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The City has repeatedly claimed that adding bike lanes to Cascade increases safety for our residents, including cyclists. We don’t think it’s clear that is true.
1. The City claims building bike lanes will greatly increase the number of cyclists. In her October 2, 2018 guest editorial for The Gazette, City Councilmember Jill Gaebler claimed:
Implementing connected and safe bike routes on our roads substantially increases the number of people who will ride their bikes.
We’re skeptical a lot more people are going to start cycling (see points 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this flyer), but for the sake of argument let’s assume it’s true.
2. More bikes next to cars means more vehicle-bicycle collisions. Pro-cycling advocates argue that better bike infrastructure increases cyclist safety. If we’re measuring safety in terms of the number of collisions and injuries per capita, that is, per total number of people cycling, well-designed bike amenities do decrease the rate of bike collisions. On the other hand, if we measure safety in terms of the raw number of bicycle collisions and injuries, more cyclists mean more collisions and injuries.
Boston saw (and published data) on this trend. Over several years the city massively built out its bike infrastructure, and ridership increased from 0.9% of commuters to 2.4%. At the same time, the percent of bicycle accidents involving injury decreased from 82.7% to 74.6% and the percent of vehicle-bicycle collisions (as a portion of all bicycle-related collisions) decreased from 95.5% to 91.9% (see Table 1). These are the kind of statistics pro-cycling advocates point to when they talk about bicycle infrastructure improving safety.
However Table 1 also shows the raw numbers of collisions and injuries, which tell a different story. The annual number of vehicle-bicycle collisions increased from 342 to 441 (a 29% increase) and the annual number of bicycle collisions involving injury increased from 296 to 364 (a 23% increase). Building out bike infrastructure correlates with both a lower rate of bicycle injuries and a higher total number of bicycle injuries. To our minds it’s not clear that this situation has overall increased people’s safety, especially given bicycle collisions are more dangerous than other types of collisions.
3. Vehicle-bicycle collisions cause more injuries and fatalities than vehicle-only collisions. In the City’s February 2017 “State of Bicycling in Colorado Springs” report, Figure 6 shows how much more dangerous bicycle crashes are compared to crashes in general:
Similarly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that, of all cyclists who are injured while biking, the most common source of injury is being hit by a car (see Figure 3.13).
It’s not surprising that cyclists are more vulnerable to injury than other commuters. Bicycles cannot offer the same protection as cars, buses, or rail. That’s likely why, despite representing only about 0.6% of all commuters nationally, cyclists represent 3X as many fatalities (an average of 1.9% of traffic fatalities).
4. On-street bike lanes are less safe than other bike infrastructure. Of course the safest possible option would be for everyone to walk everywhere and not use cars or bikes at all, but that’s pretty silly. We don’t expect people to give up biking any more than we expect them to give up driving, even though both come with risks.
But if safety is priority #1, on-street bike lanes next to motorized traffic (and especially between motorized traffic and parked cars) are not the right form of bike infrastructure. The American Journal of Public Health published information showing that the safest bike infrastructure was “cycle tracks,” defined as “on-street bicycle lanes that are physically separated from motor vehicles by raised curbs, bollards, or concrete barriers.” And compared to unprotected bicycle lanes on major roads with parked cars, even lightly trafficked residential streets without any bicycle facilities were safer.
In their article on protected bike lanes, Citylab summarized nicely:
Not all bike lanes are created equal. A line in the pavement dividing cars from cyclists is nice, but it doesn’t provide nearly the comfort of a protected bike lane — a track separated from vehicle traffic by a row of parked cars, or a curb, or at least a line of flexible posts.
For a road with the speed and traffic of Cascade, the City’s own report recommended physically separated bike lanes (see point #3 here). Instead the City implemented unprotected on-street lanes.
We find it contradictory for the City to claim both that on-street bike lanes (a) will substantially increase the number of people biking (next to cars) and (b) will also increase citizen safety overall. More bikes next to cars mean more bicycle-vehicle collisions, which are more injurious collisions, and the City didn’t even choose the type of bike infrastructure most likely to mitigate this risk.
You can read more about the City’s bizarre justifications for the Cascade bike lanes in these posts:
- Why put bike lanes on Cascade?
- “I don’t care if one more 65 or older person moves to this City.”
- Millennials are driving more than in years past
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