Study: Painted Bike Lanes Don’t Endanger Pedestrians or Anyone Else

The city's older painted bike lanes, like the Fort Washington Avenue lane shown here, lead more people to ride bikes, not to more crashes. Photo: ## of City Planning##

New York City’s tabloid media simply can’t stop seeing the city’s bike boom as a mortal threat to pedestrians. Even research showing a decline in the number of bike-ped crashes was somehow spun to say the opposite, that more cyclists were hitting pedestrians than ever. Now, new peer-reviewed research confirms once again that bike lanes don’t endanger pedestrians and don’t cause more crashes. If anything, researchers say, they make streets safer.

Even though they attract more cyclists onto the street, New York City’s painted bike lanes don’t lead to any increase in the number of traffic crashes, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. The study’s authors expect that if they could adequately control for increased bike traffic, the numbers would show that crash rates went down due to the installation of bike lanes.

The researchers attempted to mimic the structure of a true experiment by pairing each street with a bike lane to a street without a bike lane that was otherwise as similar as possible. They attempted to control not only for design features like the number and direction of the lanes and the presence of stop signs or traffic signals, but also contextual factors like population and retail density. That enabled them to factor out the significant increase in traffic safety that has taken place across all of New York City.

“The difference between the treatment group and the comparison group in terms of a reduction is just not significant,” author Cynthia Chen, a transportation engineer at the University of Washington, told Streetsblog. The change in the number of crashes was statistically insignificant not only for total crashes, but for vehicle crashes, bike crashes, pedestrian crashes, and crashes that caused death or serious injury.

The study only looked at painted bike lanes installed in New York City between 1996 and 2006. Protected bike lanes, all of which were installed after that period, have had impressive safety results. A protected lane installed on Manhattan’s Eighth Avenue, for example, reduced injuries for all street users by 35 percent, according to DOT.

DOT’s landmark pedestrian safety study, which similarly attempted to control for confounding factors, also found that on streets with bike lanes, serious crashes were 40 percent less likely to kill victims.

Chen argued that her team would likely have found significant results if they had better data about bicycle volumes, which they believe increase after bike lanes are installed. “We think that if we were able to control the increase in bicycle volume, we would probably have found a significant reduction in crashes for the treatment group.” In other words, bike lanes might improve safety per person even if the total number of crashes holds steady.

The researchers also saw far greater numbers of bicycle crashes at intersections than on straight road segments. To improve safety, they recommended extending bike markings across intersections and installing more bike boxes.

The study, set to be released in an upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed journal, was conducted by a team of five academics and one city DOT official. DOT also funded the study.

  • Ben from bed stuy

    It’s nice to know that when we work to make cycling safer, by asking for bike lanes, we are helping to make our streets safer for everyone – pedestrians, drivers and cyclists alike!

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    “Study: Painted Bike Lanes Don’t Endanger Pedestrians or Anyone Else ”

    Really? So what about the similar Jensen study of 2007 – also a before-and-after study, that showed that cyclists are more likely to be involved in a collision while using a bike lane? Here’s a quote from the study:

    2007 Jensen: Bicycle Tracks and Lanes, a Before – After Study (Copenhagen, Denmark)
    “The safety effects of bicycle tracks in urban areas are an increase of about 10 percent in both crashes and injuries. The safety effects of bicycle lanes in urban areas are an increase of 5 percent in crashes and 15 percent in injuries. Bicyclists’ safety has worsened on roads where bicycle facilities have been implemented.”

    I’m not going to say outright that this New York study is flawed, but since almost every other study done on bike lanes comes to the same conclusion as Jensen, I’m guessing there’s some sort of bias getting into the NY study.

  • Mike Moskowitz

    Was that the Jensen study which found out that accidents increased, but the number of cyclists increased even more, so the end result was they were safer? (Which reminds me of the Australian mandatory cycle helmet law: deaths and serious injury rates dropped, but cycling rates plummeted, so the cyclists had a higher risk after the law!)

    What did this study find? From the summary:
    “Results. Installation of bicycle lanes did not lead to an increase in
    crashes, despite the probable increase in the number of bicyclists.”

    I think that means they noticed that painting a few stripes on the street had no measurable effect on road safety. If the number of cyclists increased due to the lanes, the safety was actually improved.

    I think it also proves that painted on-street cycle lanes as such offer no significant safety improvement over cycling on a ‘car lane’. Which is why I’m in favor of protected cycle lanes and advanced Dutch intersection designs. They’ve tried and proved their designs.

  • fj

    Maybe we should have a definitive study that lasts for twenty years or more to get really good numbers with bike lanes everywhere and the city car-free. 

    That might settle this profound controversy.


  • dporpentine


    almost every other study done on bike lanes comes to the same conclusion as Jensen

    Your bizarre insistence on, um, lying about that is demolished here:

  • Andrew

    It doesn’t seem like a good idea to build bike lanes right beside parking lanes like this. “Door prize lane”?

  • Andrew

    It doesn’t seem like a good idea to build bike lanes right beside parking lanes like this. “Door prize lane”?

  • carma

    regarding these lanes, as long as you ride on the outer edge of the lane.  you should be fine with the dooring issues.

  • Every time a city builds more bike lanes, there will be more bike crashes, and every time it builds more roads, there will be more car crashes. This is not exactly news.

  • Johnw

    The most dangerous thing about protected lanes are the motorists who idle in them forcing cyclists to come out into a road with belligerent motorists who won’t give them an inch cos they ain’t in their zone. Of course the barely conscious donut machines who patrol the roads barely register this. I’ve never seen cops stop motorists for doing this but on more than ten occasions I’ve seen cops idling in the cycle lanes whilst they get breakfast.

  • Excellent post. I have been checking continuously this blog with this particular impressed! Extremely useful info especially Bike lanes help define road space, decrease the stress level of
    bicyclists riding in traffic, encourage bicyclists to ride in the
    correct direction
    of travel, and signal motorists that cyclists have a right to the
    road. Bike lanes help to better organize the flow of traffic and reduce
    the chance
    that motorists will stray into cyclists’ path of travel.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It doesn’t seem like a good idea to build bike lanes right beside parking lanes like this. “Door prize lane”?In addition to what Carma said, one thing that makes cyclists safter is riding with othe cyclists.  To the extent that bike lanes consolidate cyclists on particular streets, it makes them safter.  And to the extent that as a form of “outdoor advertizing” the lanes encourage more cyclists, they have the same effect.

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    @dporpentine: No it isn’t. The Kinzie bike lane is a death trap at every intersection along its route, which will be proven with time.

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    Mike Moskowitz wrote “Was that the Jensen study which found out that accidents increased, but
    the number of cyclists increased even more, so the end result was they
    were safer?”

    That’s a common misconception. The study took the effect of increased ridership into account.

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    @ dporpentine: Why is it that you feel it’s okay to accuse me of ‘lying’ when all I did was quote a study and wonder about this study’s potential for flaws when it goes against the conclusions of numerous studies, including the 1998 Aultman-Hall study, the 1999 Aultman-Hall study, the 1999 Franklin review, the 2001 Wachtel study, the 2007 Jensen study, the 2008 Agerholm study and the 2011 Reid review?Yours is an ad hominem attack. You’d do better to address the issue rather than my character.

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    By the way, this study is a comparison study, and probably has the same sorts of problems as the recent Lusk study, which has been soundly criticized for blatant selection bias.


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