Protected bikeways are necessary

If we are serious about transforming our communities through bicycling — if we’re serious about the benefits of health, safety, economy, and joy that we claim bicycling can bring — then we need to build the infrastructure that will attract millions more Californians to two wheels. We need miles and miles of bikeways that provide physical protection from car traffic and are designed with comfort and convenience in mind. A century of experience around the world tells us that the development of protected bikeways is the only way that we can expect to attract millions more people in the modern United States to give bicycling a try.

It is true that for many of us who ride today, all we need to keep us safe and happy in the saddle is adherence to the principles of vehicular cycling — riding our bikes on the same roads as cars, with the same rights and under the same rules. The California Bicycle Coalition has taught more people to ride safely in traffic, and certified more bike safety trainers, than any other California-based organization.

However, we can’t achieve our mission without a revolution in infrastructure. Sometimes many so-called protected bikeways are designed poorly, failing to improve safety and imposing such inconveniences that they will never attract many more people to bicycling. Usually, though, protected bikeways are safe and convenient, and they are cheap compared to other transportation infrastructure.

A recent literature review on the safety of protected bikeways was just completed by Beth Thomas, MA (Urban Panning) and Michelle DeRobertis, MS (Civil Engineering), PE. It’s available from the Transportation Research Board using this link. An international review of infrastructure programs and policies to increase cycling authored by Drs. John Pucher, Jennifer Dill, and Susan Handy and published in Preventive Medicine indicates the importance of infrastructure. In May 2013, the Active Living Research Center also confirmed that more infrastructure and other policies and programs are effective in increasing bicycling.

The conclusion of these papers is clear: protected bikeways work.

The following are some of the success stories about protected bikeways in the U.S. and around the world.

Long Beach, CA installed two cycle tracks with excellent results as described in this video.

San Francisco experienced a 71% increase in bicycle ridership on its protected bikeways.

Early results from New York’s dedicated bikeways show crash reductions and ridership increases.

Bikes Belong is investing in the development of networks of protected bikeways in six North American cities.

This study by the Rails to Trails Conservancy discusses four kinds of innovative bikeways in California, and their impact on safety and ridership.

This proposal for research includes several valuable citations on the topic of the safety of separated bikeways.

Long Beach, CA found its protected bikeways cut bike accidents to 20% their previous number while increasing the number of bicyclists by one third. Vehicle accidents dropped nearly in half, much more than the 12% reduction in vehicle traffic.

Protected bikeways will attract the majority of people who don’t cycle today, the “interested but concerned” population. Source: Portland, OR DOT