Protected bike lanes safer than street, study confirms

Cyclists are safest when treated like cars, right? Wrong. A new study confirms that protected cycle tracks are safer than dedicated road lanes for urban bicyclists.

It's been thought that bicycles, like motorcycles, are best when treated like any other car on the road.

A new study argues that's not actually the case.

According to Harvard School of Public Health researchers, separate and protected bicycle lanes are safer than a simple painted line demarcating a dedicated lane on the street.

While that may seem obvious on its face, the study actually backs the claim with data. Researchers pored through nine years of crash records from Montreal’s extensive network of cycle tracks and found that injuries were 28 percent lower on dedicated tracks versus on comparable roads without protected lanes.

The authors, led by researcher Anne Lusk, write:

Our results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions.

Cycle tracks are distinct from dedicated bike lanes because they employ a buffer of parked cars, trees or a raised curb to separate bicycle traffic from automobile traffic.

Critics of cycle tracks have said that their dedicated nature give riders a false sense of security, since they must still cross intersections. (Among them: the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, which discourages engineers from using cycle tracks, as Jon Hiskes points out over at Sustainable Industries.)

As you might suspect, cycle tracks are much more prevalent in Denmark and the Netherlands, where bicycles, not cars, are the primary mode of transportation. A few U.S. cities have implemented them in key locations -- on the East Coast, New York City; on the West Coast, Portland, Ore.

The study also found, unsurprisingly, that cyclists preferred cycle tracks to unprotected road, using protected lanes 2.5 times more than roadways.

Another interesting finding that touches on culture: a lack of protected bike lanes is one reason why more women, children and seniors don't ride, according to the study.

The study was published in the journal Injury Prevention.

Here's a video on Portland's efforts, as unearthed by Hiskes:

On the Right Track from Mayor Sam Adams on Vimeo.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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