Study: Driver Behavior Shows Greater Need for Protected Bike Lanes

Photo: People for Bikes
Photo: People for Bikes

A stripe of paint on the street isn’t enough to keep bicyclists safe from drivers, a new study confirms.

The study, published this month in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, analyzed the way drivers interact with cyclists on various types of streets. It found that drivers pass cyclists on average about 1.25 feet closer on streets with a painted bike lane and car parking than on streets with no bike infrastructure.

“When the cyclist and driver share a lane, the driver is required to perform an overtaking maneuver,” Dr. Ben Beck, Monash University’s Deputy Head of Prehospital, Emergency and Trauma Research and the lead researcher on the study, said in a statement. “This is in contrast to roads with a marked bicycle lane, where the driver is not required to overtake. This suggests that there less of a conscious requirement for drivers to provide additional passing distance.”

Beck and his team used a device to record the passing distance for 60 riders in Victoria, Australia. Over the five-month study period, they recorded more than 18,500 car-bike overtaking events.

The median passing distance was more than five-and-a-half feet. But passing margins were far narrower on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or higher — that’s when almost a third of passing events were at a distance of about 3.25 feet, or about 15 inches closer than the median distance. SUVs and buses were also more likely to encroach on cyclists than regular cars in any circumstance.

Beck and his team say the findings don’t mean cities shouldn’t invest in bike lanes, but that more than just paint is needed.

“The focus of on-road cycling infrastructure needs to be on providing infrastructure that separates cyclists from motor vehicles by a physical barrier,” the study asserted.

61 thoughts on Study: Driver Behavior Shows Greater Need for Protected Bike Lanes

  1. My polices lead to thousands of people being killed, but I am civil and don’t swear, so I am a good person.

    James C. Walker, Garbage Human Being

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  3. Thanks for that update. I do appreciate your civility, in fact don’t even respond to people who aren’t. I’ve read some snide comments about your allegedly one man organization, but that only reminds me of when I began the Broward Bicycle Lobby in 1980, as president, secretary and treasurer (Ha). I accomplished a hell of a lot by myself, and frequently found that public meetings with other cyclists (a much crazier assortment back then) were more trouble than they were worth.

  4. Thanks, Stephen. We are a small but active group of mostly volunteers (3 paid employees). One dedicated person or a small group can often achieve quite a lot – if they bring good facts & arguments. We are the lead group that ended the counter productive National Maximum Speed Limit in 1995 – and much of that success was due to one lady who lived in DC on a shoestring budget and talked to the aides in a great many legislators’ offices. She now lives in Nevada and manages some of our site speedtrap.org.

    Some cyclist groups seem to seek logical changes, some ask for or demand changes that don’t make sense to the majority of commuters and other road users. In general, I think Europe does a better job keeping cyclists safer without compromising most vehicle traffic – usually by separating cyclists from the active traffic lanes on major streets. My town of Ann Arbor just decided to do a protected two way bike lane on a minor street that parallels more major ones. The lane will connect campus with downtown at the very minor cost of a few parking places on one side. I strongly supported the sensible plan.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  5. I salute anyone who works hard to achieve their goals, even if I don’t agree with them. Most people sit back and kvetch, or just ignore the problems that surround us. I’m not a fan of bike lanes protected or not, but won’t actively oppose them, just point out that there will be other safety problems that will become obvious. I’m mainly a driver and pedestrian now, but do my part to pass cyclists safely, treat pedestrians without aggression and drive around the speed limit, or less if conditions call for it. We can all get along, but not without education and better training.

  6. Are your observations based on extensive experience biking around a city? Or the observations behind a window.

    Because maybe you should question whether your experience has any relevance whatsoever.

  7. The view of a minimum 3 foot clearance between a vehicle and a bike is the same – whether viewed by the rider or the driver. If the two maintain a minimum 3 foot clearance per the new MI law that was supported by BOTH the NMA and the League of Michigan Bicyclists, the two will not touch – unless the bike suddenly veers into the car or the car suddenly veers into the bike. Assuming both are sane people, they won’t do that.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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