In April the city of Copenhagen opened bike lane “superhighways”, miles of paths dedicated to making cycling safer, faster and more efficient for many Danes. In a city where nearly half of residents commute by bike, there is a positive view toward the use and safety of cycling. In the U.S., however, some feel that bike paths are unsafe and ineffective.
In a culture where cars are the king of the road, there has been a lack of focus on bike lanes by many officials. This is partly why many paths are indeed unsafe for cyclists. In Los Angeles, for example, bike paths are often separated with walls or fences, as Enci Box mentions. When bike lanes are developed with little concern of the user in mind, it can lead to ineffective and unsafe design. Box further states the failure of Los Angeles to build bike paths as a transportation solution:
My objectives to Bike Paths are based on my desire to ride safely, to get to where I need to go, and to ride on the streets in a city that incorporates cycling as a transportation solution. I feel that Bike Paths designed and built in Los Angeles are unsafe, secluded, isolated, disconnected from meaningful destinations, and show a municipal desire to remove cyclists from the traffic mix. To top it off, they squander the money set aside for Bikeways improvements with little if any transportation mode-share benefit. If that isn’t enough, cyclists who ride on Bike Paths ride at their own risk while cyclists on the street enjoy the protection available to all Californians who are hurt on a public road, sidewalk or bike lane due to negligence of a municipality.
With such inefficient bikes lanes, Los Angeles is an example of why many can easily make a case against bike paths. Contrary to this belief, there are many examples of why we can easily make a case for bike lanes. New York City’s recent bike lane improvements are a prime example.
In 2010, New York City began developing bike lanes as a transportation solution and with the user in mind. Along the Columbus Avenue corridor, dedicated bike lanes were built. These lanes protect cyclists by separating bike paths from traffic with parking lanes. Split-phase signals were also installed, making it easier for cyclists to know when it’s safe to cycle through an intersection. The results have been positive. Within 6 months, the city witnessed a decrease in accidents by 34 percent. Moreover, traffic speeds decreased along the sections that contain the new bike paths. Also, weekday ridership grew by 56 percent as safety improved.
The debate among critics is that bike lanes are ineffective, under-used and come at a high cost. Safety is a common issue among cyclists, and often for good reason. Bike lanes need to be safer and offer a transportation solution for cyclists. The metro areas that have built dedicated bike paths that are safer and consider the users’ transportation needs have seen ridership increase.
So, what does a safe and effective bike lane look like? In addition to clearly-marked paths, bike lanes need to have easy on-off access, protection from moving traffic, and signals that help ensure the safety of riders. Besides the bike “superhighways” that were recently developed in Copenhagen, other European cities have developed a model that should be duplicated in many American cities.
The video below offers a user’s view of a bike ride through Amsterdam’s extensive bike path network. Notice the clearly-marked lanes, signals, and easy access to commuters’ destinations. Enjoy the ride!
[Video via cycling in the Netherlands (http://www.youtube.com/user/markenlei)]