Survey Finds That Buffered Bike Lanes Are Better

A buffered section of Manhattan’s 8th Avenue bike lane.

Bike lanes that separate bicyclists from motor vehicle traffic
are safer and encourage more bicycling, according to a recent survey by Transportation Alternatives. The survey of 147 cyclists was conducted along the 8th Avenue bike lane in Manhattan, one of the few bike paths to integrate both “buffered” and “unbuffered” segments.

Transportation Alternatives found:

  • Buffered bike lanes are are perceived as being safer than conventional lanes.
    52% of respondents feel safe in buffered lanes, versus only 21% in conventional bike lanes. Conventional bike lanes are more dangerous than buffered lanes — 44% of respondents find the conventional lanes dangerous or intolerable, versus only 19% of respondents surveyed on buffered lanes.
  • Buffered or not, bike lanes encourage more bicycling.
    Seven out of ten cyclists use 8th Avenue more often since the lane was installed.

Despite its recent commitment to install more than 200 miles of new bike lanes throughout New York City by 2009, the Dept. of Transportation does not routinely buffer lanes along heavily trafficked roadways. Most of the bike lanes along Manhattan’s 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th Avenues, for example, are not buffered.

On the other hand, bike-friendly European cities routinely stripe buffers and build barriers to separate cyclists from traffic and reduce the amount of street space available to motor vehicles. The City of London has even established a set of detailed Cycling Design Standards to help planners and engineers determine when and where to implement different bike lane designs.

New York City, it seems, could use a similar set of guidelines.

  • John Hunka

    Actually, the portion of the bike lane on Second Avenue between 14th Street and Houston is buffered.

  • Steve

    I definitely use 8th over 6th when I want to use a bike lane because of the buffer. It is also my impression that the newer lanes, buffered or not, are wider than the older ones. The First and Sixth Avenue lanes are 3′ wide, I think, while the newer lanes such as 8th Avenue are 4′. So that may be part of the reason people feel safer on 8th Ave. The DoT should systematically restripe the old lanes to 4′ wide. 3′ is a joke.

  • John Hunka

    I hope Transportation Alternative does a survey to see how cyclists feel about steets with “sharrows” like Grand Street. I feel safest on streets with sharrows because: 1) I don’t have to worry about being doored; and 2) I feel confident taking the whole lane. In fact, I think the Eighth Avenue bike lane would be significantly safer if the unbuffered sections were marked with sharrows and “Shared Lane” signs. The portions of the Eighth Avenue lane that are unbuffered are somewhat harrowing at times.

  • ddartley

    UN-buffered Class II lanes are almost completely useless.

    Here are their merits and demerits:

    The narrow car space.

    Uh, how much time you got?

    While I don’t see buffered Class II lanes as an ideal solution, they are SOOOO far superior to unbuffered ones that unbuffered ones should not be used at all, going forward.

  • ddartley

    Re: Sharrows:

    WHY are they usually painted close to the edge, rather than in the middle of the actual travel space? On the edge, they effectively become an un-buffered Class II lane, which are, you know, crap.

  • ddartley

    Ugh–sorry to overpost, but I really meant to add this about Sharrows:

    Downtown, like near Grand St. itself, there’s a stretch of road (Madison St.?) that has sharrows–and on ONE stretch, they’re in the middle, and on the next couple blocks, they’re off to the side!

    To me, that supports my idea that when they’re painted off to the side, it’s genuinely a mistake by the painters.

  • Steve

    The sharrows are not necessarily preferable to the lanes, in my view, for the following reasons:

    1) Most motorists don’t yet know what the sharrows mean.

    2) Lanes are more visible than sharrows in heavy traffic. The cars are on top of the sharrows in heavy traffic, you can’t even tell you are on a sharrowed street.

    3) Sharrows have further visibility problem in that they seem to wear off sooner. Even if parts of a lane wear off, your eye “conencts the dots” and discerns the lane.
    4) For most begininers, they feel better having their own segregated space in a lane (even if the lane is invaded in practice) than have a presumption that they are just like a car mixing directly with motor vehicle traffic.

    5) For kids, a lane serves a visual guide that helps them ride more predictably which is safer for everyone.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-sharrow. I think they would be an appropriate treatment in certain situations–for example, on the East Side Greenway connector routes on First and Second Avenues in midtown. On those routes, the cars would ignore a traditional Class II anyway. Class II lanes there would give a false sense of security, possibly create danger with bicyclists shifting in and out of the lane constantly to avoid cars while trying to obey the law requiring them to use the Class II “when safe and available.”

    But I would not want to replace non-buffered class II routes with sharrows. I would rather have every bicyclist that feels comfortable doing so taking the roadway as if it were sharrowed, with traditional Class II lanes in place for those who do not feel comfortable doing so.

  • re: sharrows – not to put too much stock into their effectiveness, but yep they should be in the middle of the lane. They’ll last longer that way too since they won’t get rubbed out by tires as quickly (the way unbuffered bike lanes on narrow streets (e.g. bergen, dean) do!

  • Alex R

    It’s deceptive of you to write that “[b]uffered bike lanes are safer than conventional lanes.” It would be more appropriate to conclude that buffered bikes increase perception of safety in comparison to conventional lanes. The difference is significant.

    Besides, wouldn’t surveying cyclists who are using the buffered lane indicate a self-selection bias of people already predisposed to such an arrangement? A better study would survey randomly chosen cyclists.

    The survey is useless as a matter of guiding public policy.

  • Jacob Lee

    I want to second the comment by Alex R: the questions are about perceptions of safety, not actual safety. The second question (the one about whether bicyclists were more likely to use 8th avenue) is flawed, too, since they were asking the subset of bicyclists who were using 8th avenue.

    I do agree that the perception of safety is important, though: bicyclists will not use roads that they perceive as unsafe.

  • Hans

    Having the bike lanes as part of the roads is insane. It doesn’t work! Why don’t we do it like they do in Germany? Make the bike lanes part of the sidewalks.

  • Note I didn’t call it a “study” or even a “poll.”

    TA surveyed cyclists using both the buffered and un-buffered sections of 8th Ave. So, I don’t think it’s any big flaw only to survey cyclists using 8th Ave.

    I think you are correct to note that we can’t say this survey shows buffered lanes are safer. It only shows that cyclists perceive them to be safer.

  • d

    Perhaps to clear up confusion, the post’s headline should be “Survey Finds That Buffered Bike Lanes Are Preferred.”

  • steve

    But what about the alliteration? How about: “Survey Finds Buffered Bike Lanes Are Best-Loved.”

  • Dave

    To really be a pain, since we don’t know if they are preferred among the general biking population:

    “Survey Finds That Buffered Bike Lanes Are Preferred by People who Choose to Use Them”

    TA is a great organization, but sometime I don’t get the point of some of their ‘studies’ or their ‘statistics’.

  • Frank

    TA could have done a more extensive or scientific study instead of this quickie survey but I think the quibbling is kind of silly.

    Buffered bike lanes are clearly more comfortable than unbuffered lanes for lots of cyclists. Having more space between the bike lane and the traffic is a desirable thing. Taking a lane of the avenue away from car and truck traffic is lovely.

    Sure, let’s make the case with good studies, but let’s also not lose sight of what’s obvious and intuitive.

  • Steve

    The survey seems newsworthy to me (at least for a blog) but the perception vs. reality issue is also important. I’ve heard it suggested that the buffer should go between the row of parked cars and the bicycle lane, not between the traffic lane and the bike lane. It is possible that this approach more closely reflects where the danger to bicyclists is coming from, at least during the 90% of the time the bicyclist is traveling mid-block rather than at the intersection. It might also discourage the double parking on the buffer one sees so often on 8th and Lafayette. However to the extent the Class II bike lanes are intended for beginners and others moving at slower speeds, there is likely a perception among this group that the greater danger comes from the traffic lane. I think the best use of Class II lanes is for beginners and other slower bicyclists, that the dooring hazard is reduced for this group in any event, and that putting the buffer between them and the traffic lane is the right approach even if it reflects perception more than reality.


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