Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

Study: Cycle Tracks Safer Than Riding in Street


Portland Cycle TrackA new study published in the journal Injury Prevention reports that cyclists in Montreal using dedicated cycle tracks have lower incidence of injury than cyclists using the street.

Cycle tracks are fairly common in Montreal and throughout Europe, particularly in the Netherlands. These are generally segregated from the traffic in the street, but still essentially part of the street. Perhaps more importantly, cycle tracks are typically dedicated for use by bicyclists – unlike mixed-use trails that feature a changing cast of runners, skaters, dogs, kids and other users.

The study concluded that “These data suggest that the injury risk of bicycling on cycle tracks is less than bicycling in streets. The construction of cycle tracks should not be discouraged.” However, there are challenges to this conclusion: In a city with significant cycle track mileage, are motorists unused to watching for cyclists in the street? Given recent safety in numbers studies, this is a factor not to be discounted, and the study’s user counts showed higher incidence of use of cycle tracks versus reference streets.

It is, however, true that saying that cycle tracks are less safe may be a red herring.

One area of challenge for cycle tracks in many road projects in the US is right-of-way and the space to implement. Some streets require ‘road diets’ to achieve even a non-segregated bike lane, let alone a cycle track. In many communities, getting buy-in to reduce motorist traffic by a full lane to accommodate cyclists is a hard sell, as you might imagine.

Another challenge, and one which I have covered at length previously, is the perception that comes with bike lanes and sidepaths that cyclists should only be using such facilities, and are not legal users of other streets (or, in municipalities without mandatory sidepath rules, that cyclists may choose to use the road rather than the sidepath!).

Still, this study supports the idea that building cycle tracks may have merit as an encouragement to cyclists and as an urban amenity.

Photo by itdp, via Flickr.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

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