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Research finds painted bike lanes can lead to closer calls with cars

Last Updated May 9, 2019 at 7:08 am PDT

(iStock Photo)

Research out of Australia suggests painted bike lanes may not actually increase cyclist safety

On average, study conducted in Melbourne found cars left 29 centimetres-less room when cyclists were using painted lanes

One of the researchers says close calls affect how unsafe cyclists feel

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Are city planners inadvertently causing closer calls between bicycles and cars?

It seems counterintuitive, but researchers have found that painted bike lanes actually increased the number of close calls between cyclists and drivers during an Australian study.

Researchers looked at how close cars came to bikes on the road under different circumstances, and among their observations was an average 29-centimetre decrease in distance when there was a painted bike lane compared to a regular roadspace.

In other words, cars actually left more space for cyclists on roads without painted bike lanes.

One of the study authors suggests planners should take note.

“We know that vehicles driving close to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation,” says Dr. Ben Beck from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.

“Our results indicate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes.”

Sean Wang is a longtime bike commuter in Vancouver who feels the biggest risks are not on dedicated bike lanes, but on shared use paths.

“There are many pedestrians who, when they walk, they listen to music and text. Some dog walkers using long leashes let their pets wander into the bike part. It’s actually quite dangerous,” he tells NEWS 1130. “I actually feel safer on the main road because traffic rules apply.”

However, Wang’s closest call came while cycling over the Lions Gate Bridge.

“I like to pass slower cyclists and the bike lane on the bridge is wide enough to do that. But the cyclist in front of me saw something on the road and hit the brakes really hard. It happened so fast that I hit the brakes hard as well and my back tire started to slide,” he says.

“I thought I was going down for sure and that if I hit the bridge deck, who knows what would happen. Luckily I was able to control the bike and there were no injuries. It was super close, though, and a car could have hit me.”

Despite the Australian research, Wang feels painted bike lanes still offer a safer space for cyclists.

“Absolutely. Painted parts of the road are there for a reason — to get drivers’ attention. I drive, too, so I’m really cognizant of how much space I leave for cyclists when I pass them. The lanes are a visual thing and a mental thing.”

Wang says it is not about cyclists vs. pedestrians vs. drivers.

“We share the same space. People need to pay attention more to their surroundings and be polite to each other.”