Do Bike Lanes Improve Safety?

Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico found that bike lanes and road infrastructure significantly enhance road safety for all. The study underscores the importance of investing in these elements to create safer environments for everyone using the roads.

The Role of Bike Lanes and Infrastructure in Road Safety

Dr. Wesley Marshal, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Colorado Denver, debunks the perception that cycling is dangerous. The study demonstrates that cities with the widespread presence of bicyclists are not more dangerous. Instead, the presence of safe facilities, like bike lanes, for cyclists is one of the most significant factors contributing to road safety for all road users.

The Calming Effect of Biking Infrastructure on Traffic

The findings, published in the Journal of Transportation & Health, highlight that biking infrastructure often decreases the speed of cars and reduces fatalities. This “calming” effect is similar to the impact of grid blocks found in cities with denser intersections.

The study required researchers to examine 13 years of data from 12 major US cities known for their high cycling rates. Some of these cities were Denver, Dallas, Portland, and Kansas City. Throughout this period, the US saw a 51% increase in commuter cycling, with the number of protected bike lanes doubling annually from 1009 onwards. Additionally, the researchers conducted a longitudinal study that analyzes over 17,000 fatalities and 77,000 severe injuries.

Correlation Between Bike Lanes and Reduced Fatalities

Contrary to expectations, the study revealed that the improved safety of cities cannot be solely attributed to an increase in cyclists. Rather, it is the infrastructure dedicated to cyclists, particularly protected bike lanes, that play a pivotal role. The study revealed a strong correlation: more bicycling infrastructure led to fewer fatalities and improved road safety.

Portland, Oregon, exhibited the most substantial increase in this regard. From 1990 – 2010, the city’s bicycle road share surged from 1.2% to 6% coinciding with a 75% decline in the road fatality rate. Additionally, cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago saw significant declines in fatal crash rates (ranging from 38% to 60%) after adding more bike lanes.

Dr. Marshall expressed concerns about the high number of annual road fatalities in the US, highlighting the need for immediate proactive measures. He specifically emphasized the significance of shifting focus towards fatalities rather than just crashes. This strategic shift enables cities to better align their efforts with the Vision Zero initiative, which strives to completely eliminate traffic-related deaths. Furthermore, Dr. Marshall emphasized the crucial role of evidence-based research in informing policy decisions and effectively enhancing road safety.

Additionally, Dr. Nicholas Ferenchak from the University of New Mexico is optimistic that this research will effectively guide cities. The finding shed light on the crucial role of investing in cycling infrastructure to achieve real improvements in road safety.

Enhancing Road Safety Through Cycling Infrastructure

The research encompassed various cities, including Oklahoma City, Memphis, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland. While the findings may not directly apply to smaller cities, they offer valuable insights for larger urban areas seeking to enhance road safety through the development of cycling infrastructure.



University of Colorado Denver. (2019, May 29). Cycling lanes reduce fatalities for all road users, a study shows: Roads are safer for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists in cities with robust bike facilities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 11, 2023 from


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