Cyclepaths: Perceived Safety and Actual Safety

Cyclepaths: Perceived Safety and Actual Safety

I’ll say it up front: I want to see more people ride bikes for transportation. However, I am also concerned when perceived safety turns out to be anything but… which is exactly what happens with the “protected” bike lanes that separate bikes from cars.
To illustrate my concern, let me talk about another issue where the perception of safety turned out to be a costly illusion.
In the 1990s, many people bought SUVs because they were perceived as safer. The SUVs were bigger, you sat higher up, and thus many drivers felt safer in them. This turned out to be a fallacy. The high center of gravity caused SUVs to flip over during sudden maneuvers. Their stiff frames also didn’t have crumple zones like modern passenger cars, endangering both the occupants of the SUV and those who were hit by the SUV. Cyclists and pedestrians fared much worse when crushed by the bluff front of an SUV than when they were lifted onto the hood of a modern passenger car. Thousands of people needlessly died in these accidents.
Fortunately, the safety of SUVs has improved with new technology: stability control systems have reduced the risk of rollovers, and the unibody construction of car-based “cross-overs” incorporates proper crumple zones. And traffic fatalities in the U.S. have declined as a result.
Cyclepaths provide a false security, similar to SUVs. On cyclepaths, cyclists feel safe because they are “protected” from cars – until they enter intersections without being visible to traffic.
Being overlooked by car drivers is the biggest risk cyclists face in urban traffic. Intersections are where most cycling accidents occur. Cyclepaths make cyclists more vulnerable right where they face the greatest danger.
Like SUVs, there is hope that the safety of cyclepaths also can be improved through good design – maybe. For now, we are building cyclepaths that are more dangerous than riding on the street. Even in Copenhagen, accidents increase when “protected” bicycle lanes are installed.
With bicycle facilities, we face a choice. We can follow the example of SUVs, and build cyclepaths. We’ll accept increases in accidents until we can make a flawed concept safer at great expense.
Or we can try to start out with a better design from the beginning, and create cycling facilities that are appealing to novices without creating a false sense of safety. Instead of separating cyclists from cars by visual barriers, at least in North American cities, we can designing a network of “Bicycle Boulevards” that provide cycling routes on streets where few cars drive.
Beyond that, why don’t we take some of the money we plan to spend on cyclepaths and invest it instead in education on how to ride safely. Make cycling safety a curriculum in schools, so that future generations aren’t afraid to ride on the road – because they know how!
In fact, the same approach might work with SUVs: Instead of suggesting that people buy bigger cars to feel safer in the “inevitable” accident, teach them how to drive safely and avoid most accidents in the first place.
Click here to read more posts about cycling safety, cyclepaths and bike lanes.

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Comments (70)

  • David

    In Chicago, “protected” lanes are being installed on streets that had regular bike lanes before, that have numerous intersections. I feel very unsafe on these lanes because cars simply cannot see me. While some get angry at drivers for close calls, I can’t blame drivers for a system that hides bicyclists from view. Accidents on these “protected” lanes really are the fault of the infrastructure.

    July 25, 2013 at 12:36 pm
  • Rod Bruckdorfer

    The Johns Hopkins study done in Baltimore, MD showed that bike lanes improved cyclist safety.
    “BALTIMORE, MD–– In one of the first U.S. studies of its kind, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that bike lanes in Baltimore improve cyclist safety, in a paper published in the Journal Accident Analysis and Prevention on March 27, 2012. The study looked at drivers’ behavior around cyclists on roads with and without bike lanes, and the good news is that drivers pass significantly wider when cyclists are in bike lanes.”

    July 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I wonder whether this is because bike lanes “legitimize” cyclists on the road? It would be interesting to compare roads with sharrows. Of course, even cyclists don’t seem to understand the meaning of sharrows, and there aren’t really any channels in the U.S. for educating the public about traffic rule changes…

      July 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm
    • Bubba

      The first sentence of the final paragraph of that linked study reads:
      “The study has not looked at intersections, which is the predominant location for bicycle-vehicle collisions. More research is needed on that topic.”
      Furthermore, this study only covers traditional bike lanes, adjacent to traffic, not the fully separated bike lanes that are the “newer better thing” that Jan is disputing. Right?

      July 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        I haven’t read the study, but “passing wider” makes sense only for on-street bike lanes. Segregated facilities don’t have cars passing at all…
        As we discussed earlier, there is a lot of “junk science” with regards to bicycle facilities, so one really has to look carefully at the methods, data and conclusions before accepting studies at face value.

        July 25, 2013 at 1:35 pm
    • Tom Armstrong

      I suspect that the Johns Hopkins study is much like the Teschke, et al, and Lusk, et al studies in that it fails to examine the behavior of the cyclists. Cyclists who act as drivers, when compared to cyclists who spend all or most of their time at the edges of the lanes, will fare much better for an assortment of reasons (better visibility FROM the bike, better visibility and relevance OF the cyclist from the point of view of other road users, for starters). For more on why this is so, I suggest a perusal of , along with watching the videos linked in the comments below the main post.
      As noted by bubba, the telling point–that this study did not even bother comparing roads with or without bike lanes at intersections, where the vast majority of crashes occur, “voids the warranty” on the claim that bike lanes make any positive safety difference.
      That public health officials dare to examine transportation issues without real understanding of the dynamics of traffic motion is appalling. I would have thought that researchers at Johns Hopkins would be above such idiocy.

      July 25, 2013 at 3:20 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        We should read the study before we condemn it. If their objective was to determine whether it makes sense to stripe bike lanes on roads, or just have a (wider) traffic lane without striping, they may have achieved that objective. (Assuming they also accounted for lane width of the roads with and without bike lanes.)

        July 26, 2013 at 9:11 am
  • John Le Marquand

    I have had a brief dialogue with Momentum magazine suggesting they read some of your post on cycle tracks and here is their response:
    We have heard Jan’s argument before but completely disagree with this point of view which is why we have covered separated bike lanes the way we have in our issue. Not only are separated bike lanes safer, they give the perception of safety which significantly increases the number of people riding bikes. If we want more people riding in North America (which is the mission of Momentum), then we must continue to promote and encourage the best in cycling safety standards – this includes protected bike infrastructure.
    This is an excellent study on the safety of separated bike lanes that might interest you.
    I read the study they recommended and it is clear it confirms their point of view, that cycle tracks are the safest. It is very limited in scope covering Toronto and Vancouver..

    July 25, 2013 at 2:46 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I value diversity of opinion, but it would be nice if those advocating segregated facilities for cyclists addressed the objections of the other side, for example, the risks at intersections. As far as I can see, Momentum doesn’t advocate any design standards that could mitigate the intersection risk.

      July 25, 2013 at 11:38 pm
    • Erik

      The study they refer to has one major advantage over all other studies: it takes in account how much traffic is using the several types of infrastructure. Most other studies (like the one from Antwerp) have no data on how many injuries occur per km on every type of bicycle infrastructure.
      When reading this study my first observation was that of all people that get to the hospital after an accident only 41% actually had an accident with a moving object. That means that 59% managed to get into the hospital by hitting or not hitting a motionless object. No offence, I know some infrastructure is dangerous, but I think some proper cycling education and maybe a visit to an optician should get those numbers down.
      This first number seriously influences the other data: it is possible the “self-crashers” feel insecure on one of the types of infrastructure, thus tend to crash more on it.
      However, Jan, I think the statement that safe intersections with segrated bicyclepaths do not exist, is untrue. The very clear example being the multiple storey intersection, whereby cyclist can use the intersection on a different level than other traffic. It is a very large type of intersection and in an urban environment far from easy to built, but it is clear that it is just way safer.
      Actually, my feeling is, that your arguments should not be used to support any type of infrastructure by default. It think it would be better to express your arguments like: at a well designed intersection:
      – motorised traffic can see bicycles while approaching the intersection from a distance that is proportional to there approaching speed.
      – the priority-rules for all users should be clear.
      – when using trafficlights: a green light should mean you can safely make your manoeuvre without the risk of other roadusers still crossing your riding-line. (in the Netherlands for example, this rule is allways valid)
      – Cyclist going turning left should have a safe way to turn left

      A good road designer should be able to design intersections in different settings obeying these rules. The solutions will vary from no cycling infrastructure at all to segregated bike lanes with tunnel intersections. The liberty to design a good solution should be given to the designer, the requirements for safety and comfort should be given by the (future) users. (at least, that is how I see it).

      July 26, 2013 at 1:32 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Currently in the U.S., we need to deal with the intersections that are being built right now. Yes, in an utopian city, where you can raze buildings at will, slow traffic, and what not, you might be able to design separate paths that are safe even at intersections. However, we are concerned about our cities are they are being re-built right now. And what we see isn’t safe at all – view the video that was posted in an earlier part of this series.
        So we have two options:
        1. Try to advocate to make intersections safer by changing design. However, considering the available funds and political will, I don’t see that happening.
        2. Try to advocate for facilities that are safer from the get-go, and don’t have to be “retro-fitted” for safety. With “Bicycle Boulevards” and on-street bike lanes, as well as sharrows, I think we stand a chance with this approach.

        July 26, 2013 at 9:26 am
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        Jan, it isn’t “utopian”. It’s Dutch. (And judging by the number of fatalities, Copenhagenish, too)

        July 30, 2013 at 11:55 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The data suggests that Copenhagen’s bicycle facilities increase, not decrease, bicycle accidents. So clearly, Copenhagen hasn’t yet reached the “utopia.” And the U.S. isn’t even attempting…

          July 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm
    • Dwight Kingsbury

      Generizability of the results on cycle track (separated bike lane) safety of the BICE study (at the AJPH link) is questionable. The study examined 690 ER-treated cyclist injuries in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver; at time of the study, cycle tracks in these cities were limited to a few implementations in Vancouver. Moreover, because the cycle tracks were not (in the authors’ interpretation) carried through intersections, any injuries of cycle track users that occurred in intersections were not considered as having occurred on cycle tracks (as authors made more clear in a follow-up paper at ).
      Driveways were (apparently) sufficiently infrequent in Vancouver and Toronto that the authors did not include a driveway variable in their model, even though their initial analysis suggested that “junction” presence did modestly increase injury risk (although the confidence interval was large). In lower-density, more “suburban” US cities, of course, major roads are commonly lined with commercial driveways, and driveway locations collectively account for a considerable percentage of cyclist-motor vehicle collisions.
      May also be worth noting that the highest 75th percentile motor traffic speeds the authors measured on major streets at the injury and control locations in Vancouver and Toronto were not much more than 50 km/h (Table 3). On major streets used by cyclists in more “suburban” US cities, 75th percentile speeds may be in the 35-40 mph range.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:03 am
  • samsavvas

    Good post Jan. I’m in Adelaide, Australia where we have many km of on-road ‘painted’ bike lanes on our arterial roads. On balance I think they are a good thing despite their failings. They give bicycle users a bit of legitimate road-space and narrow down (if designed properly) the space allocated to vehicles which tends to lower their travel speeds. They don’t work well on some roads, particularly where heavy vehicles are involved. Adelaide has a brief dalliance with protected bike lanes (separated by a concrete kerb I think) on a busy CBD street but this lane has now been ripped up for the reasons you outline. Melbourne has a few excellent separated lanes but they work because they are on major roads extending out from the CBD through parklands – hence few intersections to deal with. Adelaide is going the ‘bicycle boulevard’ route – we are calling them ‘Greenways’ and they will overlay our existing ‘local roads’ network. Adelaide has a tiny population but is half the size of LA. So we have a major problem with urban sprawl. The Greenways will assist longer distance commuting etc and are, for our city, an important element in encouraging bicycle use. I would add (and this is illustrated by the discussion above) that it’s often important to clearly state what is being discussed when referring to ‘bike lanes’. Bike lanes are not bike paths and protected bike lanes are different again. Some bike paths are shared and some are not. All very different entities and experience with different designs varies enormously from one place to the next. I was fascinated to read (for instance) your recent post from Berlin where it seems they are just starting to experiment with on-road bike lanes – a design that Adelaide has pursued since the 1970s.

    July 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm
  • Zbyszek Kolendo

    Gdansk, Poland. The present mayor and the rest of the municipality in power are well aware of a PR lift-off they can get from being pro-: pro-gressive, which is pro-green, and this means being simply pro-cycling (as they can be painfully inept at most other things). The result is a city that takes your breath way with red-brick coloured cyclepaths visible wherever you choose to look. The pinnacle of the achievement is a bike path in the vicinity of the Municipal Government (Kartuska St.) which is wider than the sidewalk there … and it is downtown, with plenty of pedestrians on their way.
    And indeed, May through August, from midday to early evening on sunny days cyclists and rollerbladers of all shapes and sizes zizg-zag all along the paths. They are three because the path is there, but they might be just as happy, or even better off, on a large paved circle with arcades and benches to sit on after a couple of minutes when they get tired. I do like them enjoying themselves, but what happens on cloudy days, most such days over here, and during the rest of the year?
    You are left with two hazards. One is what you Jan talk about: cars cutting into your path at intersections, all the time. And it’s not even their fault: it’s impossible for a driver to see you on such a path, when you travel, like me, about 30 km/h (below 20 m/h). And I’ve had quite a few near misses, but they were such only because I learned how to handle cars. They are big, heavy, and predicable, I can sniff them out long before they are about to bite me.
    It is the other danger that worries me even more, or should I be happy about it? I’ve just realized that these paths my mayor et consortes are so proud of have turned me into a ‘lady killer’. In this increasingly politically correct world of ours I can branded as sexist, but the three shameful notches on my top tube concern ladies. Men I can handle alright, not women. They see me, I see them, even at quite a distance, I do my best to avoid them, but to no avail. Her and me, with my bike in between, we touch, we kind of fall, then we smile and apologize and our separate ways. No exchanging phone numbers as yet. Early childhood aside, I can recall no such happenings before the advent of ‘protected’ bike lanes …

    July 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm
  • Paul Glassen

    I have seen a video on Youtube that shows some intersection design in the Netherlands The design specifically addresses the relationship between motorcars and cyclists/pedestrians. Incidentally, it has recently occurred to me that there is something wrong with calling walking/cycling/public transit “alternative transport”. We walk when we become toddlers. We cycle around the time we start school (and in the happier time of my childhood, we start walking or cycling to school). And, of course, lots of young people use public transit. So, shouldn’t automobile use be considered the transportation “alternative”? Especially since encouraging numbers of driver-age youth are NOT seeking licenses, and fewer of the peek new car buying 25-35 year olds are buying new cars. Apparently young people would rather spend their money on electronic devices. We can only hope that some, also, are buying good, useful bicycles.

    July 25, 2013 at 7:44 pm
  • D J

    Defensive riding on the cyclist’s part is the key. No matter what the infrastructure is, car vs. cyclist always results in the cyclist losing. Wear your helmet, use lights/reflectors when needed, be predictable, alert, and ready to take action to ensure your safety.
    And remember, statistics can be interpreted in many ways, so be wary of studies that may or may not have looked at all the factors.

    July 25, 2013 at 9:32 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree. As you point out, “being predictable” is an important factor, but when you are hidden on a separate “protected” bike lane, you lose the predictability, since you are invisible until you arrive at the intersection.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:15 am
    • Wim

      If you lived in the Netherlands of in Danmark, two of the best countries to use the bike and also to of the safest places to use the bike, you wouldn’t even mention the use of a helmet.
      Most of the time they also have separated bike lanes. If they are constructed right, they are very safe. The problem is not the separated bike lanes, but the bad design of much of the (bike)infrastructure.

      July 28, 2013 at 7:39 am
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        Love those videos. Note that the first one shows cyclists on something more akin to a “Bicycle Boulevard,” and not pushed onto the sidewalk of a busy street. It also struck me how slow the speeds were – clearly, these riders aren’t going very far, otherwise, they’d spent all day getting to their destination.

        July 29, 2013 at 6:03 am
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        No, they aren’t going very far. Most Dutch kids ride less than 5 km to school, and most adults less than 10 km to work. There’s a huge difference, I think, from American cycling, which is much more “elite”. In Holland and Denmark (the larger cities, that is), people will use the bike instead of the car for distances typically up to 5-7 km. Above that, a lot fewer will use a bike, decreasing, of course, with the distance. There ARE “elite” bike commuters, but very few of them. Probably the same number, relatively, as what you find in the USA.
        If you wish to change the American commuting modes, you’ll have to make the short rides a lot more attractive.

        July 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Our cities are different. I live in a “streetcar suburb” (built for people who commuted by streetcars that, alas, no longer exist). To get downtown is an 8-mile ride with a significant hill on the way. On the other hand, more Americans like to exercise, so it’s not a lost cause. But to expect men in suits and women in high heels (à la Copenhagen) to ride from around our spread-out cities (except for a few short trips) is unrealistic.

          July 30, 2013 at 1:06 pm
  • Peter F

    I have to preface this by saying I’m no expert and my data is anecdotal, but here in NYC the separated bike lanes have done a vast amount for broadening the base of cyclists. My wife and daughter, who are not at all comfortable riding on the regular streets to the degree that they just won’t do it, ARE comfortable in the new separated lanes and bike paths. It has given them a margin of safety, real or perceived, which allows them to ride in a city where they probably wouldn’t otherwise.
    Are these separated lanes perfectly safe? No, of course not. You still have to look out for pedestrians, stop at red signals, watch for the errant sanitation truck that thinks the bike lines are a garbage pickup lane, etc. But for new and uncertain riders, these lanes can be a blessing, separating them from cabs cutting across three lanes to get a fare, SUV’s running red lights, car doors opening, and so on.
    Yes, intersections can be dangerous. But that’s true whether the lane is separated or not. That’s why you have to stop at red lights, obey all the traffic laws, ride with traffic, and most importantly, ride assuming you are invisible to cars. And yes, part of the problem is poorly trained riders. But unless you allocate huge funds to retraining all car drivers in the country (how and would it even work?) and demand our police actually enforce the traffic laws (which they often don’t), better cyclist training will only go so far. New York drivers are notoriously bad, but I’ve seen pretty of awful driving everywhere I’ve been and just painting bike lanes on the regular streets doesn’t make people drive better.
    In sprawling suburban cities like Seattle and much of this country, perhaps the difference the separated lanes make is less pronounced, especially when they’re badly implemented. But in the dense, heavily urban and trafficked cities, I’ve found them a godsend. As a reasonably experience cyclist, I’ve been riding all the streets of NYC for 15 years and the separated lanes, while not perfect, DO make riding around town a vastly more relaxing and less stressful experience. And, while not having the data in front of me to back it up, my sense is that they are safer, IF you are conscientious about obeying the traffic laws.
    Are these lanes useful or necessary for randonneurs, strong confident riders, racer boys, bike messengers? No, but for the vast majority of the average cyclists here- slightly unsteady, unsure of their skills, intimidated – it makes a huge difference and helps them make the leap to being better, stronger riders. So let’s not dismiss the idea totally out of hand.

    July 25, 2013 at 10:40 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      You make a good point – perceived safety is important to get hesitant people onto bikes. Just like SUVs made many hesitant people more comfortable driving. However, if I ran a car company, I’d be uncomfortable selling SUVs to people who clamor for them because they think they are safer. As a cycling advocate, I am uncomfortable pushing separated bike lanes for the same reasons.
      As to the data, even in Copenhagen, accident risk increased on the same roads after “protected” bike lanes were put in – in before-and-after studies that are perhaps the only valid measure of the safety of bike facilities.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:20 am
      • Michael Andersen

        Jan, can you share a link to this Copenhagen safety data? I’m not clear on whether it accounts for the fact (acknowledged by your post) that there are simply more people coming through intersections on bikes after lanes are physically separated.

        July 29, 2013 at 10:20 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          The link is in the previous post, see the comment above. They corrected for increasing numbers of cyclists, I believe. (At least the Berlin data, which showed the same, corrected for rider numbers.)

          July 29, 2013 at 11:06 am
      • Michael Andersen

        Ah, here’s the link, thanks to your comment below:
        As the study notes, safety per trip or per mile traveled is not the only desirable feature of our streets. But the risk levels are in fact adjusted for impacts on bike volumes.

        July 29, 2013 at 10:42 am
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        Now, if that were true, Copenhagen would have seen an increase in bike fatalities. The opposite is, of course, true.

        July 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          There are many factors that influence cyclist fatalities. You really have to measure the same road, before and after installation of bike facilities, and then correct for changes in ridership, to get meaningful numbers for that type of bike facility.

          July 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm
  • David T.

    The safety problem of SUV’s and of cyclists is really the same problem: bad, dangerous drivers. People don’t need to drive fast, they don’t need high-powered vehicles, they don’t need large vehicles to get around. We need fewer vehicles on the road. People drive aggressively, especially in the city. Anyone who rides a bicycle in and out of the city will know: drivers in the country give you plenty of space, and once you get back into town there is an urgency and competitiveness in the driving, and you are in their way. Maybe that is inevitable when you put thousands of people in close proximity and give them large powerful machines to operate.
    You can design different types of bike lanes to try and avoid or mitigate the danger from vehicles; let’s face it we need to take this approach. But let’s not forget that the danger is due to our automobile culture, and it is a danger to cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

    July 26, 2013 at 3:51 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      drivers in the country give you plenty of space, and once you get back into town there is an urgency and competitiveness in the driving

      Interesting. Around here, I find the opposite is the case. In the suburbs especially, but also in the country within 100 miles of the city, many drivers simply don’t like bicyclists, because they stand for the hated “city”.
      In the city, I have few problems with drivers, beyond their being inattentive sometimes (cell phones, texting).

      July 26, 2013 at 9:28 am
    • charles Nighbor architect

      a co-worker sent this survey to me today… it may be worth checking out…
      From: Parthum, Brian []
      Sent: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 2:44 PM
      To: Parthum, Brian
      Subject: SEMCOG Bike & Pedestrian survey
      Along with MDOT, SEMCOG is in the process of developing a Regional Nonmotorized (Bicycle & Pedestrian) Plan. It includes an inventory of existing and developing bicycle facilities and will address gaps within the network.
      Part of that inventory, includes a survey of bike & pedestrian usage. If you would like to take the survey, please go here:

      July 30, 2013 at 4:14 pm
      • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

        The survey specifically addresses Michigan’s cycling network, but since many of our readers live there, it may be of interest…

        July 30, 2013 at 6:26 pm
  • anniebikes

    I also think education is the way to go, especially in schools. Educate the children, who then become riders, who also become car drivers, who may have more respect for cyclists. I wrote about this issue here:

    July 26, 2013 at 4:59 am
  • Robert Cooper

    In the eyes of the motoring public, for whom “roads are for cars,” it’s fair to say that bike lanes legitimize the cyclist in the bike lane. In other words, bike lanes illegitimize cyclists in the “car lanes,” the car lanes being all of the non-bike lanes. The history of cycling-specific infrastructure shows the motive for constructing cycling-specific infrastructure to have always been to move cyclists out of the way of motorists, for the convenience of the latter.
    For example, the law in New York State:
    § 1234. [bicycles] shall be driven either on a usable bicycle or in-line  skate lane or, if a usable bicycle or in-line skate lane  has  not  been provided,  near  the  right-hand  curb  or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right-hand  shoulder  in  such  a  manner  as  to  prevent  undue  interference  with  the flow of traffic…
    “To prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic.”
    There you have it.

    July 26, 2013 at 6:32 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I do not agree with that black-and-white view. I think on-street bike lanes, to the contrary, legitimize on-street riding in the eyes of drivers. Many drivers used to believe that cyclists belonged on the sidewalk. With on-street bike lanes, it becomes obvious that cyclists are supposed to ride on the street.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:31 am
  • GuitarSlinger

    Educating riders to ride more safely would be my #1 priority if I were making the decisions . If I had a dollar for every idiotic and stupid move I’ve witnessed by local cyclists when driving my car as well as walking [ remembering I’m an avid cyclist going on 50 years now ] I’d be filthy stinking rich right now rather than decently comfortable . Cutting lanes without looking .. not giving notice to pedestrians … riding on the wrong side .. riding doubled and tripled up on two lane roads with no shoulder or bike lane … cutting into the oncoming traffic’s lane in corners .. running stop lights and signs with traffic present ( and expecting cars to notice ) splitting lanes on narrow roads … etc etc etc …. heck I see it all and on a daily basis each and every time I’m in my car or walking . On my bike as well and especially on Denver’s Bike Trails as well as the parks its even worse ( most cyclists are even ruder/stupider to fellow cyclists than they are towards motorists and pedestrians )
    Simply stated … we are ( Bicyclists ) our own worse enemy when it comes to safety …. far away beyond the threat of most motorists . Fact is … far too many of us ( bicyclists ) are the cause of the antagonism between cyclists and motorists/pedestrians/equestrians etc
    As I said to my wife the other day after witnessing the umpteenth stupid move by a local on his bike ” This growth of road bikes and commuters on cycles today is beginning to remind me of the early days of Mt Biking …. where one by one due to poor behavior Mt Bikes were being banned on one trail after another due to excess stupidity and lack of respect/concern for fellow trail users despite the likes of NORBA etc giving warning after warning to Mt Bikers to ‘ share ‘ rather than try and dominate the trails ”
    So yes …. its about ( bleep ) time Cyclists start taking responsibility for their safety themselves instead of the constant and rampant ‘ Victim ‘ mentality and blame shifting along with expecting everyone else to solve ‘ our ‘ problems that far too many of us have adopted as our mantra of late .. and get ‘ Educated ‘ as to the Rules of the Road/Path/Trail etc
    Sorry for the length of this but its a soapbox that has rapidly become my ‘ Pet Peeve ‘ when it comes to dealing with far too many of my fellow cyclists out there

    July 26, 2013 at 6:56 am
    • Tobin

      I think there are many cyclists who ride strangely or erratically because they are in an environment which does not support cycling. If there is no infrastructure and you have motorists who do not respect your right to be in a place, this is naturally going to lead to anarchist behaviour. I see guys riding the wrong way on roads several times a week – when questioned, they insist it’s safer because they can see traffic coming, an argument we’ve all heard I’m sure. And who am I to argue with this? After a snarling driver curses you out, tells you to get on the sidewalk while buzzing past you with cms to spare, how is it wrong to want to see these guys coming? If no one respects the laws stating your right to be safe on the road, why pay any attention to the traffic code? So they end up doing what feels safe, regardless of its actual safety. Surprisingly (?) most of these cyclists do not spend time on the internet reading crash statistics.
      So anyways, I do not agree that cyclists are our own worst enemy. I’ll have to check, but I think it’s a bit unusual for one cyclist to be run over and killed by another.

      July 26, 2013 at 10:39 am
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        “many cyclists who ride strangely or erratically because they are in an environment which does not support cycling”
        This is true also in Copenhagen whereever the facitlities favour car traffic flow. And they do in quite a number of places. That’s seems to be the main difference between Dutch and Danish cycling, IMO.

        July 30, 2013 at 12:44 pm
    • John Duval

      The message that seems to come through here over and over again is expectations. For all road users to dance well together, we must listen to a similar tune. Long Beach offers huge number of training couses for cyclists, but few know about it or attend. (I believe schools require some training about cycling). I doubt any drivers attend simply to better understand the needs of cyclists.
      Bike lanes don’t need explanation, sharrows took some time but are starting to work, irregardless it is “just paint”. Bottom line is infrastructure is there for all to see, setting expectations through first hand experience, just as red lights and lane markers did for cars years ago. Training is totally off the radar for the vast majority of road users. Where these facilities are lacking, behavior of cyclists is worst of all. Even salmon use the bike lane.
      For example: Intersections in Long Beach have little if any treatment at intersections for bike lanes (the most common facility), which usually stop short or effectively become right turn lanes. The result is that every cyclist does something different. The most popular maneuver is to go on to the sidewalk just before the intersection, cross in the sidewalk (without looking), then re-enter the bike lane somewhere on the next block. I don’t think I have ever seen another cyclist do the opposite; move out into the car lane so that cars can continue to turn right safely during the red, without having to worry about me jumping out on their right while they are looking left. Who is doing it “safer”, I don’t know.
      I don’t see how diverting significant funds away from infrastructure to education would set expectations across the population as effectively as getting more paint on the pavement. Some small percentage, sure, but mainly for the next generation.

      July 26, 2013 at 9:44 pm
  • Edwin Williamson

    Thanks for bringing different aspects of this debate up.
    I think there are different goals here.
    For fast bicyclists comfortable on all kinds of roads, the goal is to get from A to B fast and with minimum risk. The best way is probably just like a car would. I remember in the ’80’s and ’90’s young and fearless in NYC looking down my nose at any “cycle routes.” I would take the most direct and fastest way!
    To get more people on bikes, you have to have separated paths. If you look at places with high modal share (like in the Netherlands, or Copenhagen, which have over >25%) they have a lot of separated paths. Compare that to our biking mecca, Portland, which is firmly under 10% and the highest in the US.
    If you want to make that leap from just the fast and fearless bicyclists on the road (everyone on this website and most cyclists in Portland, they just have more than most cities), you have to have facilities that attract people who are neither fast nor fearless, like Peter F’s kids and wife. Like my kids, like most people in the world.
    So I think you have to check what your goal is. Fast and efficient biking? Get in there with cars! We have all done it and it is not that hard.
    Want to get a huge chunk of your populace out of a car and onto a bike? You have to have dedicated facilities.
    That said, we are not making the best separated facilities possible, and you point those out in a clarifying way. Thanks for that, Jan.
    Edwin in not so easy to bike in Nashville, TN, where it is either heat, hills, cars or all three!

    July 26, 2013 at 11:47 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree that dedicated facilities are important to make cyclists feel welcome and safe on our streets. I disagree that these must be segregated cyclepaths.
      When you compare Copenhagen and Portland, the difference in cycling mode share is due to many factors: The average cycling commute in Copenhagen measures 0.5 miles. The city is flat. Cycling is part of the culture. There is no parking. And so on.
      To take one variable (segregated cyclepaths), and decide that this variable alone is responsible for the differences is misleading. Otherwise, you might conclude that Danes cycle more because they have blue eyes. Yet colored contact lenses won’t increase Portland’s cycling mode share.
      Poorly constructed cyclepaths have not resulted in high cycling mode shares in Germany. On-street “Bicycle Boulevards” have greatly increased cycling mode share in Munich. Clearly, there are different ways of making cycling comfortable and safe even for novices, and the solutions must be adapted to the cities where they are implemented.

      July 27, 2013 at 12:09 am
      • eriksandblom

        Not all cycle commutes in Copenhagen are short. Among those living 10-15 kilometres from work, 10% cycle to work. So they have a higher commute mode share in the 10-15 km range than Portland has does for all journeys.
        Thanks for raising this discussion in such a civilised way. I like bike paths but they are not always the best way to do it. Copenhagenize did a graphic last spring, suggesting that under 30 km/h, no separation is necessary. Maybe that’s obvious to many reading this blog, but here in Sweden they actually combine the two.

        July 28, 2013 at 9:44 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Thank you for that interesting link. From what I can gather from the original Danish text and from a Google translation, the numbers actually are a bit different:

          Among those living 10-15 kilometres from work, 10% cycle to work.

          It appears that 10% of cycle commuters (not 10% of all inhabitants) ride 10-15 km to work. Since Copenhagen has a cycling mode share of about 26%, this means that about 2.6% of its inhabitants cycle more than 10 km (6.2 miles). Of course, you cannot compare those numbers to Portland, because I suspect Copenhagenites (?) live closer to work, on average, than Portlanders.
          The same document mentions that only 20% of cyclist ride 4-10 km. This means that in Copenhagen, 70% of cyclists ride less than 4 km (2.5 miles).
          Also, the document doesn’t make it clear whether their total commute (which could include legs by train or bus) is measured, or their actual cycling distance. That could make a huge difference, because multi-modal commutes are very common in Europe (witness the thousands of bikes locked up at many train stations).

          July 29, 2013 at 6:15 am
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        Jan, it’s awfully difficult to discuss the numbers as they’re (willfully?) measured using different parametres. However, 10% of ALL commuters who enter into the municipality of Copenhagen ride longer than 10 km. Not 10 % of cyclists.

        July 30, 2013 at 12:22 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I see. So it’s only those who cross the municipal boundary? Obviously, those already are cyclists who come from outlying areas, and even of those, only 10% ride more than 6.2 miles…

          July 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        No Jan, 10% of all commuters, be that by car, busa, train or bicycle.

        July 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Do I understand this correctly to mean that 10% of commuters travel more than 10 km? It would be interesting how many of those Copenhagen long-distance commuters ride bikes…
          After all, the average bike commute in Copenhagen is about 0.5 miles. So for each cyclist who rides 6 miles (10 km), you need 15 who ride just 0.1 miles (2 blocks) – otherwise, you can’t get that average. So clearly, there can’t be too many Copenhagen cyclists who ride considerable distances.

          July 30, 2013 at 6:21 pm
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        Again, getting exact numbers is very difficult. It seems that in Copenhagen proper the average RIDE is around 1,5 miles but the average bike COMMUTE is around 3 miles. But that’s inside the municipality. The other figure is for those commuting from outside the municipality, entering it.
        I’ve tried asking around for exact and usefull figures, but as I said, they’re very hard to find.

        July 31, 2013 at 2:33 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          Getting figures is hard. Usually, they are based on surveys, but getting a representative sample of the population to contribute is difficult.

          July 31, 2013 at 5:52 am
    • Christian Bernhard Hagen

      The difference between “rides” and “commutes” is important here, as most Copenhageners will use their bike for just about any distance longer than 0,2 miles.

      July 31, 2013 at 2:38 am
  • Lee

    Right on, GuitarSlinger!

    July 26, 2013 at 11:55 am
  • Erik

    Jan, just found this document; I think you’ll love the table on page 26. 🙂
    The good thing is that this document shows designer that just putting in a bicycle path is nonsense. First you need a plan on how your bicycle network will look like and only then choices about infrastructure can be made. I hope your efforts can introduce better bicycle thinking into the heads of Seattles urban planners!

    July 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm
  • Bob Knuts

    One of the important variables is the level of activity on the particular street and, in particular, the level of activity originating in the “parked” cars “lane”. If the activity level is modest (cars not pulling in/out very often and other cars, such as taxis, not stopping frequently to drop off/pick up passengers), then I can see the point that there is a real safety trade-off in creating a separated bike lane on such a street.
    But at least from my personal experience on very high activity streets (NYC), I will take a separate bike lane every time on high activity streets. Compared to the constant risks of dooring, cars lurching in/out of the painted “bike lane”, and all forms of pedestrians (adults, children, animals) walking/running into painted “bike lanes” without warning, I will take less visibility at intersections in a separated lane. Riding the major avenues in Manhattan that do not have separated lanes is like playing pinball in which the cyclist is the pinball and the rest of the world controls the flippers and the bumpers might decide to move at any moment. Exhilarating, to be sure. But not for the faint of heart. Separated lanes don’t solve completely the sudden pedestrian problem but that issue is easier to manage when you don’t also have to worry about the cars/buses/taxis.

    July 27, 2013 at 12:57 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I wonder whether Manhattan is a special case: A street network on a very formal grid, with few timed lights. Thus, cars and cyclists are used to stopping at every intersection… It may be that separated paths work well in that scenario, even though they do not work well in Berlin or Paris.

      July 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm
      • Christian Bernhard Hagen

        Don’t they work in Paris? I haven’t been riding a bicycle in Paris for decades, so I really have no idea, but my impression is that it’s become a lot nicer and a good deal safer.

        August 1, 2013 at 3:39 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          No, the separate bike lanes in Paris are a complete and utter disaster. They are narrow, behind parked cars, with nowhere to go when a pedestrian steps in your way. They end suddenly, often in a curb, or they turn so tightly that you need to be an expert trials rider to make it around. I may do a post on them soon – they really are laughable.
          Fortunately, most big streets in Paris have dedicated bus lanes, and bikes are allowed in those. It’s an on-street bike lane, but one that is 15 feet wide! The only drivers in your lane are professionals (bus and taxi drivers), so it’s very safe. The bus lanes have dedicated signals at the intersections, so that they don’t conflict with right-turning traffic from the adjacent traffic lanes. (Most Paris cyclists ignore the lights, though.)
          Cycling in Paris is relatively safe because the drivers are incredibly skilled. They are used to scooters zooming through the slightest gaps and to general mayhem. (For example, the freeways in Paris don’t have lane markings, so more cars can fit…)
          So the bumbling cyclists on their Velibs can do pretty much anything (and they do!), and they still have a relatively low risk of getting hit. That said, last week, I did see a bike locked to a bridge railing that clearly had been hit hard: frame twisted, rear wheel broken into multiple pieces, and a fork blade was missing! I am not sure what the accident statistics are… but from anecdotal evidence, serious accidents aren’t that rare.

          August 1, 2013 at 7:10 am
  • Heather

    Re: SUV’s- great analogy and I should note that SUV’s were being classed as something other than passenger cars so were not tested as such, not even in the context of crashing with other normal sized vehicles. So yes, when a regular sedan crashed with an SUV, the damage would be quite bad. What I see now are super super large trucks everywhere, they are huge!
    I know in the early 2000’s the SUV’s were being marketed as being powerful, aggressive and designers were told to design for ‘dominance’. Even with the past ten years of environmental awareness, push for greener cars etc, the car companies have come out with something even scarier than the SUV’s, and these massive black and shiny trucks are everywhere! There is no way a pedestrian or cyclist could stand a chance against them. So, I do wonder what the oil companies etc are trying to do here. Obviously there has been a rise in interest in cycling in North America, and concern for the environment, yet they are coming out with massive gas guzzling V8 beasts that take up entire lanes and have massive blind spots.
    They only further scare cyclists who cry for separated lanes even more.

    July 27, 2013 at 1:34 pm
    • Zbyszek Kolendo

      It could be a conscious deal then – on a separated bike path we feel safe and a r e r a e l l y safe from cars (mind that Jan!-:) until the nearest intersection. At intersections though cyclists should be aware that these are the hunting grounds for them, with them not hunters, but those hunted for, of course (SUVs being Siberian tigers…).
      This is in fact how I feel on my commute, a ride teeming with thrills. On this separated bike lane, you are, indeed, protected from cars until you arrive at an intersection. At the intersections, and there are quite a few of them, when you only go faster than at a walking speed, you are sure to be hit or nearly missed, there is no way the drivers taking turns can see you having to sift through the other vehicle traffic and pedestrians.
      So far I have been able to stay in the ‘nearly missed’ category, but it comes at a price. When a few times during your ride you strain your faculties to be at 100% to avoid a collision with a car, there must be side effects. In the course of two years I didn’t manage to avoid three hapless pedestrians who strayed into my way, harmless incidents, still unacceptable.
      The good thing is when I arrive at work I ‘m as alert as a special forces para so no nonsense with me please. But then again, it takes time to unwind…

      July 28, 2013 at 3:29 am
  • addison wilhite

    Did I miss the citation for the claim that in Copenhagen accidents increased when cycle paths were added?

    July 28, 2013 at 6:39 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      It was in an earlier post.

      July 29, 2013 at 6:00 am
    • Christian Bernhard Hagen

      Problem is, they haven’t IRL. SOME reports have measured an increased number of accidents on some segments, but the overall number of serious accidents and fatalities are at an all-time low.

      July 30, 2013 at 12:24 pm
  • Bill Gobie

    Crumble zone: I like the mental image this conjures. But the correct term is crumple zone.
    Continuing education for road users could be implemented by requiring written tests when renewing a drivers license. Questions would emphasize recent changes to laws and road marking practice. Unfortunately in the US, states have moved toward convenient renewal rather than ensuring road users are well educated. I briefly researched testing requirements and found no states that require written tests for all renewals. That surprised me; 20 years ago a number of states did so. Only a few now require tests if drivers have certain infractions on their records. It is no wonder our roads are becoming lawless.

    July 28, 2013 at 1:38 pm
  • Jon Blum

    Regarding Manhattan, many north-south streets do have timed lights, and in the absence of heavy traffic, it’s surprising how fast you can get around in a car (though I prefer the subway). I have no experience cycling there, but in recent years, I have had to drive there. It is a very different experience from driving in most US cities; even in a car I feel like Bob’s pinball. Unlike when I was growing up in the area in the 1970’s, cyclists are common on the streets. The addition of bike lanes has been controversial, and an earlier effort several decades ago was a failure. The lanes filled up with pushcarts, parked cars, motorcycles, etc., and were torn out.

    July 28, 2013 at 7:40 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      One other thing that is different in Manhattan, compared to most North American cities: Huge numbers of pedestrians. So drivers don’t expect to make a right or left turn unimpeded even when they have a green light. They know they’ll have to stop – which greatly decreases the risk of the “right hook” and “left turn” hazard for cyclists.

      July 29, 2013 at 6:05 am
  • charles Nighbor architect

    better than nothing
    in London England 600 cyclists killed in a five year period.
    I go with correct designed bike lanes over none anytime
    Charles Nighbor Architect

    July 29, 2013 at 2:00 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree that the current situation is unacceptable. However, we need to make sure that we replace it with something better. Otherwise, the next five years might see 700 cyclists killed…

      July 29, 2013 at 7:45 pm
  • Mike Beck

    Jan, a look at New York City or Vancouver’s installation of protected lanes and cycling numbers reported elsewhere is that protected lanes, even of the North American variety, increase ridership in communities and increase overall cyclist safety.
    The indexed crash rate for cyclists goes down.
    New York City has seen remarkable increases in ridership, and marked declines in the overall crash rate, concurrent with protected lane infrastructure. Same with Vancouver. Amazing increases in ridership associated with downtown protected bikelanes.
    In large urban areas around the world, there is room for well designed separated lanes for bicyclists. Your own, earlier endorsement of cycletracks and protected lanes in the Seattle area makes it clear you understand how protected space for cyclists works- manage intersection dangers, reduce the hazards, and they work. You recognize this reality of bicycle infrastructure installation. Your endorsement of completing the missing link on Seattle’s Burke Gilman shows you too, recognize the applicability of protected lane/ cycle track infrastructure in US cities.
    There are widespread observed changes in cycling associated with a build up of smartly implemented bicycling infrastructure – including cycle tracks and protected lanes when appropriate. This has happened, is happening in Seattle, and has happened in the last 30 years since the first tentative bike lanes were installed along Stone Way Ave N.
    Adding protected lanes where appropriate is the best plan for Seattle, Palo Alto, Green Bay, Bozeman, New York City- everywhere. Take a look at the changes in New York City’s cycling culture and prevalence – it’s no coincidence it coincides with the build up of protected lanes as part of NYC cycling infrastructure.

    July 31, 2013 at 5:30 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree with you that the right mix of bicycle facilities is important. Separate bike lanes have their place. Unfortunately, in the U.S., it appears that instead of thinking about the right facility for a given location, there is a new trend to prefer segregated bike lanes anywhere and everywhere – whether it’s Seattle’s new segregated lanes at Bitterlake or underneath the Alaska Way Viaduct, Momentum Magazine’s insistence that only segregated bike lanes can be safe, or the infamous D.C. bike lanes shown in this video.

      Amazing increases in ridership associated with downtown protected bikelanes.

      I think there is more to it than just segregated bike lanes. Mexico City has seen huge increases of cyclists (see the latest issue of Bicycle Quarterly), without installation of segregated bike lanes. In Berlin and Munich, removing poorly designed segregated bike lanes have increased cycling mode share. Seattle has seen huge increases of cycling mode share in recent years. All they’ve done is install sharrows and a few on-street bike lanes. (The new segregated bike lanes are too few to have an impact.)
      Installing any cycling infrastructure will get more people on bikes – just like a new model at car dealerships brings in more people for test drives. Fortunately, cycling is on the upswing all over the world.
      My goal is to make sure cycling is as safe as possible while we face this incredible and wonderful growth. New modes of transportation always pose a risk – witness third-world countries where increases in car ownership have gone along with disproportionate increases in accidents.

      July 31, 2013 at 6:06 am

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