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How safe are bicycle lanes?

Bicycling to work has increased in popularity across the nation, including in Arizona. According to Science Daily, the number of people cycling to work in 12 large U.S. cities increased by 51 percent over 13 years. Beginning in 2009, the number of protected bike lanes doubled every year.

Some researchers believed having more cyclists on the road would increase safety because motorists would be more aware of bicyclists. Cities that built protected or separated bike lanes had fewer bicycle fatalities, data has shown.

Does this mean bike lanes create a safer riding environment? The answer is not simple. 

Types of bike lanes

White lines are the only things that separate traditional bike lanes from the road. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety found research on the safety of traditional bike lanes is inconclusive. 

Physical barriers like cement barriers, trees, lamp posts or parked cars separate a protected bike lane from the road. Research seems to indicate these types of bike tracks are effective at preventing serious and fatal injuries.

One-way protected bike tracks seemed to show the best results, with numbers of crashes, injuries and fatalities all being much lower than on a regular road. Two-lane protected bike lanes showed increased numbers of crashes and injuries, even when compared to major roads. 

Risk Is Not Eliminated

While some bike lanes may increase a cyclist’s risk of crashing, the research indicates protected bike lanes reduce the risk of fatalities. In the most important respect, protected bike lanes are safer than a road, but that does not mean bike lanes are without risk. 

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