Cyclists, motorists and pedestrians have long debated the rules and rights of the road. As a cyclist hit by a vehicle and a runner seriously injured by a cyclist, I wanted to examine bike lanes and recent experiments with protected bike lanes. I believe the key is proper design of the lanes, keeping the cyclist away from turning vehicle and opening car doors.
New York City implemented the first large-scale experiment with protected bike lanes. Instead of the standard bike lane that is nothing more than a painted line on the street, they constructed physical barriers that would lesson the chances of a vehicle colliding with a cyclist. Their early experiment and continued investment into protected bike lanes has proved that if you build the infrastructure, the bikers will come. More importantly, they have been able to debunk the popular argument used to resist bike lanes—that increased bike lanes will only further congest the roads and take away already scare parking spots. A memo from the New York Mayor’s office said, “Sixty-six percent of new bike lanes installed in New York City have no effects on parking or on the number of moving lanes.”
In 2009, Washington, D.C. undertook a huge project to take out a lane of traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue—the main thoroughfare through downtown—and create a cycling lane. Just as running on a road without a sidewalk would put an individual in much more danger, biking on a road without a dedicated bike lane is extremely dangerous.
The city and surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia have an extensive network of multi-use paths that allow commuters to bike in from many of the far-away suburbs. Before Mayor Fenty undertook a serious initiative to increase the number of protected bike lanes in the district, cyclists could ride all the way into the city on designated paths, but had few safe options once they entered the district. Turning vehicles, buses, and thousands of wandering tourists complicate the road safety in Washington. After the protected lanes along Pennsylvania Avenue opened, bike commuting increased 200%.
In Chicago, where cyclists have long taken to the streets, even in the winter months, the city decided to make their bike lanes safer. One of Mayor Emanuel’s major initiatives is to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America. By taking existing bike lanes, removing them from traffic and creating protected bike lanes, cyclists are not only safer but also further incentivized to bike commute.
It’s not all about alleviating traffic and pollution either; cycling is an excellent cardiovascular activity. There are many other cities that have implemented bike lanes and through constant experimentation are able to see what is working and what needs improvement. And finally, it is not just bike lanes that keep riders safe, but also a helmet, good awareness of road rules and common sense.