Cycle lanes are reducing fatalities among ALL road users in city centres, according to a new study.
Researchers found that roads are safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists in cities with “robust” facilities for cyclists.
In the most comprehensive look at bicycle and road safety to date, they discovered that it’s not the cyclists, but rather the infrastructure built for them, that is making roads safer for everyone.
Study co-author Dr Wesley Marshall said: “Bicycling seems inherently dangerous on its own.
“So it would seem that a city with a lot of bicycling is more dangerous, but the opposite is true.
“Building safe facilities for cyclists turned out to be one of the biggest factors in road safety for everyone.”
The findings, published in the Journal of Transport and Health, show that facilities for cyclists act as “calming” mechanisms on traffic, slowing cars and reducing fatalities.
The research team looked through 13 years of figures from 12 large American cities with high-bicycling mode shares, including Denver and Dallas.
During those years, the United States saw a 51 per cent increase in cycling to work and the number of protected bike lanes double each year starting in 2009.
The researchers investigated more than 17,000 fatalities and 77,000 severe injuries.
Originally, they believed that more bicycle lanes and the increase in cyclists would lead to a “safety-in-numbers” effect: the more cyclists on the road, the more likely drivers would slow down and be aware of their surroundings.
But they actually found that safer cities aren’t due to the increase in cyclists, but the infrastructure built for them – specifically, separated and protected bicycle lanes.
They found that bicycling infrastructure is “significantly associated” with fewer fatalities and better road-safety outcomes.
Portland in Oregon saw the biggest increase. Between 1990 and 2010, city’s bicycle mode share increased from 1.2 per cent to six per cent; over the same period, the road fatality rate dropped by 75 per cent.
With added bike lanes, fatal crash rates dropped in Seattle (-60.6 per cent), San Francisco (-49.3 per cent), Denver (-40.3 per cent) and Chicago (-38.2 per cent), as well as in other cities.
Dr Marshall, Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing at University of Colorado Denver, said: “The US is killing 40,000 people a year on roads, and we treat it as the cost of doing business.
“A lot of the existing research focuses on bicycle safety; with this study, we’re interested in everyone’s safety.”
He added: “Focusing on fatalities – not crashes – is important.
“Over the years, my research has found that safer cities have fewer fatalities but more fender benders.”
Study co-author Dr Nicholas Ferenchak hopes it study simplifies the ways in which cities move forward.
Dr Ferenchak, an Assistant Professor in the department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at the University of New Mexico, said: “When we believed it was the old safety-in-numbers concept, that meant we had to figure out how to get more people on bicycles to make a city safer.
“That’s not easy. But this research has boiled it down for city planners: create cycling facilities, and you’ll see the impact.”