| 2 min read | by Doug Marrin |

The City of Ann Arbor is busy this summer building protected bike lanes on a couple of the city’s busier streets. Around Washtenaw County there are miles of shared pathways being constructed which keep non-motorize traffic away from the road.

Here’s why these are such great initiatives.

There are plenty of good reasons that people should cycle more. People who exercise more are healthier and can score higher on cognitive tests, for one thing. And replacing short car trips with journeys by bike (or on foot) is a good thing if we’re ever going to move beyond whining and actually do something about this whole climate change thing.

That will only work when people feel safe swapping their two-ton carbon-emissionsmobile for a 25-lb oxygen burning, health elevating, life-extending pair of pedals. And to make cyclists feel safe, we’re going to have to do more than paint a line on the road. In fact, a study from Monash University in Australia suggests that merely painting bike lanes onto the roads may be counterproductive.

In the study, researchers identified 18,527 instances where a vehicle overtook a cyclist. Of these, 1,085 happened with less than 39 inches’ passing distance between bike and vehicle, a distance that’s considered “close” under Australian law. The majority of passes occurred in areas with 37 mph speed limits, with an average passing distance of 75 inches. But those distances were much closer in areas with lower limits (66 inches in 24 mph zones, 67 inches 30 mph zones). Somewhat worryingly, drivers were also more likely to get closer (60 inches) to cyclists when passing in 62 mph zones.

The roadscape seems to have a big impact and here’s where painted bike lanes appear to be counterproductive. On average, cars left

  • 10 inches less room when cyclists were using painted bike lanes.
  • 12 inches less room when cyclists rode along a row of cars parked along the road.
  • 15.7 inches less room when the road had parked cars along the curb AND a painted bike lane next to the parked cars.

In a twist of what you would expect, cars left cyclists the most room on stretches of road with no painted bike lanes and no parked cars.

What the fossil-goo burners should pause and consider is that if they can muster themselves to change their philistine driving habits by giving cyclists enough space to feel safe, then cycling would increase and they would have less traffic to deal with.

“We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation. Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes,” said Dr. Ben Beck, lead author of the study.