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US Bike Ridership Surges With Protected Bike Lanes, Study Finds

Cross-section at intersection

Avid urban cyclists can always find a way to reach their destinations. They can maneuver in tight spaces where bike and motor vehicle traffic mix. Not so with the less experienced—and it seems from an extensive national study released last week that protected bike lanes (aka “cycle tracks”) provide these bicyclists a sense of security that can make a huge difference in ridership.

The first major academic study of protected bike lanes in the United States, Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S., examined protected bike lane intersections at eight locations in five U.S. cities:

    Austin, TX
    Chicago, IL
    Portland, OR
    San Francisco, CA
    Washington, DC

Protected bike lanes in 5 US cities (NITC-RR-583)

To produce the report, the National Institute for Transportation and Communities compiled 204 hours of video footage showing movement patterns of 16,000 people on bicycles and 20,000 turning cars; 2,301 surveys with people who live near the bike projects; and 1,111 surveys of people using the protected lanes. Access the complete report here.

Michael Anderson of People For Bikes points out: “Most academic studies of modern protected lanes have relied on data from countries where culture, land use, street design and social behavior are dramatically different (the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany) or from Canada, which has led the North American protected lane revolution.”

The NITC evaluation has focused on the U.S. experience. It examines six questions:

1. Do protected lane facilities attract more cyclists?

2. How well do the design features of the facilities work? In particular, do both the users of the 
protected bicycle facility and adjacent travel lanes understand the design intents of the 
facility, especially unique or experimental treatments at intersections?

3. Do the protected lanes improve users’ perceptions of safety?

4. What are the perceptions of nearby residents?

5. How attractive are the protected lanes to different groups of people?

6. Is the installation of the lanes associated with measureable increases in economic activity?

Here’s what happened with peak-hour traffic in Washington, D.C. (on 15th between T and Swann Streets) after protected lanes were implemented:

Peak-hour traffic at one Washington DC protected bike lane (NITC-RR-583)


This sort of increase happened on street after street where protected bike lanes were added.

Conclusion: When protected bike lanes are added to a street, bike traffic rises—in this study, by an average of 75% in the first year of each of the projects studied.

The Atlantic CityLab‘s Eric Jaffe points out that, in every case, these rates of growth met or exceeded citywide bike traffic growth. On average, bike traffic on protected lanes grew three times faster than general bike traffic citywide. Even streets with an existing bike lane saw a spike in ridership when the lane was protected.

Jaffe sums up the results and caveats of the study:

So protected bike lanes do seem to serve the double purpose of improving rider safety while also inspiring people to ride in the first place. There are some key caveats to keep in mind: the big percentage swings reflect relatively small total numbers, often in the tens of riders, and it’s unknown how many riders made a true shift from driving (as opposed to from other transit modes). These are also five cities with growing bike cultures: it’s unclear how well protected lanes would perform in places where cycling isn’t already a rising subculture.

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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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