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As Portland inches along, new research shows separated bike infrastructure is safer

Posted by on October 22nd, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Ride-along SW Broadway-9-6

Riding on SW Broadway in downtown Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that physcially separated, bicycle-specific infrastructure can lead to much lower risk of injury for people riding bicycles.

Here’s more on the study from Atlantic Cities:

As it turns out, infrastructure really matters. Your chance of injury drops by about 50 percent, relative to that major city street, when riding on a similar road with a bike lane and no parked cars. The same improvement occurs on bike paths and local streets with designated bike routes. And protected bike lanes – with actual barriers separating cyclists from traffic – really make a difference. The risk of injury drops for riders there by 90 percent.

Intuitively, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to find that research shows separating people on bikes from motor vehicle traffic leads to fewer injuries. But there’s a group of people in the U.S. who feel that people on bikes are safest when they mix with car traffic. Even in comments here on BikePortland, it’s common to hear from folks who don’t like the idea of being locked into using separated bikeways (either by design or by law) when they’d rather “take the lane”.

In the past, I’ve heard that one reason for City Hall’s reluctance to push for more physically separated bikeways was precisely because there seemed to be infighting from the “bike community” about whether they were wanted or not. (Unfortunately, local politicians still seem to wait for a mythical, 100% consensus from the “bike community” before they push for bike-specific projects.)

This new research should be welcome ammunition for advocates and city planners who support more separated bike infrastructure.

Here in Portland — despite knowing for years that separation is imperative to reach our cycling usage goals — we’ve had a bit of separation anxiety. While we do have some bright spots of separated infrastructure, it has happened primarily where it was politically and technically easy to pull off. The plans to revamp NE Multnomah through the Lloyd District with more protected bikeways are a positive step forward. That project is great sign of progress and a promising omen for the future; but even that came only after major public outcry from people who wanted better bike access than PBOT originally proposed.

Last year, when I asked Portland Mayor Sam Adams’ transportation policy director Catherine Ciarlo about our progress toward more separation, even she acknowledged our effort was only good for “bronze”. Instead of pushing for fully separated, connected bikeways in the urban core, Ciarlo’s response was very telling. “The challenge is to figure out how to achieve separation in creative or economical ways,” she said. Ciarlo cited neighborhood greenways (which are shared environments on residential streets) as an example of this creativity. She also cited progress on signal timing as one way PBOT is separating bicycle traffic.

Bike boulevards and bike-oriented signal technology will only get us so far. The unmet challenge in Portland is to map out a network of streets in the central city that have dedicated and physically separated bicycle access. The City has an obligation to provide the same level of comfort and convenience for people riding bicycles as they currently offer people on foot and in cars, buses, streetcars, and light rail trains.

As evidenced by PBOT’s recent revelation that collisions have gone way up at several downtown intersections where they opted to use only paint as a means of separation, this research couldn’t have come at a better time. Of course, all the knowledge in the world means nothing unless it’s acted upon.

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David
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David

“Even in comments here on BikePortland, it’s common to hear from folks who don’t like the idea of being locked into using separated bikeways (either by design or by law) when they’d rather ‘take the lane’.”

Unless I’m reading the comments wrong, the above is almost always in reference to exiting non-physically separated bike lanes, especially at intersections.

I don’t think anybody here would argue that physically separated bike paths with dedicated signals wouldn’t be much safer and more fun to use while riding around town.

Going back to the BTA brown bag last week, I think the answer is simple. The only direction that Portland can take if it really wants to be a “world class” cycling city is to create an extensive network of physically separated bike paths.

kww
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kww

My favorite separated bike infrastructure? Springwater corridor along the Willamette.

Dave Thomson
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Dave Thomson

Leaving aside the issue of whether separated facilities are “better” for a moment, they certainly cost a lot more, both in money and in political capital. We need to focus on making sure we have at least bike lanes everywhere people want/need to go.

John Lascurettes
Guest

How well does this work in Sun River, OR with it’s extensive MUPs but also bans bikes from many of the roadways altogether? Honest question.

Spiffy
Guest

getting tired about how people want to make bicycling safe without any conversation about taming the very thing that’s making bicycling unsafe: motor vehicles…

let’s give blah blah to cyclists…

we don’t want it! we just want people to stop killing us, and to be held accountable for killing somebody when they do…

we don’t want special signals… we don’t want special roads… we just want our right to life…

tired of this BS political charade where they pat each other on the back about all the good they’ve done while killers go free…

Syzlak
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Syzlak

I’m not sure if I love or hate the debate that ensues here on Bike Portland when bike paths/cycle tracks are brought up. I thought that the popularization of http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com and http://www.bicycledutch.wordpress.com would settle the argument of what’s better for safety and bicycle mode-share. It seems the biggest sticking point opponents have is the “right” to the road.

The way I see it, it’s not about cost of protected bike lanes or their short-comings – it’s about priorities. LA spent $1 billion widening the 405. The LA region could have made many miles of safe, high quality, 10ft wide cycle tracks if that was a monetary, political, and social priority.

Brad
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Brad

Yet another study from another country with very different cultural attitudes towards driving, auto ownership, driver responsibility, land use planning, and urban development. Having both driven and ridden in Vancouver B.C., the difference between Portland drivers and Canadian drivers is night and day and the cityscape is utopian compared to Portland’s hodge-podge.

If someone can study an AMERICAN city with its mix of road user density, attitudes towards transportation modes, etc. then it would be more useful and cogent for Portland. Until then, this is just another “cheerleading” article about how golly, gosh darned awesome Canada (or Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, …) is. NYC, Minneapolis, and Washington, DC have more diverse bike infrastructure than Portland with similar drivers and denser traffic. Perhaps PBOT should study those cities since we already know how wonderful Copenhagen and Utrecht are.

Jonathan is correct in stating that PBOT should be bolder and find new solutions on its own. Why not develop a “Portland School” of thought on bike infrastructure rather than aping what others have done? I sense a great deal of passion at PBOT but very little real creativity. Ultimately, I feel that PBOT is a den of timid bureaucrats unwilling to take risks or think big. More thermo paint! That’ll make us a super-platinum-cubic-zirconia city!!!

K'Tesh
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K'Tesh

Separated or not, I always like to see more bike infrastructure.

On a related note, its good to see that Washington County has been adding buffered bike lanes (Tualatin Sherwood Rd, SW Edy Rd)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ufobike/sets/72157627579696444/with/6107717294/

And PBOT is (right now!) installing them on SW Barbur with their new repaving job (SW Hooker to the SW Naito cutoff)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ufobike/sets/72157631803220884/with/8101799215/

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

Any facility that limits motor-vehicle access is clearly safer (at least within the boundaries of the separated infrastructure). Nevertheless, research in Denmark has shown that overall accidents rates on cycle tracks are higher due to increased risk at intersections. The fact that the authors did not give numbers based on adjusted intersections is interesting. (Bike lanes tend to have more intersections than cycle tracks.) Moreover, the “n” in this study is very low (n =10) and the CIs suggest that the difference between cycle tracks and bike lanes is not statistically significant. I have no idea why the authors did not perform multivariate analyses.

resopmok
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resopmok

The monthly stoking of this debate irritates me a bit when it is so blatantly polarized by portraying vehicular cyclists against advocates for separated infrastructure. It’s akin to the “bike vs car mentality” that is specifically blasted by posts on this very blog. Let’s please talk about realistic solutions after we’ve solved the political debate about how to get the government to actually spend anything more than pocket change on bike infrastructure. As it stands, we can’t even hardly get a piece of a measly $31 million allocated to be spent 6 years from now.

The biggest danger to bicycles in the public right of way is automobiles, i think we can all agree on this much. One of the biggest differences between Europe and the U.S., or Canada and the U.S., is that drivers in those other countries are simply more attentive and cautious when they operate their vehicles. Culture, licensing processes, expense of driving and yes, infrastructure, all contribute to safer roads and more comfortable riders.

We need to focus on those aspects which will make the biggest difference for the fewest dollars in the here and now. Fighting for crumbs from the table to lay more and more concrete smacks of transportation politics from the decades gone by. It may be surprising how much ignorance there is in the general public about these issues, but that is how media exploit people’s opinions. We need positive public campaigns which educate people about the benefits of cycling, even for those who don’t ride. We need to better train drivers not only about what the rules of the road are, but why they are what they are and why it’s important that people actually follow them. We need to train drivers about common situations that cause danger for cyclists, such as right hooks, driveways and doorings. We need to send bad drivers back to driver’s ed, and hold notoriously bad drivers accountable or deny them the right to the road. We need to share our stories and tell people why we ride and why we love it and stop focusing on every scumbucket that cuts you off on the road.

We can’t lay enough pavement to get bikes everywhere they need to go without sharing at least some road with cars. Do we really need more concrete covering the city? Let’s talk about what infrastructure logically makes the interaction of cars and bikes on the road easier after the majority of people’s attitudes reflect a respect for the choice of cycling.

BURR
Guest
BURR

As far as I’m concerned, they can build all the separated bike facilities they can afford, as long as:

1. They apply interim solutions like sharrows until a permanent facility is constructed (i.e. on arterial streets), and

2. ORS 814.420, the mandatory sidepath law, is repealed, so cyclists who choose not to use the separated facilities still retain their legal right to use the rest of the street if they want.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

Many thoughtful points of view expressed here…

About SunRiver: Bikes are the lowest element on the transportation totem pole, as they must give way to pedestrians on the paths and to cars at grade-level intersections with roads, as indicated by “sharks’ teeth” pointed into the MUPs. Once, when the Beaver Drive path was torn up for rebuilding, I had to ride into the Village on the road itself–very smooth and much faster! But the path system works extremely well for a recreational development, with the added effect of instructing cyclists in basic manners, as well as excluding them from traffic circles.

About PDX: When I am Mayor JM will run the Bureau of Transportation, and we shall enter Phase 3 of cycling for FUN and PROFIT in our fair city:

First up, the left lanes of 5th and 6th will become EXCLUSIVE BIKE LANES; buses will be the only motor vehicles on the Transit Mall. (The Mayor will not be able to get to his EXCLUSIVE PARKING SPACE, but that is a VERY small price to pay.)

Second, major repaving of all other downtown streets–more like rebuilding to the standards of the Transit Mall–will be undertaken. The current state of pavement on downtown streets is appalling, uncomfortable for motorists, dangerous for cyclists.

Third, SHARROWS will be everywhere there is no separated bicycle infrastructure, and the City will offer a free program to instruct cyclists HOW TO RIDE THEIR BLEEPING BIKES IN DOWNTOWN TRAFFIC. (Extra credit for those who master fixies!) Speed limits will be lowered and signals retimed for cyclists.

Fourth, Separated point-to-point bike-only infrastructure both east-west and north-south will be established at 20-block (1 mile) intervals, even if access to motor vehicles must be restricted. A motorist might have to go around the block to reach her driveway, but that will be TOUGH APPLES FOR SUV QUEENS. (Complaints will be referred to Emily Finch.)

Fifth, major intersections will be rebuilt according to the Dutch IMPOSSIBLE RIGHT-HOOK STANDARD, but with YELLOW PAINT instead of green.

NOTE BENE: No innovation, vision, creativity, empowerment will be required. No stroking of interest groups by the mayor’s office will occur. No positions for self-involved activists will be available on the Mayor’s staff. We already know what to do, so we shall simply do it.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Separated infrastructure (as typically done in the U.S.–even in Portland) = gilded cage.

Drivers have their choice: share the streets with pedestrians and cyclists, or take separated routes where they don’t have to share and go faster (unless those routes are choked with other drivers).

Cyclists have their choice: share the streets with cars and a few pedestrians, or take separated routes where they have to share with more pedestrians, [illegally] parked cars, and garbage cans and go slower. Oh, wait–cyclists in Oregon don’t have a choice as long as a “bike lane or path” exists; using their already inherently slower mode of travel, they must go even slower because they are caged in behind the slowest of the slow, must negotiate obstacles, and must make all-pedestrian turns and crossings all the time–and more of them.

All I’m saying is if we provide express routes for cars that let them go twice to three times as fast as other drivers, there ought to be the same alternatives for cyclists who are going somewhere, not just plodding along. One man’s two-mile trip is another man’s two-mile segment of a 10-mile trip.

I also think the first separation job we ought to do is separate the cyclists from the pedestrians. MUPs should not be considered bikeways. I mean, really–we ban sidewalk riding because it’s supposedly so dangerous, but then tell cyclists to go ride on glorified sidewalks. Come on!

I know, I know–“vroom-vroom”, “windshield” mentality…why can’t I just relax…If my 15-mile one-way commute is too long, why don’t I just move–or get a different job…why do I have a speed fetish…what’s wrong with always going 8mph everywhere…is getting there half an hour earlier really worth the safety risk of sharing roads with cars?!…think of the children!…what about the “interested-but-concerned”…8-80…

Sorry to be so grumpy, but the greatest ideas in the world for separated infrastructure that makes everyone happy (16-ft-wide, two-way cycle tracks with phase-separated signals at intersections?) are virtually guaranteed to get value-engineered down to an 8-ft MUP or 6-foot (3 feet usable) door-zone bike lane (or nothing), or over-engineered to the point of being incomprehensible and less safe than nothing faster than you can say “freeloader”.

BURR
Guest
BURR

K’Tesh
Separated or not, I always like to see more bike infrastructure.

Translation: Anything, even if it totally sucks, is better than nothing.

FAIL

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

First we need to make large portions of downtown/pearl, large portions of neighborhoods and school zones 15 mph districts. Install updated speed signs limit as needed–maybe a green 15 mph speed limit sign with a sharrow graphic. 15 mph districts are the top priority because they provide for the safety of bikes, peds and cars. Next imagine these green districts connected together by routes with different types of bike/car separation depending on speed differential and according to our bike plan.

Michael Andersen (Contributor)
Guest

For a Green Lane Project post today, I dug a bit further into this study to get to some of the other surprising findings:

1) Multi-use paths are more likely to result in serious bicyclist injury than almost any type of road, marked or unmarked.
2) Neighborhood greenways are only safer than other local streets if they include traffic diverters to cut car volume; if they don’t, they’re more dangerous. If they do, they’re as safe as cycle tracks.
3) In general, this study found that separated bikeways are just way, way safer than any other type of bikeway.

I’m especially proud of the infographic on this post.

http://greenlaneproject.org/blog/view/protected-bike-lanes-offer-vast-safety-advantage-study-shows

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I’m guessing that the additional safety factor of protected bikeways (assuming it still holds true with a larger sample size) is not just because they planted a few bollards between the bike lane and the car lanes.

It’s probably because opportunities for cars to turn across the bike lane are greatly reduced, and mediated by separate signal phases in many locations.