Bridging the Opportunity Divide

The Verdict on Protected Bike Lanes

September 22, 2014
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The Verdict on Protected Bike Lanes
Protected bike lanes in New York City are making life easier for cars. Dani Simons/Flickr
Riders aren't the only ones benefitting.

New York City traffic can be brutal, and adding bike lanes had some locals concerned it would only add to the congested Manhattan streets. But the protected bike lanes has actually improved traffic flow, according to a new report from the city.

The city’s Department of Transportation amassed empirical data on the 30 miles of protected bicycle lanes added across the city since 2007, finding that the bike-friendly paths are a boon to both reducing traffic and pedestrian safety.

The report found that some streets with the newfangled lanes are now faster, due in part to a safety feature requiring cars turning left to wait in a pocket. The new design reduces risk of cars hitting pedestrians and also eliminates cars blocking traffic while waiting to turn.

“Having that left turning area, where you’re able to get out of the flow, you can see the cyclist, the cyclist can see the turning vehicle, you can pause and not feel the pressure from behind to make a quick movement,” says Josh Benson, director of bicycle and pedestrian programs for the city’s Department of Transportation. “That’s a major major safety feature of these type of bike lanes. But it also helps the flow.”

Safety is one of the biggest benefits of adding the lanes, as pedestrian injuries have dropped 22 percent while total injuries are down 20 percent. Crashes with injuries have also decreased by 17 percent. One possible reason why: The bike lanes have shortened crosswalks and made them more visible to drivers.

More interestingly, the city points out the bike lanes have been economically beneficial. Local businesses on streets redesigned with the paths saw an uptick in retail sales and have been associated with more jobs and more tourism foot traffic.

For the city’s anti-cyclists, the new report means the bike safety program is here to stay.

“It’s our plan to do five miles of protected bike lanes every year going forward,” Benson tells Fast Company. “That’s actually about 100 city blocks of protected bike lanes, so that’s a huge chunk of city streets every year.”

But as the report reveals, adding bike lanes is beneficial for every type of transportation on New York’s crowded streets. Next time you’re grumbling about passing cyclists, remember, they’re helping you move faster.

MORE: Here’s a Simple Way to Get Your Community Interested in Better Bike Lanes

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