Do Bike Lanes Reduce Bike Accidents?
According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Active Transportation Annual Safety Report, Washington pedestrian and bicycle deaths doubled over four years between 2013 and 2017. This amounted to 60 deaths in 2013 and 122 in 2017 (pedestrians shouldered most of the increase in fatalities). Pedestrian and bicycle accident injuries went up 31 percent during these years, from 351 in 2013 to 461 in 2017.
There is no doubt that bicyclists are at serious risk of accidents and injuries every time they ride their bikes. Over the last couple of decades, many cities have been creating bike lanes to help reduce the number of fatal bike accidents.
Do bike lanes reduce bike accidents?
Researchers at the University of British Columbia created a study called Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Surrounding Environment to find out if designated bike lanes reduce bike accidents. The study concluded that bike lanes do make cyclists a lot safer but only certain kinds. To get to this conclusion, researchers used a case-crossover study design that began by identifying the points in the cycling routes where injuries occurred among 690 cyclists who ended up in emergency rooms during a 6-month period in 2008 and 2009. They used the spot where the injury happened along with a randomly-selected control spot. Each type of street type was labeled as one of 14 unique street types. This allowed the researchers to measure the safety of each of the street types while controlling for other factors.
Which types of streets create biggest risk for bike accidents?
The researchers found that wide streets with parked cars that had no bike infrastructure such as bike lanes were by far the most dangerous for cyclists. In fact, roads with bike lanes had injury rates 50 percent lower than wide roads without them. The risk of accidents and injuries on roads with protected bike lanes was an amazing 90 percent lower than wide roads without. This enormous reduction in bike accidents was surprisingly 30 percent higher than the reduction found on multi-use paths and off-street trails.
The study points to the fact that bike infrastructure makes a big difference in cyclist safety but that not all bike infrastructure is equally helpful. In addition, experts say that cyclists need to learn how to share road space to help protect themselves and to be aware that accidents with pedestrians, other cyclists and obstacles in a path can also be serious. The lead author of the study, Dr. Meghan Winters, explains that “risk perceptions surrounding cycling are sometimes at odds with observed risk” which they measured by asking the injured cyclists “How safe do you think this site was for cyclists on that trip?” Specifically, cyclists believed that the risk of injury on multi-use paths was lower than it is and the risk on segregated bike lanes is higher than it is.
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