Why Bike Lanes Could Actually Be Good For Cars

Why Bike Lanes Could Actually Be Good For Cars

This is happening every city in America. Bike lanes go in, often replacing an entire lane of vehicular traffic. Drivers get mad, claiming that the presence of bike lanes is destroying their commute. But according to one study, bike lanes may actually be making life better for drivers.

Image credit: NYC DOT

Over at CityLab, Eric Jaffe pored over a report by New York City’s Department of Transportation which shows that congestion was not made worse by the presence of new, dedicated bike lanes, and in some cases, traffic flow may have actually been improved.

I’ve written before about how redesigning streets for pedestrians can improve safety for everyone travelling on those streets: slower speeds, brighter paint, and better infrastructure makes for improved interaction between all modes of transportation. Plus, as things like sidewalks and cycle tracks become more visible, there is also what’s called a “mode shift,” as people might decide not to drive their cars, and walk or bike instead.

But how does bike infrastructure specifically make for a better driving environment? The answer is not just in the safety enhancements that help vehicles move more efficiently. It turns out that traffic flow is aided by the overall set of changes which accommodate bikes but also help the entire street perform better.

First, I’ll let NYC DOT explain the changes they have made with this great illustration:

Why Bike Lanes Could Actually Be Good For Cars

1st Avenue, from 1st Street to 34th Street

The dramatic transformation shows the number of vehicular lanes going from five to three, with a new bus lane added as well as the separated bike lane (meaning it has a median or a row of parked cars to separate it from traffic). Not all streets in Manhattan were redesigned exactly the same way, but this gives you a pretty good idea of why drivers would see this and freak out. They lost real estate!

However, according to NYC DOT’s data, it did not make driving on these streets worse. Here’s one of the most impressive examples from 8th Avenue: Travel time was actually decreased by an average of 14 per cent during the day. Jaffe found out why:

So what happened here to overcome the traditional idea that bike lanes lead to car delay? No doubt many factors were involved, but a DOT spokesperson tells CityLab that the steady traffic flow was largely the result of adding left-turn pockets. In the old street configurations, cars turned left from a general traffic lane; in the new one, they merged into a left-turn slot beside the protected bike lane. This design has two key advantages: first, traffic doesn’t have to slow down until the left turn is complete, and second, drivers have an easier time seeing bike riders coming up beside them.

So it’s not only the addition of a separated bike lane, but the overall changes to the striping and signaling that comes with an overhauled street to improve performance. The protected bike lanes actually provide the perfect place to harbor these new and improved left turn lanes, which, in traditional street design, end up mucking up traffic flow for cars and bikes the most.

This is why drivers should be advocating for bike lanes on the streets they travel. They will definitely get a safer commute, and they may even get a shorter commute. And if anything, drivers will be guaranteed a thorough study of the current traffic patterns and be presented with solutions that are more relevant to the way people travel through cities today. [CityLab]

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