If you are like most bicyclists, you probably think that you are safer riding in a bike lane than you are when riding down a street that does not have one. Unfortunately, this perception represents a flawed one and could be completely untrue according to the results of a recent study.
While visually appealing, painted bike lanes provide you with no real protection from other vehicles that share the road with you.
After studying 60 bicycle riders over five months, researchers recorded over 18,500 “car-bike overtaking events.” The contrast between vehicles overtaking a cyclist riding in a designated bike lane and one riding on a road without one was startling, as follows:
- When drivers overtook a cyclist on a road without a bicycle lane, they left 5.5 feet, on average, between their vehicle and the bike when passing it.
- When drivers overtook a cyclist riding in a bicycle lane, they left only an average of 3.5 feet between their vehicle and the bike when passing it.
- When negotiating streets and roads with narrow lanes or speed limits above 35 miles per hour, drivers left the least amount of space between themselves and cyclists when passing them, whether or not they rode in a bike lane.
- Buses and SUVs represented the biggest culprits, their drivers being far less likely to maintain a safe cushion when passing a cyclist.
Bike lane illusions
Painted bike lanes cannot prevent vehicle-bike collisions. Instead, they give drivers and cyclists alike a false sense of security. Experts warn you to take your own safety seriously and always engage in proactive safe riding. For instance, never use your cellphone while riding, either to talk or to text. Distracted cycling, like distracted driving, can cause you to unknowingly veer out of your bike lane. Experts also highly recommend that states and municipalities invest the resources necessary to install physical barriers between your bike lane and the nearest traffic lane.