Sharing the road: How separated bikeways are setting the standard for safety

By Mary Ebeling

As more cities and states strive to achieve goals for sustainability, pollution reduction, safety, and livability supporting active transportation has emerged as a key activity. In order to encourage bicycling, cities have been constructing new infrastructure that physically separates cyclists from motor vehicle traffic. Without these facilities, increasing the number of people who bike for transportation may be difficult. However, when trying to build safe bike facilities, many cities are challenged by high-speed arterials cutting through downtowns. These arterials are prime locations for protected bike lanes and may also be state highways. This provides an exciting opportunity for states to work with cities to improve multimodal opportunities on state-owned roads that travel through dense urban areas.

A wealth of evidence is accumulating in support of building these protected bike lanes. A recent push by Minneapolis to install protected bike lanes on the city’s arterials has earned the city recognition. The release of new statistics shows that bicycle crashes and injury rates have dropped significantly in Minneapolis since the build-out of on-street protected bike lanes within the city. Protected bike lanes, often located on high-speed arterials, form critical connectors for a city bike network, offering a 90 percent reduction in injuries per mile ridden compared with streets without any bike facilities. Recent studies in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC have also shown that compared to streets with no bike accommodations or only marked bike lanes, protected bike lanes improve motor-vehicle driver behavior and result in significant reductions in bicycle/vehicle crashes, as well as encourage a mode shift from cars to bicycles. The table below shows strong evidence that improving bicycle infrastructure improves safety.

Additional studies have shown the safety benefit of a network of protected bike lanes for busy arterials connecting with lower volume roads. Cities that have locked onto this type of bike facility design are reaping the benefits of improved safety outcomes for vulnerable users and helping to provide justification for the development of separated bike facilities in more cities nationwide.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.