Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why Separate Trails are Better Than Bike Lanes

Updated 6/9/14: Here is an article about a study showing ridership increases when cities build protected bike lanes and click here to learn about Protected Intersections.

American cities, in an attempt to find quick and cheap solutions to the increased demand for safe ways to travel by bike, have largely resorted to segregating bikes from traffic using a thin white strip of paint.  This lets them say they are creating miles and miles of bike lanes and doing the right thing, while not really having to spend much time or money addressing the problem.
The sad reality that is becoming painfully clear is that white lines of paint don't protect bikes from cars.  A recent article in The Economist points out that Americans are 3-5 times more likely to die while biking than their counterparts in much more bike-friendly Western Europe.  The article points out that the main reasons for this are:
1.  White lines of paint tend to be ignored by automobile drivers and unenforced by police.  These same millimeter-thick lines of pigment, apparently fail to keep cars travelling 30-40 mph from slamming into bikes travelling much slower.
2.  Collisions between cars travelling 40 mph and bikes travelling at typical bike speeds typically result in a fatality.
3.  In Europe, cars that mix openly with bikes are limited to speeds under 20 mph.
4.  Most bike routes in Europe are completely separate from roads.  Bikes often have their own network of paved trails and when they overlap roads, large concrete barriers separate bicycle traffic from potentially lethal automobiles.

American cities, like Portland, that have followed the European example have managed to drastically reduce bike fatalities.  Sadly, cities in Arkansas are lagging far behind (as usual) and a tragic price is being paid.  There have been multiple bicyclist deaths in Arkansas that could have been prevented if suitable bike infrastructure had been in place.

It is for these reasons that I advocate for bike/pedestrian networks of trails that are completely separate from roads.  Painted bike lanes on busy roads are a misguided and horrible mistake.  Let's build safe alternative transportation routes that protect all our citizens.

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