By Joseph Rose
on June 03, 2013 at 8:40 AM, updated June 04, 2013 at 10:15 AM
With the past decade’s rapid growth in bicycle commuting, several U.S. cities have been in a race to build dedicated bike lanes.
Portland has more than 181 miles of bike lanes. Chicago and Minneapolis have promised to surpass the Pacific Northwest’s pedaling mecca.
But dedicated bike lanes are not necessarily the most important factors in reducing the severity of injuries in crashes between bikes and cars, according to a new University at Buffalo study.
Instead, the findings, presented May 16 at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, show light and speed are much bigger factors.
The university said Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine, and Kelsey Helak, a student in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, examined whether cyclists injured in collisions with cars while traveling in bike lanes had less severe injuries than those sharing the same traffic lane.
Previous research has shown that bike lanes do reduce the number of such collisions.
So, the authors looked at National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cycling “injury severity” data from 2010 and data on factors affecting bike-motor vehicle crashes from 2002 to 2010, according to a new release.
“Our findings show that bike lanes or paved shoulders by themselves do not significantly reduce the severity of injuries sustained by cyclists,” Jehle said in a news release. “The data show that other factors may be more important in reducing the severity of cyclists’ injuries, including the speed of motor vehicles traveling near them and how much light there is.”
Other factors, including alcohol use, riding in darkness (even with streetlights) and a road’s posted speed limit “are more significant safety factors for cyclists to consider and adjust for than riding in bike lanes,” the university said study found.
The data show the severity of cyclist injuries was nearly the same whether the bike rider was in bike lanes or sharing a lane with auto traffic.
From the report (pdf):
“The study did control for posted speed limit, alcohol use by the motor vehicle driver, time of day, weather and cyclist’s use of a helmet.
The UB study notes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that while only 1 % of trips in the U.S. are made by bicycle, 2 % of all traffic fatalities are those of bicyclists.”
The research gives PBOT yet another reason to consider the findings of a recent City Club of Portland report on bicycling. That report recommends a move away from striping bike lanes on thoroughfares in favor of building more “neighborhood greenways” using quieter side streets and cycle tracks along busier avenues.
— Joseph Rose