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Harvard study: Cycling on streets not as safe as cycle tracks

Posted by on February 10th, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Riding on SE 28th.
Two-way cycle track on Going at 33rd-83

Two-way cycle track on NE 33rd.
(Photos © J. Maus)

A new study from Dr. Anne Lusk at the Harvard School of Public Health published in the British Medical Journal yesterday came to the conclusion that bicycling in a cycle track — physically separated from motor vehicle traffic — is safer than riding in the street.

“These data suggest that the injury risk of bicycling on cycle tracks is less than bicycling in streets.”
— From the study’s abstract

Why do we need a study proving that physical separation from things that can kill you leads to safer conditions? It’s my hunch that this study was done just as much to make a policy point about America’s current traffic engineering guidelines as it was to gather statistical data. Here’s a key excerpt from the study:

“Contrary to AASHTO’s [American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials] safety cautions about road-parallel paths and its exclusion of cycle tracks, our results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions. This lowered risk is also in spite of the less-than-ideal design of the Montreal cycle tracks, such as lacking parking setbacks at intersections, a recommended practice.”

And, in a section titled, “Implications for Policy,” researchers wrote:

“Public health and bicycling advocates in the USA have faced a dichotomy, believing from surveys and European experience that cycle tracks encourage more bicycling, yet being warned that they lead to higher crash and injury rates. Our results suggest that cycle tracks lessen, or at least do not increase, crash and injury rates compared with the street. The construction of cycle tracks should not be discouraged.

The study was conducted on cycle tracks in Montreal. Back in April 2007, then Portland City Commissioner (now Mayor) Sam Adams visited Montreal and his staffer Tom Miller (now PBOT Director) commented that he’d like to try their separated facilities in Portland.

Will this study end the debate here in the states about whether or not separated facilities are the best way forward? Maybe not. But it’s likely to add fuel to the fire of “Cities for Cycling” a collaboration of planners and engineers from major U.S. cities working to establish their own guidelines so they are able to construct a wider range of facilities — including ones that physically separate bicycles from motor vehicle traffic.

Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street was published in Injury Prevention by the British Medical Journal and is available for free on their website.

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  • Dave February 10, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    I think one of the reasons that they prove safer that isn’t often thought about, is that they give the cyclist a better surface to ride on. It doesn’t have all the trash and debris from the roads, and it doesn’t wear down nearly as fast as the road surface, so it stays smooth and level longer. No potholes. Also, our roads curve downwards slightly towards the edges, to cause water to run into the drains, which means we’re also riding on a slightly slanted surface much of the time, which isn’t the case when riding on a cycle track.

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  • JAT in Seattle February 10, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    Very good points, Dave.

    Maybe it’s safer and maybe it’s not, but we don’t have space to retrofit a separate but equal system of cycle tracks everywhere, and as long as there isn’t one that goes from my house to my work, I, like a lot of us, will be riding on the streets.

    In terms of return on investment making the existing streets an accommodating safe welcome environment for people on bikes through education, improvement of and enforcement of traffic laws, and just sheer increase in our numbers seems a better approach to me.

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    • Dave February 10, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      I don’t think every road needs a separate facility – even in the Netherlands, many streets don’t have any separation. But the big thing to realize is that it’s not *just* infrastructure that makes riding there nice. It’s also that they have designed their roads and their laws such that traffic moves slowly, and the people driving cars have the largest responsibility for behaving safely.

      I think there are a lot of roads that would benefit from a separated cycle track, particularly main arterial streets where there is, in fact, some road space to spare (if we really look at it in terms of what is needed, and not just what is), and I think Portland has missed a couple of great opportunities to try this out on certain roads where it could be well-utilized. The other issue, is that the separated cycle tracks then have to connect to something, and not just suddenly dump you into the middle of traffic, like many of our bike lanes do now.

      But as you say, we really need to work on traffic as a whole, and foster a culture in which people travel reasonably and reasonably in control, and where responsibility increases the more damage you are capable of, rather than the other way around.

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    • BURR February 10, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      they will have to remove curbside parking, curb extension and/or travel lanes and even then many inner arterial streets in Portland still won’t have room for cycle tracks. Then there is the issue of funding…

      I’m with you, ain’t gonna happen, and meanwhile they are neglecting to do other things that would make the existing streets safer for cyclists, or at least more welcoming, like more sharrows on arterial streets.

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  • Alexis February 10, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I checked the study and noticed that your later headline and the article are consistent, since the study uses the phrase “compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions”. The earlier tweet compares cycletracks with bike lanes, and your photos above also show a bike lane and then a cycletrack. This comparison (whether explicit or implied) isn’t accurate as far as I could tell — it looks like the comparison streets had no facilities at all. So the study can’t be used to say that cycletracks (expensive, space-consuming) are better than bike lanes (not as expensive or space consuming), just that they (at least those in Montreal) are better than streets with no facilities.

    The thing I’m also curious about is whether the existence of the cycletracks makes riding on streets without them more dangerous, because there are fewer riders on those streets and people driving may not expect people to ride there. Seems like that would be tricky to tease out.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      Thanks for catching that Alexis. I’ve changed the picture in the story. I regret any confusion it might have caused. I should have been more careful to not equate “riding in the street” with the presence of a bike lane. If you see any other inconsistencies or mistakes please let me know. It helps to have an extra set of eyes. Thanks.

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      • Alexis February 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm

        Thanks for your attention. I’m loving the replacement with the picture of SE 28th; it’s on my route into downtown and although low-traffic, is not that nice to share with cars!

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      • Ed February 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm

        That second picture is not a “physically separated” cycle track because it is right next to traffic… there’s no median in between them. see all the example in this blog: of separated cycle track or cycle path.

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  • esther c February 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    I would love to see a couple of major bike routes north/south and east/west that were separated. A separated route to Beaverton would be great.

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  • El Biciclero February 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    I’d like to see an accompanying comparison of travel times from A to B on a cycle track vs. the street. To me, it just seems like adding a cycle track to the side of the road is the exact equivalent of riding on an empty sidewalk–except that here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., I could probably win big by betting that “cycle tracks” would be either implemented as–or become de facto–MUPs, so it would be the equivalent of riding on a full sidewalk. So why don’t we just start riding on the sidewalk and call it good?

    I’d also like to know the situations that led to injuries sustained in the street vs. on a cycle track–could street incidents have been avoided by riding in a more conspicuous or intelligent manner? Is the demographic that is attracted to cycle tracks naturally more cautious than the daredevils that ride in the street? If I were just as cautious in the street, would I fare as well there as I would in a cycle track?

    I don’t know how things are in Montreal, but as Dave noted above, in places such as Europe, where safe cycling is taken for granted, it is much more than the presence of separated bikeways that makes cyclists safe. It is a whole system of laws plus a cultural attitude that puts responsibility on the harm-doers for the harm they might cause. Here, we like to blame victims for getting themselves run over.

    I remain skeptical.

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  • J February 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    I live in Montreal, and I can tell you that it is not the laws that keep people safe here. I was just in a bike accident a few months ago, and I have had a hell of a time even getting the police report. I was hit from behind mid-block, while riding in the middle of a normal travel lane on a street with no cycle track. Clearly the drivers fault. I would not have been hit had there been a cycle track.

    I should also say that the cycle tracks are relatively poorly designed here, compared to the ones in Europe and New York City. The intersection treatments could be dramatically improved, and I’m wary of the idea of 2-way cycle track on one side of a 2-way street, as it leads to incredibly difficult left turns for drivers. Despite these drawbacks, I can attest that the numbers of people biking here is almost certainly a result of the cycle tracks and Bixi. The cycle tracks are full of many more casual cyclists, including children and more casual cyclists. These people would definitely not be riding in Montreal without the cycle tracks, and I almost never see them on non cycle tracks.

    Studies here have also shown that people travel a good bit out of their way to use cycle tracks, so the argument that the number of cyclists on side streets would decline as a result of the cycle tracks is pretty moot. The speed argument is likely true. People whose goal is to get from place to place as fast as possible simple don’t use the cycle tracks. I really think that these people, however, would be riding regardless of whether the cycle tracks existed or not.

    I’m not sure why there are such strong arguments against them from the cycling community. They are an absolute must if you ever want to get mode splits similar to those in European cities.

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    • El Biciclero February 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm

      Speaking for myself, my fear of cycle tracks is due to the propensity we have here of prescribing “Mandatory Use”. I don’t want to be confined to a narrow space that I must share with grandma and junior. Plus, I have the same fear/skepticism regarding intersection/driveway treatments that you mention. If someone could explain how it is different from riding on the sidewalk, I’ll listen…

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    • spare_wheel February 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm

      “I really think that these people, however, would be riding regardless of whether the cycle tracks existed or not.”

      I started riding many years ago because 1) it got me from home to work more quickly and 2) its damn good exercise. If I cannot easily exit a cycle track to pass slower riders then I am not in favor.

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    • chris February 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm

      The speed argument is likely true. People whose goal is to get from place to place as fast as possible simple don’t use the cycle tracks. I really think that these people, however, would be riding regardless of whether the cycle tracks existed or not.

      So do the faster cyclists use a different route entirely or do they ride on the road on the same streets that the cycletracks are built on?

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  • BURR February 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    completely agenda driven study built around a preconceived conclusion

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    • are February 11, 2011 at 11:20 am

      while i have not read the report and thus cannot subscribe to this conclusion, it is true that anne lusk has an agenda, and it might be helpful for jonathan to give some background. like others, i remain skeptical that her data fully illustrate what she has set out to prove. but i have not yet read the entire paper.

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      • Peter February 15, 2011 at 11:27 am

        Gee whiz, read the paper before sharing your opinion. Society makes progress with evidence. Opinion impedes progress.

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  • Brent February 10, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    @El Biciclero: “If someone could explain how it is different from riding on the sidewalk, I’ll listen…”

    I’d recommend a trip to the Netherlands to experience it. It’s actually hard to explain the welcoming nature of cycling there, the wide and smooth paths, the graceful routing, the extensive signage, the sheer joy of feeling like you belong, that you’re a full partner on the road. The first time you roll into a Dutch village and realize that the cars have a smaller (!) lane than you, it’s rather heady. In the States, my experience has been anything but pleasant; I mostly feel like an interloper stealing space from cars, and hoping not to die.

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    • El Biciclero February 11, 2011 at 9:54 am

      I should clarify my statement here: “If someone could explain how riding on any existing cycle track in the U.S. is different from riding on the sidewalk…”

      I understand that in Denmark and the Netherlands they’ve got great “infrastucture”. That’s all well and good, and I’d love to have something like that here (I think)–but again, as has been mentioned a couple of times in comments, cycle tracks, per se, do not make cycling the wonderful experience it is in the Netherlands. The other thing they have there are laws and attitudes that treat cycling as a normal and equally valid way of travel. They protect cyclists with more than just red paint and curbage.

      Even if a cycle track identical to those in the Netherlands were built here in the U.S., do you think you would be made to feel any less like you were stealing space from cars? Do you think drivers here would give any more than the half a crap they already don’t give about cyclists because they see a “cycle track” that in their mind was built with their hard-earned gas tax money so those freeloading cyclists can have even more special treatment? Do you think “I just didn’t see him, officer!” would become any less of a valid excuse for running over a cyclist at an intersection?

      I would bet many fewer people would be talking about the need for cycle tracks if we had similar laws and the same “welcoming nature” toward cycling that The Netherlands has.

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      • Dave February 11, 2011 at 9:59 am

        To be fair, I think both are very important in order to see a level of cycling like there exists in those countries. It’s not an either-or situation, we have to work on the whole picture.

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      • Brent February 11, 2011 at 10:50 am

        I see cycle tracks, or similar infrastructure, leading to the other changes you mention. We won’t be able to get pro-bicycle laws until we have a sizable cycling population, and we won’t have a sizable cycling population until it’s safe, or at least feels safer, to ride the streets.

        In my experience, the average cycling speeds in Dutch cities don’t approach twenty miles-per-hour. They’re probably closer to twelve. (In the countryside you can ride as fast as you want, however.) I think there’s a necessary trade-off between speed and usage, just as we see on our car-choked roads. One might ask whether the benefits of higher usage outweigh the benefits of higher speeds. I think they do, but opinions vary.

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        • El Biciclero February 11, 2011 at 12:04 pm

          If I have a 10-mile commute, I don’t want to go 12mph, or I might as well take the bus–or better yet, drive. So in my case, forcing me to use a cycle track would probably put me back in my car. I understand the benefit of “critical mass”, and I also understand that there are more timid folks out there who won’t ride until it’s “safer”. I also understand the principle of giving up freedom for safety–I just don’t want to be forced to do it.

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  • Todd Scott February 10, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    As I read it, three streets with cycletracks had significantly fewer bike injuries when compared to their reference streets. However two of those streets with cycletracks also had very significantly fewer motor vehicle occupant injuries. This indicates to me that those reference streets are invalid.

    In that case, this study has one cycletrack (Berri) that had fewer injuries out of six when compared to a similar reference road that didn’t have bike lanes. C’mon, seriously?

    The only thing this study proves is that better studying is required.

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    • Harald February 10, 2011 at 7:43 pm

      The choice of reference streets is also one of my main criticisms of the study. While the study’s authors did a better than usual job in correcting for some of the problems you have pointed out, the choice of a reference street primarily based on the fact that it’s running parallel is not good enough. Ideally, you’d compare streets before and after a cycletrack has been built.

      “In that case, this study has one cycletrack (Berri) that had fewer injuries out of six when compared to a similar reference road that didn’t have bike lanes. C’mon, seriously?”

      Keep in mind that all of the cycle tracks had much more bike traffic than the reference streets. The _relative_ risk of injury is thus significantly smaller for three of the cycle tracks, and when taking all of them together.

      The other limitation of the study (one that the authors themselves mention) is the lack of data for the severity of injuries. Right hook accidents, especially when trucks are involved, tend to have the most severe consequences.

      Bottom line for me is that this study has a fairly good methodology. The policy recommendations based on the findings seem unwarranted, and I’d like to see more work of this kind being done in the North-American context.

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  • Todd Scott February 10, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    @Harald: I agree. Before and after comparisons would be better.

    As for the relative risk, assuming the motor traffic volumes are similar as stated, wouldn’t the relative risk for motorists be significantly lower for two of those three cycletracks?

    The study says, “MVO injury counts are considered a surrogate for traffic danger a bicyclist might face on a given street apart from any treatment.” If that’s the case, then it’s clearly critical to have cycletracks compared to reference streets with similar “traffic danger.”

    Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t see any reference to how they counted bike crashes on the streets with cycletracks. Were there none or were they discarded? And how did they count sidewalk crashes on the reference street?

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  • Todd Scott February 10, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Someone just sent me this article that references the study. Could it be more inaccurate?

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    • BURR February 10, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      cycle track supporters reaping what they sow….

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      • are February 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm

        inaccurate, yes, but this is exactly the kind of coverage lusk and LAB want to see.

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  • gregSea February 10, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    @Brent – I agree totally. The Dutch approach to bike infrastructure has to be experienced to be believed. It’s incredibly fun to ride and very safe. Part of that safety is due to excellent attitudes and high levels of training for both cyclists and drivers, but the layout of their streets really works. David Hembrow, who lives in the most cycle friendly part of Holland, has a bunch of great posts:

    @BURR – There’s plenty of room on all high traffic streets in Portland for cycle tracks. But yes, you’d definitely have to take some space back from cars – a tough sell in such a car-centric city.

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  • Brian February 10, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Count me as one more cyclist with 30 years of commuting experience that is opposed to cycle tracks. It’s BS to compare a cycle track to a street with no bike lane. I spent a few days riding around Arlington, VA on their network of separated cycling trails. I found it very dangerous — poor sight lines, walkers and joggers, people riding fast, people riding slow. Give me 4 extra feet of bike lane on the roadway any day.

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    • Dave February 11, 2011 at 10:02 am

      Brian, I think there’s a significant difference between recreational multi-use paths in Virginia, and cycle tracks in the Netherlands. That’s kind of an apples-to-oranges comparison as well.

      A well-designed cycle track (going along with a well-designed street) has good lines of sight, no pedestrians, dogs, etc, and is designed for transportation, not recreation. There’s a big difference.

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      • El Biciclero February 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm

        “There’s a big difference.”

        Yes there is. Unfortunately, it is a difference that American roadway engineers do not understand. To them, bikes=recreation, not travel. Comparing something that has yet to be designed, let alone built in the U.S. to something that has been extremely well-designed in another country that also values travel by bicycle is worse than apples-to-oranges–it’s more like apples-to-nails. But here in America, nails are what we get time and time again. It’s all we know how to produce.

        There are those who say (and usually I agree) that we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good, but in the case of bike infrastructure, half-baked is usually more dangerous/inconvenient than nothing. For a great example of U.S. bike infrastructure design thinking, check out this story (and it’s follow-ups).

        Let’s just say that I have serious distrust of street engineers when it comes to designing “bike infrastructure”. They don’t get it, they don’t seem to want to get it, they have one goal in designing and building it: keep bikes out of the way of drivers no matter what.

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  • Owen Walz (Friends of Barbur) February 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Cycletracks are a nice way to ride, but they’re more difficult to install. I’d suggest that the next wave of new riders would be most easily enticed by completing the level of infrastructure that we have (standard bike lanes, etc, facilitating crossings, etc). It needs to be cohesive network. A bike route is only as good as its weakest link. One bad intersection is enough to deter a cautious rider.

    Of course, if there’s a chance to sneak in a cycletrack along the way that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

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  • BURR February 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    @BURR – There’s plenty of room on all high traffic streets in Portland for cycle tracks. But yes, you’d definitely have to take some space back from cars – a tough sell in such a car-centric city.

    It won’t happen, because there is neither the political will nor the financial capital, US cyclists are too divided on the idea, US motorists too poorly trained, and the urban design is too different when compared to say, Amsterdam.

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  • J February 10, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    A few follow-up comments:

    First, cycle tracks are much harder to design well than standard bike lanes, and I would not say that Montreal has very good designs. New York’s are much better, but still could use some improvement. I would expect it to be quit difficult to install cycle tracks in many parts of downtown Portland. They need a lot more space, which would almost certainly come at the expense of cars, which is very hard politically. New York City is experiencing a good bit of backlash from it’s pretty rapid expansion of cycle tracks (13 miles in 4 years).

    As for mandatory use concerns, in Montreal, faster bikers typically use parallel streets that have either no bike lane or an on-street bike lane.

    I also would like to say that the study has some methodology issues, so I would take its conclusions with a grain of salt. In my opinion, the biggest take away, is that the one-way streets with 2-way cycle tracks showed significant safety improvements over two-way streets (the cycle tracks are all 2-way on one side of the street) and non-cycle track streets. This is the design DC has implemented on 15th Street.

    My overall point, I guess, is not to ram cycle tracks down anyone’s throat, but rather to point out that they can be a very effective part of the bicycle design toolkit. They are especially good at getting people to start biking who might not otherwise.

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  • Tbird February 10, 2011 at 11:49 pm


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  • esther c February 11, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Why not take a few one way streets in Portland and take one of the lanes and make them into bike ways. Vancouver of course comes to mind going north. Williams and vancouver of course, MLK or grand, further south.

    Hawthorne of course could become a bike blvd, giving up a lane to bike traffic. Something in the Pearl.

    Maybe the bike ways should be one way with a passing lane for the fast bikers and a granny lane for me. Maybe that would solve the speed problem for people.

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  • Steve B February 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    There are all sorts of cost-effective ways to achieve a cycletrack without upending too much infrastructure. The PSU cycletrack is a prime example. I hope Portland continues to look at adding separation between modes while it continues it’s groundbreaking work on 100’s of miles of new neighborhood greenways.

    I agree with Owen above, let’s complete all the gaps and trouble spots first so we make a complete network, and then improve upon that network.

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  • Dave Thomson February 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    From reading other blogs about cycling in Montreal I strongly suspect the on-street collision rate for cyclists is much higher than here in Portland and therefore the study may very well not be applicable. If the on-street collision rate is very high then a lower collision rate on cycle tracks may still be higher than the Portland on-street collision rate. Remember we are trying to improve a cycling environment that is already better than just about anywhere else.

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  • are February 11, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    i am probably misreading something here, but.

    near the end of the lusk article, she makes the following statement, which i found surprising:
    “the most common cause of fatal bicyclist collisions in urban areas is overtaking”
    the footnote is to an article published in the UK in 1994 by a guy named mccarthy, full text available online here:

    a lot of interesting data there, but i was looking for support for lusk’s statement about overtaking. what mccarthy actually says is that of 178 deaths in his data, 30 were left hooks [what we would call right hooks], almost all involving “heavy goods vehicles,” 16 were some kind of sideswipe (both bike and motor vehicle traveling in the same direction), and 22 were “hit from behind.”

    apparently lusk is counting the sideswipes together with the hit from behinds as “overtakings.” and i am not saying this is statistically wrong, but i would suggest that if the comparison is to vehicular cycling (i.e., taking the lane), we could maybe discard the sideswipes.

    incidentally, since lusk focuses on “urban areas” in her “overtaking” statement, i would also note that somewhat more than half the deaths in “inner london” in the mccarthy study involved “heavy goods vehicles.”

    this kind of rhetorical manipulation pervades the lusk article.

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    • Peter February 15, 2011 at 11:31 am

      From page 277:
      Motorist overtaking accidents (Class D) was the largest group causing 27 (22%) of the accidents.

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  • Seth Alford February 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    I live in Montreal, and I can tell you that it is not …. The speed argument is likely true. People whose goal is to get from place to place as fast as possible simple don’t use the cycle tracks. I really think that these people, however, would be riding regardless of whether the cycle tracks existed or not.
    I’m not sure why there are such strong arguments against them from the cycling community. They are an absolute must if you ever want to get mode splits similar to those in European cities.

    I argue against cycle tracks because I don’t perceive them as worth the extra money. There is not an infinite supply of money for bicycle infrastructure. If what little money there is goes into fewer quarter mile sections of cycle tracks, that means less money available that could be better used elsewhere.

    You point out that bicyclists who want to get from A to B as fast as possible don’t use the cycle tracks. Here in Oregon we have a mandatory side path law with a fairly week exception. See 814.420 at . I argue against cycle tracks because I doubt the exception would hold up in court. So, effectively, we have a mandatory side path law that requires us to use a cycle track if it is there. I also fear future laws that would prevent bicyclists from using streets which do not have a cycle track, regardless of whether the cycle tracks went where I wanted to go. So that’s another reason I argue against cycle tracks.

    Finally, I argue against cycle tracks because I perceive them as an attempt to re-brand grade separated sidepaths that were in vogue back in the 1970s. Want to see what its like to ride one of those? Here’s a video of the Garden Home Road bike path.

    Bicyclists have to stop at every side street. These paths are designed to just get those darn bicyclists out of the way of the real traffic.

    The rationale behind these paths was the idea that they would be safe for children. That is much the same rationale that I hear cycle track proponents using today. That is, we have to build cycle tracks if we want to achieve Netherlands level mode share because that’s the most that the concerned and timid demographic of potential riders will tolerate. What we’ve built here in North America thus far aren’t anything like Netherlands cycle tracks. It didn’t work back in the 70s and it won’t work now.

    I think that the reason bicycling is popular in the Netherlands is that motor vehicle users are more rigorously trained and speed limits are lower.

    Regarding the study itself, I don’t think that it addresses the bike lane versus cycle track argument because its comparison streets had no bike lanes, as was pointed out above.

    Further, I think that all the study does prove is something which we’ve seen demonstrated in Portland: more bicyclists means more safety for bicyclists, because motorists see bicyclists and know to look out for bicyclists. Look at Table 2. The cycle track had higher bike counts than the reference streets, except for Rene Levesque and Sherbrooke, which had comparable counts and comparable accidents.

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  • J February 12, 2011 at 6:57 am

    Wow, that’s ridiculous. Clearly that is not what anyone in favor of cycle tracks is arguing for, but I understand your concern. We may be talking different languages here. I’m talking about dense urban areas, where there are a number of possible route choices, so a cycle track on one street still allows you to use a wide variety of alternate streets that don’t have cycle tracks to get to where I guess. For example, from my home here in Montreal, I have about about 6 different routes I take to school, the fastest is on on busy, high speed road with no cycle facilities whatsoever. A slightly less direct route has much calmer traffic but no cycle facilities either. I have 2 routes with cycle tracks, which are slightly longer and slightly slower, but I get to school in a much better mood (drivers here are pretty bad). In the cycling seasons, all are well used, and I’m never the only bike on the road. Depending on the time of day, presence of snow, traffic, and my amount of hurry, I choose my route accordingly.

    I also think that the efforts to create rigorous design standards for cycle tracks will eliminate the type of facility shown in your video. Alta recently published a cycle track design guidebook, and the Cities for Cycling movement is currently developing design standard which are based on proven European standards for high-quality cycle tracks. Of the nearly 30 cycle track projects I’ve found that have been developed in North America in the past 3 years, I haven’t seen anything like the low-quality design shown in your video. There are exceptions, of course. Minneapolis built a cycle track downtown (1st ave & Hennepin) that does not provide enough space between parked cars and the curb, and it was rightly scorned by the bike community. Again, proper cycle track design standards will help eliminate such faulty designs.

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    • are February 12, 2011 at 11:55 am

      either what seth says is ridiculous or you understand his concern, you gotta choose. the fact is that we do have a mandatory sidepath law in oregon which literally says that if there is a cycle specific facility nearby, you are required to get off the road and use it. it is not clear to me why lusk chose reference streets that have no bike lanes, but frankly i think bike lanes can do more harm than good, for the same reason. if she is lumping sideswipes in with overtaking fatalities (possibly right hooks as well, it is really hard to tell from the generality of her statement), i would suggest that bike lanes actually contribute to unsafe overtaking.

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  • Red Five February 12, 2011 at 7:30 am

    it took a Harvard study to figure this out? Wow they are smart!

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    • are February 12, 2011 at 11:56 am

      the purpose of the “study” was to create a published research base for arguing for separated facilities. the harvard credentials are just there to lend credibility to the “study.”

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  • ecohuman February 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    There’s a tremendous amount of study on the topic–and it’s conflicting, though long-term European results (including Amsterdam) seem to point to the conclusion that segregating bicycles doesn’t do much of anything to reduce accidents and fatalities.

    And, as a few commenters have pointed out, a critical eye to the purpose of the “study”, and placing it in the context of other studies, might make for a more informative and meaningful post.

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  • ecohuman February 12, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    An excerpt from the above link, for example:

    “In Helsinki, research has shown that cyclists are safer cycling on roads with traffic than when using the city’s 800 kilometres (500 mi) of cycle paths.[44] The Berlin police and Senate conducted studies which led to a similar conclusion in the 1980s.[45] In Berlin 10% of the roads have cycle paths, but these produce 75% of fatalities and serious injuries among cyclists.[46]”

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  • J February 13, 2011 at 6:01 am

    There is also a 2003 study by Jacobsen that shows that cyclists have safety in numbers. I.e. the more cyclists on the roads, the safer all cyclists are. This has been confirmed in New York and Portland, where the rapid rise in cycling has been accompanied by an overall decline in injuries and fatalities.

    In addition, there are numerous studies (Parking, Wardman, et al 2006) that show that cyclist perceive much greater danger from on-street bicycle lanes and no bicycle lanes than from greenways and cycle tracks. This is confirmed by anecdotal evidence that children and the elderly simply won’t ride in standard bike lanes, but they will ride in cycle tracks. I can see that clearly here in Montreal and in New York.

    Finally, cities that have extensive cycle tracks networks are far safer overall than cities without cycle track networks. This may be due to other causes as well, but the amount of distrust and unwillingness to try a proven method is unbelievable. Yes, the Lusk study is likely biased and has flaws. Sure, not all cycle tracks are perfect. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them. However, no other type of facility is gonna let grandma bike to the store.

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    • are February 13, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      while i “get” the safety in numbers argument, i would point out that if you put all the cyclists over there on a sidepath, you no longer have the numbers on the streets.

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  • J February 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    First, calling them sidepaths is derogatory and misleading, as sidewalks are sometimes designated as sidepaths, and that is not what we are discussing. It is a signal that you are not interested in real debate (like discussing healthcare reform and calling it Obamacare). We are discussing cycle tracks or protected bike lanes, and you should call them that.

    As a resident of Montreal, where there is a large network of cycle tracks, my experience is that they do not funnel cyclists off other streets. Instead, it appears that they mainly get new people to try biking. The increase in cycling spills over to other streets which then have more bikers and become safer as well. They seem to have a multiplying effect, rather than a draining effect. Come to Montreal in the summer and see for yourself! It’s pretty amazing to see so many people on bikes.

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    • No fascists February 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm

      Obviously you aren’t understanding how the presence of cycling infrastructure allows the authorities to create and enforce anti cycling laws. These “Freedom Paths,” if you will, will almost certainly give momentum to the Dick Cheneys of America to ban cycling from this country.

      No thank you. They can pry my handlebars from my twisted, mangled hands.

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    • are February 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm

      wow. i “should” call them by their jargon name? are you kidding? my use of the word “sidepath” accurately (that is, not misleadingly) describes a legal situation here in oregon. it is not derogatory, it is neutral and technical. i will explain it again. if there is a sidepath (or a bike lane or a multi-use path or a cycletrack or whatever they are calling it this year) anywhere “nearby,” oregon law requires me to use it instead of the roadway. okay?

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  • Todd Scott February 13, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    “First, calling them sidepaths is derogatory and misleading”
    Oh please. There was a session at last year’s Pro Walk/Pro Bike Conference on the forthcoming AASHTO guidelines. One presenter suggested cycletracks could be considered a form of sidepath given their similar designs and operational issues.

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  • eileen February 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Shocking. Who would have thought it’s safer to not share a lane with 4,000 pound hunks of steel? I think it’s funny that this is even controversial. Answer this – would you let your five year old ride their bike in a regular lane of traffic? Really? Why not? Isn’t it safer than a cycle track?

    Why can’t Portland just make every other road “local traffic only”? Seriously, how much of an inconvenience would that be to go one extra block to get where you need to go? The people who live on the street would be allowed, but that would mean one car every 2 hours or something. And make the entire downtown from first up to about 10th for buses, delivery trucks and handicapped only. What am I missing here? Why does it need to be so complicated?

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  • eileen February 13, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Also, the cost of the “local traffic only” signs would be all the budget you would need to make it happen. The number of cyclists would double overnight.

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  • Dave February 14, 2011 at 10:43 am

    This topic has come up before on BikePortland, but if your argument against separated cycling infrastructure is that you’ll be forced to use it, why not fight the law that would force you to use it, and stop hampering the progress of cycling as transportation for other people?

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    • are February 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

      i actually agree, dave. build all the infrastructure you want, but let’s get this mandatory sidepath thing straightened out first. people keep holding up amsterdam and copenhagen as examples. what is the law there? can cyclists still use the streets?

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      • are February 14, 2011 at 11:05 am

        but let me also note that if you do build a comprehensive sidepath system, even if the law is changed to permit cyclists to continue to use the streets, there will be a perception among motorists that we “belong over there.” so there would have to be a large and persistent education campaign alongside. is lusk on board for that? didn’t think so.

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      • Dave February 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

        I’m not sure about the law, but I did see people riding in the roads in Amsterdam where there were separated paths, and nobody really seemed bothered about it.

        I agree with you that it isn’t just about building infrastructure – the education and law have to support the infrastructure we build. That is why the Netherlands is such a fantastic example, because the law, the culture and the infrastructure all favor using a bicycle as transportation. If you do, basically everything is in your favor there.

        I think in terms of Portland, if we could get well-designed separated infrastructure on our major arterials and collector streets that connects easily to lower-traffic streets – basically any road where the effective speed is 25mph or higher with a certain volume of automobile traffic, and then flesh out the neighborhood greenway treatments, it would make a huge difference, along with continued education on both sides of the fence (teach children about how to interact in traffic on foot, bike and in car, from an early age).

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        • are February 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

          obviously i am not familiar with the reference streets in montreal selected for the lusk study, but i gathered that these were not so much arterials as urban grid. i do not have a problem with designating bikeways as alternatives to various arterials, though i think cyclists ought to be able to share neighborhood collectors without much difficulty. but if you get into creating a separate network within the urban grid, i am really not there, sorry. motor traffic speeds are already down around 12 mph or lower, and there is plenty of room for everyone to share.

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          • Dave February 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

            That’s why I said streets with an effective speed of 25 or higher (since basically all streets have a posted speed of 25 or higher). I don’t want to see cycle tracks on every street in Portland, that would be silly. I want to see them on streets where the traffic is intimidating.

            I think *some* cyclists could share neighborhood collectors without issue, but people aren’t going to let their 8-year-old child ride on them, and sometimes there’s not a great alternate route.

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          • are February 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm

            okay, but my point is that the lusk paper seems positioned to promote cycletracks in the urban core

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  • spare_wheel February 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    “The PSU cycletrack is a prime example.”

    I ride the full length of the PSU cycle track approx 300 times a year. I would estimate that ~30% of these trips involve one or more obstructions. These include buses, parked cars, taxi cabs, and construction. PSU shuttle buses now stop *inside* the cycle track!

    I had though that pedestrians would eventually learn to stay out of the cycle track. Unfortunately, they are increasingly lining up in the cycle track while waiting for a light. (I can’t blame them really…its very lightly used even during peak commuting hours.)

    Because the cycle track is not marked well on weekends it is almost always parked or double parked in the am.

    It is poorly maintained and is littered with glass, sand, tree branches, and trash.

    My anecdotal observation is that the broadway cycle track now sees less use than the previous bike lane. I’ve also noticed cyclists increasingly ride the sidewalk instead of the cycletrack (this is legal in this area). The PSU cycle track has turned me from an advocate of cycle tracks to a skeptic.

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      • spare_wheel February 15, 2011 at 11:49 am

        interesting how it validates the problem with pedestrian-bike conflicts.

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        • are February 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm

          yes, i have only glanced through this, but my initial impression was pleasant surprise at how this report — unlike the green box report by the same authors — simply try to validate a predisposition to favor the facility in question.

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  • Dave February 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    okay, but my point is that the lusk paper seems positioned to promote cycletracks in the urban core

    Ah, gotcha.

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  • Ian Cooper April 29, 2011 at 3:21 am

    A quick look at Google Maps shows the flaw in at least one of the roads used in this study. Three flaws actually: 1- Rue St. Denis (which has no cycle track) looks to be a much busier road in terms of people doing their business somewhere along that stretch, with a relatively narrow street and lots of distractions in the form of little shops and cafes along the whole route. 2- Rue Berri (which has a cycle track) has a dual carriageway along part of its length with intersections divided from the main road by an underpass. Essentially this is a ‘through road’ – everyone is using it to pass through the area, so cyclists are naturally removed from the possibility of intersection accidents. 3- Rue Berri has no distracting stores along its length – it’s mainly huge city blocks and parking lots. Nothing to distract drivers from the road.

    Business as usual for the people doing studies – either rank incompetence or outright malice.”

    Basically, my point is that the two routes are not similar at all, and any honest study would never have suggested they were. They have chosen an on-road
    portion that is about the most dangerous type of road for cyclists, and they’ve compared it with a bike track that – for half its length – is not even beside a road and cannot possibly have cyclist-motorist interactions even at intersections. This is very different from the practical application of most cycle paths, where intersections are frequent and very dangerous.

    The only route example the article mentions suggests to me that the study is at best fatally flawed, at worst, a cynical and dangerous attempt to spin the truth and support a type of bicycle infrastructure that is more dangerous than the alternative.

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    • Ian Cooper April 29, 2011 at 3:25 am

      A far better study (a ‘before and after’ study) done in Denmark showed that using cycle paths is more dangerous than cycling in the road. This is an inconvenient truth that always pops up in honestly derived studies of this kind. It is not surprising to me that bike path advocates trumpet flawed studies like the Harvard one while downplaying more rigorous investigations.

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