Washington’s cyclists had to deal with many drivers coming out of driveways and alleys and New York streets don’t have many of those.

Autos do not account for all the crashes. Cyclists also got into collisions with pedestrians in the lane or crashed trying to avoid them: either walking, crossing, waiting or getting in or out of a car. When it comes to bike/pedestrian collisions, protected lanes proved less safe because pedestrians were more likely to wind up in them. The study didn’t examine why.

Read the report at


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