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Bike Lanes – Not As Safe As You Think

Cities throughout the U.S., and over the globe, are increasingly encouraging alternative forms of transportation to ease traffic and improve air quality.  In response, bicycling as a means of transportation has gained popularity in many urban areas.  And with the increase of cyclists on the road, city planners and governments have been working to improve safety for both the cyclists, as well as the vehicles and other pedestrians that they share the road with.

Dedicated bike lanes are the most common protections cities have implemented to keep cyclists safe while travelling on local roads.  Forms of bike lanes vary from street level bike lanes with painted lane markings, street-level bike lanes with protective barriers, and protected bike lanes that are raised from the roadway.  Of these, the safest type of bike lanes are the protected bike lanes that are raised and separate from the roadway as these provide a permanent and solid barrier, such as a raised curb or sidewalk, between the cyclist and motor vehicles.  Statistics have found that the fewest number of bike accidents involving crashes with vehicles occur in these types of bike lanes.

Many people tend to think that a street-level protected bike lane, protected by physical barriers such as posts or landscaping, would be safer for cyclist than conventional bike lanes with just painted lines.  However, a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that this isn’t necessarily the case.  While the level of serious injury and number of fatalities may be less with street-level protected bike lanes, the number of injuries is actually more than the number of accidents that occur with conventional bike lanes.

Motor vehicle drivers are required to exercise reasonable care when on the road and avoid colliding with a bicyclist.  This means that a driver keep aware of the cyclists on the roads and use the car horn when necessary to warn the bicyclist of any danger.

Most bicycle and vehicle accidents involve one of three scenarios.  The first is where the cyclist and vehicle are travelling in the same direction and the car side-swipes the bike.  Another is when the cyclist and vehicle collide in an intersection.  The other most common bike and car accident scenario occurs when the motor vehicle makes a left turn.  Many of these accidents result in serious life-threatening injuries to the cyclist.  Accidents involving a cyclist and a truck are often fatal.  Accidents with bicycles can also involve a collision with a pedestrian.

The IIHS found that the reason for the high number of accidents even with street-level protected bike lanes is that these type of bike lanes are usually installed in busy, high-traffic roads, where the risk of an accident is higher.  When an accident occurs on this type of road, the vehicle is usually travelling at a high rate of speed which can pose and extremely high risk for a cyclist if a crash were to occur.    Another reason may be that cyclist, and drivers alike, may feel that the bike is in a safer position when in a protected bike lane and may not be as cautious.

If you have been involved in an accident while riding your bike, or are a motorist or pedestrian that collided with a cyclist while on the road, it is important to speak with an attorney who is experienced in handing cycling accidents.  There are many nuances of the law regarding negligence and who has the duty, that may affect the compensation you can recover for your injuries.