Cycle lanes reduce traffic speed, right?


Providing space for protected bike lanes will reduce traffic speeds, right? This is one of the usual objections to cycling infrastructure from motorists and transport organisations. So it is interesting to read of the experience of New York City, which first started adding protected bike lanes in 2007 – and heard exactly that objection.

Adele Peters who focuses on sustainable design at Co.Exist described how a recently published report from New York City shows that the opposite is true: on some of the streets that have been redesigned with protected bike lanes (and for which there was at least 3 years of data since the changes) travel times are actually faster. As an example, travel time on Eighth Avenue from W 23rd Street to W 34th Street has fallen in the morning peak period (7 to 10 am) from 2:47 to 2:25, a 13% improvement. The travel time for this same stretch of road has also fallen by 13% in the evening peak (4-7 pm), from 3:38 to 3:10. With the drop in the midday period (10am to 2pm) falling more, the daily average improvement in travel time is down from 4 minutes 20 to 3 minutes 43, a 14% improvement.

There have been other benefits as well. Pedestrians have also benefitted as the crosswalks are now shorter – it’s almost like having a traffic island to be able to cross a road in stages – and the crosswalks have become more visible to drivers. This and other factors have led to a reduction of 22% in pedestrian injuries on streets with bike lanes.

Not surprisingly, the risk of serious injuries to cyclists is down by an impressive 75%, between 2001 and 2013, even though the bike lanes have meant that more people feel safer cycling and the number of cyclists has soared.

When motorised traffic wants to turn left (think of turning right here in the UK), there is now a “pocket” for the vehicle to wait in. This has meant that they are less likely to hit a cyclist riding straight on, but also that the vehicle is not blocking traffic as they wait.

That’s not to say that the city’s Department of Transportation doesn’t continue to get complaints. “I think there are those people who had the perception that travel times increased just because visually they saw the roadway looked different,” says Josh Benson, director of bicycle & pedestrian programs for the Department of Transportation of New York City. “It’s part of the reason we do a lot of empirical data collection, because we get a lot of anecdotal feedback.” The factual data collection will be deployed alongside the construction of more bike lanes in the city. Over a 7 year period, New York has installed over 30 miles of protected bike lanes but regard this as just the beginning, and plans on adding five miles every year, which equates to 100 of New York’s city blocks, each year.

The new bike lanes have also helped local businesses, with the city finding that streets with bike lanes are linked with higher retail sales, new jobs and more tourists.

The change in combined retail sales in 9th Avenue (from West 23rd to West 31st Streets) is up by 47% when you compare sales prior to the construction of protected bike lanes and 2 years after construction, compared with sales being up by 23% in a comparison area, where the changes had not been carried out.

Other areas have been compared, for example Columbus Avenue (from W 77th to W 96th Streets), and sales are up 20% comparedwith just 12% and 9% in two comparison sites. This retail success is an important empirical result, as very often retailers, business associations, politicians and planners fear a retail slump if cars cannot drive to the door of a shop.

New York has cleverly used planting of trees and shrubs as part of the separation of the protected bike lanes from motorised traffic lanes. This has enhanced the neighbourhoods and the general environment.

The whole ongoing program has therefore helped with traffic speeds, got more people on bikes, which is good for health and motivation, reduced accidents, improved retail sales and enhanced the environment. Little wonder therefore that New York city continues its planned multi-year rollout of protected cycle lanes and maybe, just maybe, success stories like this will gradually reach the ears of politicians and the public generally here in the East of England and we may one day see similar change …


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