Protected Bike Lanes 7 Times More Effective Than Painted Ones, Survey Says

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Alki Avenue, Seattle.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

We all know that if your goal is to get meaningful numbers of people to ride bicycles, protected bike lanes are better than conventional ones painted into a door zone. But how much better?

Well, adding a bike lane to a four-lane commercial urban street increases the number of American adults who say they’d be “very comfortable” biking on it from 9 percent to 12 percent.

Making that bike lane protected increases the number to 29 percent.

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The finding comes from a survey of adults in the 50 largest U.S. metro areas by the National Association of Realtors, conducted by Portland State University and published this summer. It’s some of the clearest, simplest evidence yet that for people of every demographic, a door-zone painted bike lane on a busy street makes far less difference to people’s biking comfort than one with a physical barrier between bike and car traffic.

In fact, the experience of riding in a protected bike lane beats riding in a painted door-zone one by about as much as riding on an off-street path beats riding on a city street at all. That’s true across the board: women and men, every generation, every income, every education level.

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(You can read the exact wording of the question here. Participants could choose “very comfortable,” “somewhat comfortable,” “somewhat uncomfortable,” “very uncomfortable” or “don’t know.”)

Obviously there are many streets where cities can’t install protected bike lanes, at least not yet. But if your city’s goal is to increase the number of trips people take on bikes, it shouldn’t be creating door-zone bike lanes unless there’s a clear reason not to do better.

White paint just isn’t good enough to make a major difference.

Looking for statistics that make the case for protected bike lanes? We’ve got a database of them.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

32 thoughts on Protected Bike Lanes 7 Times More Effective Than Painted Ones, Survey Says

  1. I find this hard to believe. Next these “researchers” are going to come out with some “study” that claims boats are more effective than pool noodles.

    I’m just teasing, of course. Studies like this are definitely important for deciding how to spend a city/municipality/state’s limited resources. It’s too bad more folks don’t actually accept these facts rather than letter this own preconceived notions, prejudices and confirmation biases rule.

  2. Good stuff. Looking at the generational data, I assume the “separate path” (green) bar gets associated with recreational riding and hence there we see what seems to be a shift where Millennials are less interested in recreational riding than the previous generation. I think this is a good thing since it shows a shift from recreational riding to utilitarian riding and this reflects a paradigm shift in how Americans see the bicycle.

  3. The question is not “are protected bike lanes great”? The question should be:
    If there is a limited pot of money for bikeways, and if well-designed protected bikeways are very expensive (especially if new traffic signals must be added to protect cyclists against turning vehicles), what is the tradeoff between an extensive network of standard or buffered bike lanes vs. a limited number of protected bike lanes? If it is true that people’s decision about whether to bike is largely determined by the least comfortable part of their ride, are we better off with a large number of bikeways on which many people are somewhat comfortable, or a very small number of bikeways on which one-third of people are very comfortable?

  4. My impression is that the limiting factor on bike lanes is not the cost, but the political will to take space away from cars.

    If you can do that, finding money to actually create the lanes is still a problem, but relatively speaking, a much easier one…

  5. It’s a very good question, and the answer isn’t so clear…

    If there’s a “comfort threshold” for a sufficiently large part of the population that lies between the two types of bike lane, you could stripe the whole city and still end up with anemic growth in bike usage, and actually hurt the reputation of biking (“we covered the whole city and nobody bikes!”).

    If protected lanes make enough people comfortable to start riding, on the other hand, even if their extent is limited (but presumably done in a coherent way that results in a useful subset of routes) they could provide very valuable mindshare (“biking is so easy and fun in district X!”) and thus serve as a nucleus for further expansion.

    That’s all just idle musing though, in reality, I dunno…

  6. Jarrett Walker in a recent post in human Transit wonders if this is a version of the transit dynamic he notices between ridership and coverage. He recommends consciously splitting a budget somewhere between the two then pursuing each according to the decided budget.

  7. What is going unsaid here is that the type of lane needed largely relates to traffic volume and speed. In The Netherlands most residential streets have no bike lanes at all because through traffic has been eliminated.

    That is to say that a typical “Class II” bike lane might be perfectly fine in some contexts but not in others.

    Here in New York non-protected lanes end up blocked by double parking, and since the police will not enforce them the only lanes that will work in most of the city are protected lanes.

  8. The carnary in the coal mine is women & children. Women & Children are not going to ride in any numbers unless they have protected & safe bike infrastructure.

    In Manhattan’s safest place to cycle, the central park loop; more women and children cycle than men. Peak demand is greater than 1,500 cyclists per hour ( more than 55% women & children ) on a 8′ wide path !

    In southern Germany & Austria, there are thousands of miles of dedicated bikeways paralleling country roads which have barely any motor traffic. that is one reason why there is huge bike traffic everywhere up from nothing 5 years ago.

  9. Protected bike lanes are more effective because *cop cars, taxis, valets, and other scofflaws don’t park in them*.

  10. This is a reasonable question, and there is quite a bit of discussion on the matter. For example, my city is trying to create a connected network, which is good, but its so sparse, it doesn’t end up reaching much even if its connected. I’d rather they focus on creating a highly connected and dense area, in one part of the city. However, I think I can rephrase your question. When there is a limited transportation budget and we spend 99.1% on the car portion of roads, 0.899% on transit, and 0.0001% on bike lanes, when bike lanes are the best bang for transportation buck and the car oriented portion is the least bang for buck, how can we change this, because we’re being stupid. (Numbers of course invented to illustrate a point, but I doubt I’m really that far off).

  11. The Geller Report you mentioned was not a valid survey. When you read the report, you realize he pulled data from multiple sources, created the categories, and inferred the statistics. He never did any primary research. The Geller Report is nothing but a untested hypothesis.

    The attached NAR and PDX Report has primary research. This report shows 41% of people do not bicycle because they do not feel safe because of traffic (Page 18). What we do not know is whether or not 59% do feel safe in traffic. The question is, out of the 59% that do feel safe in traffic (motorized), why are they not cycling more?

  12. The results on page 23 of the report indicate that people feel a greater sense of comfort for bicycling as there the level of separation from motor vehicle traffic increases. There is no doubt that major streets with conventional bike lanes have on average more bicycle riders than major streets that have no separation for bicycle riders from motor vehicle traffic. Bike paths on average have much more bicycle riders than streets that have conventional bike lanes.

  13. From experience in riding in a bollard-protected bike lane daily, part of the problem is properly maintaining them once built. A common issue is that protected bike lanes can’t be swept or plowed by traditional equipment. It’s great that cities are putting them in (Chicago is my location), but you have to make sure they don’t then trap cyclists into using poorly maintained areas of the road.

  14. Page 23 is what is posted on Streetsblog…

    As an Economist I understand the difficulty of trying to quantify subjective data.

    This report collected data on why people choose certain methods for transportation. But it is just a collection of data without a purpose. People for Bikes are focusing in on Page 23 to push their agenda of building infrastructure. But the survey did not directly address “What” it would take to get people to ride a bicycle more often; it only asked “Why” people do not ride.

    Now, if NAR and PDX are willing to release the raw data, then an analysis of the 59% who do not rate “Does not feel safe in traffic” as a concern could be analyzed as too why they do not cycle more often.

  15. There was a study of the bicycle commuting mode share of the 90 largest U.S. per mile of bike lane and bike path per 100,000 population done by Ralph Buehler and John Pucher. The results were for about one mile of bike lane installed per square mile in a city there is a gain of one percent of workers who commute by bicycle. That works out to a bicycle commuting share for the city of Los Angeles of one-percent per 468 miles of bike lanes installed. Bike paths result in a slightly lower percent of bicycle commuters per mile. About half of one percent of workers bicycle to work without any bicycling infrastructure judging by Los Angeles having a bicycle commuting mode share of .6% in 1990.

    So for 468 miles of bike paths and bike lanes there should be a bicycle commuting mode share in the city of Los Angeles of about 1.5%. There were about 210 miles of bike lanes and 8 miles of bike paths installed in the city of Los Angeles in fiscal years 2011 through 2014. These bike lanes were installed on 7% of the arterial/collector streets. That should result in a gain of workers who primarily commute by bicycle of at least 0.4. So far there has been a increase of 0.2 with the 2013 results. The 2014 results should bring that closer to a gain of 0.5. which would be approximately the 7% guesstimate of Roger Geller for the city of Portland if all 3,000 miles of arterial/collector streets in the city of los Angeles had bike lanes.

    The LAPD reported motor vehicle involved collisions with bicycle riders increased by only 1% in 2013 and decreased by 6% in 2014. This was a increase of 1% in 2014 compared to 2011 after a 25% gain the amount of bicycle commuters. There was an increase of 61% in motor vehicle involved collisions with bicycle riders from 2007 through 2010 after a gain of about 66% in the amount of bicycle commuters. This indicates a strong correlation between installing the bike lanes/paths and increased safety for bicycling.

  16. The Federal Highway Administration recently indicated the “pot of money for bikeways” is significantly greater than many local urban planners have believed. See: .

    Bikeways are in fact very IN-expensive when compared to new roadways. We must see bicycling as transit just like roads, buses and trains are transit. When compared to those methods of transit, bicycling is the most cost effective by a mile.

  17. Ya, even for People for Bikes and Streetsblog, that tittle is very deceptive.

    Effective = Actual use

    “Feeling Very Comfortable” does not equal “I use”.

  18. Are you an idiot? Check your facts before spouting off. Bike lanes are much cheaper than roads and/or roads/sidewalks. Typical of the anti-cyclist mentality (i.e. no brains, just mouth).

  19. The extent of protected bike networks really doesn’t have to be limited to a few small corners here and there due to a lack of funds to go bigger. Protected bike lanes are really only necessary on the busy streets. With traffic calming measures and traffic diversion/exclusion, most other streets in an area can be calmed to a point where the vast majority of people feel safe enough to ride. These changes are much cheaper and complete than trying to force a PBL onto every street or picking winners and losers to get a PBL.

  20. Ideally, creating them should be done as part of routine maintenance. That results in a substantially reduced cost for the installation of the bikeway and can usually improve it too.

  21. Check Merriam-Webster:

    the carrying of people, goods, or materials from one place to another.
    “a painting was damaged in transit”
    synonyms: transportation, transport, movement, flow, conveyance, shipping, shipment, trucking, carriage, transfer

    So, bicycles and private vehicles are by definition transit.

  22. Fair enough. But when used in contexts like this, the word “transit” is overwhelmingly used to refer to mass transit that is typically operated by the government for mobility of the low-income and/or to reduce congestion, not just any and all vehicles, private or not. Otherwise, that means that driving is transit and every state head of transportation will start calling the next unnecessary interchange project a “transit facility”.

  23. Not necessarily true. The level of traffic has to be reduced to around 500 vehicles per day so people of all ages will feel comfortable cycling on it. Especially parents with children.

    It is a real challenge to divert enough traffic off streets so the majority of people are comfortable with cycling. While some sections are easy, there are often a few blocks with destinations or needed access to destinations. As well, people on other streets often don’t like traffic being diverted on to their streets.

    And often, these streets are interrupted meaning bike routes on them become quite in direct and convoluted increasing travel time and distance.

    Major streets have the many of destinations that people need to access including shops and businesses. It is often not easy or efficient to access destinations on main streets from side streets.

    Often the best solution is protected bike lanes on major streets.

  24. Actually, I specifically said that PBLs are really only necessary on major streets. For the others without a PBL, having AADTs of 500 or less is ideal, but really isn’t necessary. Even by Dutch guidelines and experience, a fietsstraat can have AADT of around 2000 pce as long as bike traffic outnumbers motor vehicles. However, measures like traffic diverters every couple blocks, speed tables/choke points, and opposing one-way streets with contra-flow bikeways are all methods that are quite effective in removing traffic from a thoroughfare to not just remove traffic, but to make driving less attractive, which is what will get people to bike.

  25. But in most places, where active transportation gets a small share of the pie as a political matter (not due to a misunderstanding about how funds may be used), the question is how those funds should best be used. Are protected bike lanes more cost-effective than buffered bike lanes, if the former results in minimal coverage and lack of a network.

  26. I know this is an old post, but FWIW, I clicked through the “exact wording” link and found that sample question was to asked only to “people who can physically ride a bike and know how”.

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