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Does Bike-Friendly Infrastructure Improve Safety On the Road? 

up close bicycle wheels


In 2020, the United States experienced nearly a thousand cyclist fatalities, and the rate has been on the incline since, especially in urban places where bicycles and cars collide more often than ever

It’s harder to tell how many cyclists are involved in some kind of crash with a car that doesn’t result in a death. Often, these accidents go unreported because a driver leaves the scene or the cyclist feels they are not injured enough to report the incident. This information, however, can be crucial to informing bike-friendly infrastructure that increases safety and, ultimately, saves lives. 

Without the information to sway city planners and lawmakers who vote to fund these projects, there’s little incentive to build the bike lanes that are proven to make a difference.

“The large number of bicycle-involved collisions demonstrates the need to prioritize analyzing and enhancing the safety of bicyclists,” says the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

So, what works to increase safety and decrease deadly interactions between cyclists and drivers? It turns out that protected bike lanes are reducing crashes, and federal agencies now have some proof.

A recent Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) project evaluated the safety effect for various on-street bicycle facilities because there’s been little federal research into the matter. The administration’s research focused on the feasibility of developing a crash modification factor (CMF) for the placement of SBLs at roadway segment locations.

This way, cities could know exactly whether their bike lanes are accomplishing their mission.

A research team evaluated separated bike lanes (SBL) in large cities: San Francisco, Seattle, and Cambridge, Mass. And two smaller cities: Denver, Colo., and Austin, Texas. 

“The CMFs for SBLs show a clear trend that, with their implementation, a transportation agency can expect to see a reduction in bicycle crashes. The individual city models suffer from smaller sample sizes; however, they continue to result in estimated crash reductions consistent with those of larger sample sizes,” researchers concluded. 

In short, the researchers were able to confirm that, yes, protected bike lanes do reduce crashes. 

Creating space all road users prefer

Apart from increasing safety, San Francisco road users say they prefer the separation of protected bike lanes, especially in busy areas.

A 2016 survey “suggests alignment between drivers and cyclists for roadway designs that can meet the needs of both user groups while sharing the road, with both groups preferring greater separation on multi-lane roadways.”

The findings continue that, “roadways with barrier-separated bicycle lanes were the most popular among all groups, regardless of bicycling frequency. Striped bicycle lanes, a common treatment in the U.S., received mixed reviews: a majority of the sample believed that they benefit cyclists and drivers through predictability and legitimacy on the roadway, but the lanes were rated significantly less comfortable than barrier-separated treatments—particularly among potential bicyclists.”

City officials have recently prioritized this infrastructure after several high-profile deaths in the community, but cyclists from across the region say there’s still more work to be done.  

Slowing down traffic, enticing cyclists

A major reason why advocates say protected bike lanes work is because they bring predictability to hectic corridors and slow down traffic, creating a safer environment. 

A 2019 study from researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico found that infrastructure tailored to cyclists in fact makes for safer roads. The researchers looked at 13 years of data from 12 large cities across the nation.

“Bicycling seems inherently dangerous on its own,” said study co-author Wesley Marshall, PhD, PE, assistant professor at CU Denver. “So it would seem that a city with a lot of bicycling is more dangerous, but the opposite is true. Building safe facilities for cyclists turned out to be one of the biggest factors in road safety for everyone.”

In California, bicycle advocacy groups continue to support and champion protected bike lanes for this reason. Most recently, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition members have weighed in on the protected bike lane proposed on Oak Street along the Panhandle. 

“Several members stressed the importance of creating safe and intuitive connections between the JFK Promenade and the Wiggle, mentioning that if the bike lane doesn’t fit those criteria, most people biking won’t use it,” the group wrote. “Others also stressed the need for robust protection at the intersections where people on bicycles will be interacting with cars and pedestrians. Everyone agreed that a dedicated eastbound lane would complement Fell Street’s westbound lane, and expand the options for people cycling crosstown.”

Lawyers can help after accidents

Of course, even with bicycle-friendly infrastructure, bicycle vs. auto collisions are still likely to happen. These crashes can be scary, and it can be intimidating to know what to do after a crash. 

It’s important to take care of yourself and your health. See a doctor and seek the right care for your injuries, whether they are physical or mental. Beyond that, it may be crucial to collect the right evidence and talk to a personal injury lawyer. 

Talking to an experienced bicycle crash lawyer can give you peace of mind. A consultation with the bike lawyers at Bay Area Bicycle Law is always free. Whether you need a lawyer representing you in your case or not, we can provide guidance on next steps after a bicycle accident.