Do bike lanes actually make cyclists safer?
Answer. It depends. And design choices have everything to do with it.
Fast Company reported on our work by John Anderson and Anna Bernbaum using open source data analysis of accidents in bike lanes across three cities. Read about how each city approached the design challenge.
In 2004, I was working a summer job as a bike messenger in Boston when I was struck by a car in an intersection. I ended up in the hospital, undergoing extensive surgery to have a metal plate inserted from my left wrist up my forearm—I can still feel it whenever I type. Lying there on the operating room table, I wondered if this would have happened if there were better protections for cyclists.
The whole premise of bike lanes is that giving cyclists a dedicated space will allow them to ride safely and coexist with vehicle traffic. And yet, bike lanes don’t always make cyclists safer—and sometimes they offer no protections at all. New York City, for example, has reported 34,112 collisions between cyclists and motorists since 2014, despite the addition or enhancement of about 330 miles of bike lanes (with 27 cyclists killed in 2019, the most of any year since 2000).
As COVID-19 inspires more people to use bikes as a transportation option, it seems likely that accidents—and fatalities—will rise as well. We need to examine whether the bike lane improvements that cities are investing in actually make roads safer for cyclists. And if they’re not, why? How can cities design them to be them safer?