When traffic engineers don’t want to install protected bike lanes, they’ll often say that more research is needed to prove their safety (because any results from outside America don’t count, of course). But then when opportunities arise to study the safety of protected bike lanes, the engineering establishment doesn’t take advantage. And so the cycle repeats itself.
Case in point: The National Cooperative Highway Research Program recently approved $30 million for transportation research, but hardly any of that will go toward studying the biking and walking infrastructure that many American cities are seeking to implement.
Just $750,000 of the $30 million will go to study bike and pedestrian infrastructure. That’s a measly 2.5 percent. For comparison, nearly as much money — $600,000 — was awarded to a single research project about vehicles that carry livestock.
This research funding matters. When an influential trade group like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials refuses to officially endorse protected bike lanes, the excuse you’ll often hear is that there isn’t enough data to prove the designs are safe. But the same cadre of engineers also decline to fund safety research into those designs.
The National Cooperative Highway Research Program is overseen by the Transportation Research Board, AASHTO, and the Federal Highway Administration. These same groups appoint most of the members of the powerful National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which has been slow to adopt new templates that can improve the safety of cycling.