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How safe are bike lanes, really?

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2021 | Bike & Pedestrian Accidents

Bike lanes are becoming more and more common across the United States as cities and municipalities try to encourage greener modes of transport. However, whether or not these bike lanes have actually improved biker safety is still a serious question.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, whether or not bike lanes are effective at keeping cyclists safe depends heavily on the type of bike lane it is, and how many intersections there are within that lane.

Barriers vs. conventional bike lanes

A “conventional” bike lane is a bike lane where the separation between bike lane and car lane is nothing but a painted line, or perhaps the bike line itself is a different color. This is similar to the painted lines that separate car lanes from each other. However, studies following conventional bike lanes report inconsistent safety results.

Studies conducted by the IIHS found that separated bike lanes were much more safe. Not only does physical separation from the road protect the cyclist from motor vehicles, but bike lanes at street level often had cyclist-pedestrian accidents, as well. Completely separated bike lanes were far safer.

Intersections are the most dangerous

The majority of fatal bike accidents happen within intersections. Even if the bike lane is completely protected from pedestrian or motor vehicle traffic otherwise, this is true. The more intersections of any sort within the bike lane, the more accidents occur within it. The IIHS recommends cities place their bike lanes on paths with as few intersections as possible.

Another suggestion is for cities and municipalities to build raised and separated cycle crossings. Studies in Europe found that separating bicycle intersections from motor vehicle intersections increased bicyclist safety considerably.