Prior to the late 1990’s, data regarding bike lanes in North America was scarce, as few US cities had adopted their use. Now, with close to 10 years of data adding up from these early programs, we’re beginning to see the results pour in. The outdated VC cries of, “Bike lanes are dangerous death traps” backed by an 80 year old leader, John Forester, aren’t panning out as all of us who have ridden on the thousands of miles of bike lanes that now exist throughout the country can attest. “Bike Capital of the US”, Portland, Oregon, saw a ridership level of less than 1% modal share increase to 8% in a decade, and have witnessed accident ratios plummet.
Portland’s Bicycle Coordinator, in an interview with BFOC, stated the simple fact, “At this point, Bike Coordinator’s who are still married to VC-only models are preaching dogma”. Dallas was the last major US city hold-out, with its former Bike Coordinator denying to the end the realities surrounding him. “What we noticed was they always seemed to have an excuse for why it was working in other cities but couldn’t work here, like: ‘it’s cooler there’, ‘they have a university downtown’, ‘they have a greater population density’, ‘it’s a medeval city with smaller streets’, or ‘it’s in their culture’ “, stated Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce member, Rob Shearer, “but they had to keep adding layers of exceptions as new cities came online that bucked their philosophy and showed success.” At the lowest point, they were reduced to fictionalizing data collection methods from national studies in order to maintain their stance.
Dallas councilwomen, Angela Hunt and Linda Koop, saw this and were beginning to get fed up with landing at the bottom of nationwide Bike Friendly lists. In early spring, they and city manager Mary Suhm decided to do away with the dogma and a push was made to find a new 21st century bicycle coordinator who would be an advocate for progressive bicycle infrastructure. Boston followed a similar path, and after hiring new coordinator and racing champion Nicole Freedman, have jettisoned their abysmal ranking of “Worst US city for Cycling”, and quickly adopted some of the most progressive programs and infrastructure in only two years.
“We’re witnessing a sea change in city infrastructure development”, notes North Texas CNU President, Monte Anderson. “21st Century city planning is a radical departure from 20th Century planning where completely opposite stances are taken on how to properly build streets. For instance, major US metropolitan areas are removing highways, thinning roads, and creating complete street alternatives to embrace people over cars. This was unthinkable in 1985. Unfortunately, many of our existing Planners were educated in the old way of doing things, and this new version is counter to everything they’ve been taught…but the inevitability of change is unavoidable at this point. A new crop of Planners are coming out of our schools and they’re looking at cities in entirely different ways. Lessening our dependence on oil and a generation seeking greener communities is influencing this change.”
We now know that well-designed facilities encourage proper behavior and decrease the likelihood of crashes. Most importantly, these facilities are bringing out new riders in droves and changing cultures of car-centric communities. Fortunately, numerous studies are showing that bicycle lanes improve safety and promote proper riding behavior:
- In 1996, over 2000 League of American Bicyclist members were surveyed about the crashes (accidents) they were involved in over the course of the previous year. From the information, a relative danger index was calculated which shows that streets with bike lanes were the safest places to ride, having a significantly lower crash rate then either major or minor streets without any bicycle facilities; moreover, they are safer than trails and sidewalks as well.1
- The addition of bicycle lanes in Davis, California reduced crashes by 31 percent.2
- Bicycle lanes on a major avenue in Eugene, Oregon resulted in an increase in bicycle use and a substantial reduction in the bicycle crash rate. The crash rate per 100,000 bike miles fell by almost half and the motor vehicle crash rate also fell significantly.3
- When the city of Corvallis, OR installed 13 miles of bicycle lanes in one year, the number of bicycle crashes fell from 40 in the year prior to the installation to just 16 in the year afterwards, and of the 5 crashes that occurred on streets with bike lanes, all involved bicyclists riding at night with no lights.4
- In Chicago, Illinois, crash severity was reduced in one study of marking bike lanes in a narrow cross section where 5 foot bike lanes were marked next to 7 foot parking lanes.5
- In Denmark, bicycle lanes reduced the number of bicycle crashes by 35 percent.6 Some of the bike lanes reached risk reductions of 70 to 80 percent.7
- A comparison of crash rates of all types in major cities has shown that cities with higher bicycle use have lower traffic crash rates of all types than cities with lower bicycle use.8
- In a national study comparing streets with bike lanes and those without, several important observations were made:9
- Wrong-way riding was significantly lower on the streets with bike lanes.
- In approaching intersections, 15% of cyclists on streets without bike lanes rode on the sidewalks, vs. 3% on the streets with bike lanes.
- On streets with bike lanes, 81% of cyclists obeyed stop signs, vs. 55% on streets without.
- In Cambridge, sidewalk bicycling was cut in half after the installation of bicycle lanes on Mass. Ave. in Central Square.10
- Corvallis and Eugene, Oregon, cities with good bikeway networks, have the highest number of riders and rider behavior is the best: wrong-way riding is minimal, fewer ride on the sidewalk than in other Oregon cities.
- In looking at comparable streets with and without bicycle lanes in Davis and Santa Barbara, California, the number of cyclists riding on the wrong side of the street was one third as much on streets with bicycle lanes.
1. William E. Moritz, Ph.D., “Adult Bicyclists In The United States Characteristics And Riding Experience In 1996,” TRB Preprint Paper, 1998.
2. Federal Highway Administration, Bicycle Safety-Related Research Synthesis, 1995.
5. Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Bike Lane Design Guide, 2002.
6. Danish Road Directorate, Safety of Cyclists in Urban Areas, 1994.
7. Jan Grubb Laursen, Nordic Experience with the Safety of Bicycling, 1993.
8. Peter Newman, Lecture presented at the Conservation Law Foundation, Boston, MA, January 9, 1997.
9. Federal Highway Administration, Bicycle Lanes versus Wide Curb Lanes: Operational and Safety Findings, May 1998.
10. City of Cambridge data, unpublished.