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.

  • It’s wonderful to finally get a scholarly, peer-reviewed meta-analysis of the data concerning the impacts of dedicated bicycling infrastucture. There is always a place for cyclists’ anecdotal observations (whether offered in blogs by individual cyclists like me or even in monographs by “authorities” like Forester), but such observations are hopelessly subjective. This article goes a long way to proving what I have (subjectively) believed all along: that bike lanes and paths and the best was to improve cycling safety. I hope other investigators will design studies to specifically address the dearth of data concerning straightaway cycle tracks, such as those recently installed in Manhattan.

  • Larry Hogue

    Lost a long comment due to forgetting about the spam protection, so here’s the short version:

    Studies about safety may be good, but apparently this literature review is flawed. Here’s Forester’s critique:
    http://johnforester.com/Articles/Safety/Infrastructure%20Impact.pdf

    In addition to logical errors about the safety of bike lanes, the reviewers left out a major study that contradicts their claims, from Copenhagen:
    http://tinyurl.com/3dlkbm

    That study showed a 10% average increase in injuries and crashes on cycle tracks.

    However, maybe safety isn’t the most important thing for bike advocates to look at. The Copenhagen study also showed a 20% increase in cycle traffic due to cycle tracks, and a 10% decrease in vehicle traffic. Seems to me that that kind of increase in cycling outweighs the safety declines. The Copenhagen study authors come to a similar conclusion.

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