5 Benefits of Dedicated Bike Paths
May is national bike moth and with it comes it the annual debates of whether or not cycle paths and lanes actually help keep you healthy, keep you safe or have an impact on pollution and global warming. These seem to be eternal arguments that have been proved erroneous by research, but it doesn’t seem to quell the arguments. Here are five good, proven reasons that bike lanes improve the planet we live on by reducing harmful emissions and keeping people healthy.
SAFER FOR CYCLISTS
Conventional wisdom suggested that cycling with traffic was the safest way to travel, but no research was ever conducted into that. It was just an accepted fact. Then came ideas that cycle paths were worse for cyclists. It’s hard to find the source of the rumor that cycle paths make a cyclist’s journey on the road more dangerous. Research by the American Journal of Public Health draws this conclusion:
“The lower risks on quiet streets and with bike-specific infrastructure along busy streets support the route-design approach used in many northern European countries. Transportation infrastructure with lower bicycling injury risks merits public health support to reduce injuries and promote cycling.”
The researchfound that bike lanes reduced accidents by 50% and that is a significant factor. By introducing a protected lane with a curb separating the cyclist and the road, you reduce cycling accidents on the road by a whopping 90%.
SAFER FOR MOTORISTS
In general many motorists have not been on a bike for decades and have forgotten how much space to allow for a cyclist. Usually the motorists over correct on how far they have to pull out and endanger themselves as they wander into the lane for the oncoming traffic. Research done by the University of Texas on the use of bike paths found that:
“Bicyclists are also less likely to ride on sidewalks when on-street bike lanes exist. When they ride on sidewalks, studies have shown that it increases their accident risk 25 times. This occurs primarily because motorists pulling onto roadways tend to focus on street traffic. As a result, a driver may fail to see sidewalk bicyclists and collide with them when the cyclists cross a driveway where motorists are merging into roadway traffic.
“Bike lanes reinforce the concept that bicyclists are supposed to behave like other vehicles, and make life safer for everyone involved as a result.”
It would appear that something as simple as painted bicycle lane line on the road can stop accidents.
If you build it, they will come. Time and time again, cycling studies have shown that adding bike lanes motivates more people to get out and bike. New Orleans saw a 57% increase just six months after bike lanes were marked. Los Angeles also saw a 52% jump in cyclists on their new lanes. Meanwhile, New York City found it was able to double the number of people commuting by bicycle in just a few years after introducing a few cycling initiatives including bike lanes. In a country plagued by obesity, the health benefits of a population that rides bicycles should not be mitigated.2531
BENEFITS TO THE ECONOMY
Mighty concerns have been raised by businesses alongside bike paths, especially in downtown areas. The perception was that the constant stream of cyclists between the car and sidewalk would deter shoppers. Actually, research has had the opposite effect. One study done in downtown Manhattan found that:
“New York may have dropped in a recent ranking of cycling cities. But it does have some world class infrastructure, including a “complete street” on 9th Avenue, with a protected bike lane. Built in 2007, it was controversial at the time (like everything else bike-related in the city). But a study by the Department of Transport finds that it’s paid dividends economically. Local stores between 23rd and 31st streets have seen a 49% increase in sales, compared to an average of 3% for Manhattan as a whole.”
Bike paths have a real potential to upset the balance of power between the dominance of the car and the bicycle. Whatever research you read, the case for installing cycle lanes in every town and city is strong. They keep everyone on the road safe, they boost the economy and they keep people healthy. Bicycle riding is also extremely green. It produces no pollution or emissions and lowers your carbon footprint to zero. By switching to biking to work even once a week you are lowering your business travel carbon footprint by one fifth.
The most damage done by a car is in the number of short journeys it takes. As it warms up it produces the most pollution so if those trips are replaced by cycling on safe, segregated road, then much of the pollution and harmful greenhouse gasses we produce will be reduced. The more bike lanes, the more we can facilitate people making a greener, healthier, safer choice.