There’s Safety in (Bike-Specific) Infrastructure

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Bike Portland looks at a new review of the scientific literature
on the relation between bicycle infrastructure and injuries to
cyclists, conducted by researchers at the University of British
Columbia. While the study points to the need for more data, it finds
that dedicated bicycle infrastructure is associated with a lower risk
of injury for people on bikes.

Elly Blue writes:

3942850339_f3db2076a2_m.jpgMulti-use paths like the
Hawthorne Bridge have the
highest injury potential. Photo: Jonathan Maus

There’s a constant chorus — sometimes soft, sometimes overpoweringly
loud — in every conversation about bike infrastructure in America. Its
refrain: You’re safer without any bike lanes, separated lanes, cycle
tracks, bike boulevards, off-road paths. Just take the lane, follow the
rules, wear your helmet, and you’ll be fine.

A group of scholars at the University of British Columbia have found otherwise. They conducted a literature review,
looking at all available studies linking bicycle safety with
infrastructure. Their conclusions will be counterintuitive for some.

“Results to date suggest that sidewalks and multi-use
trails pose the highest risk, major roads are more hazardous than minor
roads, and the presence of bicycle facilities (e.g. on-road bike
routes, on-road marked bike lanes, and off-road bike paths) was
associated with the lowest risk.”

“One of the major advantages of infrastructure-based improvements,
compared to personal protective devices such as helmets, is that safe
infrastructure provides population-wide protection for all cyclists,”
study co-author Meghan Winters said in a press release.

The study’s abstract draws these conclusions:

Evidence is beginning to accumulate that purpose-built
bicycle-specific facilities reduce crashes and injuries among cyclists,
providing the basis for initial transportation engineering guidelines
for cyclist safety. Street lighting, paved surfaces, and low-angled
grades are additional factors that appear to improve cyclist safety.
Future research examining a greater variety of infrastructure would
allow development of more detailed guidelines.

I’m sure that many of our network members will want to dig deeper into this one. 

More from around the network: a rant against bike chic from Biker Chicks of West Chester. Extraordinary Observations makes the connection between free burritos and traffic congestion. And the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia reports on biking the transit strike in that city.

  • My greatest concern with the current bike plan in San Francisco is that even if/when it ever gets implemented, it is already behind the times in current best approaches and thinking. Is there even one buffered bike lane (sidewalk, then bike lane, then car parking, then car travel lanes) in the plan?

  • ZA

    Taomom –

    I’m optimistic that once bike lanes are in, and cyclists and other road users adapt to them, there’ll be a loud call from businesses (who want the customers), drivers (who want to avoid the insurance costs), and cyclists (who want the safety) for separated facilities in areas that are the most confusing for all.

    That’s precisely why there is such vociferous opposition to even paint on asphalt, it’s the ‘thin end of the wedge’ to the sweaty nightmare of the RA “crowd.”

  • Matt H

    It is time that we finally declare “vehicular cycling” dead. It has been thoroughly discredited and should be abandoned. A car is not, and never has been a car.

  • @Matt H: I change my style depending on the situation. I will use vehicular cycling if I am coming up to a long line of cars stopped at a stop light on a faster road. Doesn’t seem right to make seven cars go around me. Now, if a car passes me aggressively just to get to a stop sign or light, yeah, I will get right back in front of them.

  • I’m unsure if “buffered lanes” are clearly the way to go in urban areas anyways. I’m aware they’ve been implemented in a handful of European cities, but I’m not convinced they’re the answer. Something about cycling between a sidewalk full of people, a row of parked cars, and the blindness of said people attempting to get in and out of their parked cars just makes me think it’s far more cyclist/pedestrian collisions waiting to happen than we might anticipate. Add in today’s generation of “walk down the street with my headphones in while i stare at my phone” and it’s just asking for dangerous conflicts.

    Personally, I’d rather take my chances as an element moving parallel, albeit slower, than the cars next to me instead of trying to dodge perpendicular pedestrian traffic.

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