Evidence is mounting that designing cities with bikes in mind has a profound effect on everyone—not just cyclists
One of the long-standing arguments against building bike lanes is that cyclists are freeloaders: we enjoy the benefits of road networks without paying gas and vehicle taxes, so if we want our own special lanes, we should be taxed to build them.
This is, of course, exactly backward. The taxes that fund road construction come from a wide variety of sources, including income, sales, and property taxes. If anything, people who ride instead of drive are disproportionately supporting deadbeat car owners. (This is to say nothing of widely available “free” parking.)
Now we may be able to add another counterargument. In the past five months, two new studies have shown that protected bike lanes make cities safer for all residents—not just cyclists and not just with regard to traffic accidents. They’re part of a growing pile of evidence suggesting that bike lanes are more than just a way for people to get around on two wheels. They have profound, sophisticated effects on a city’s safety and social fabric. Done right, bike lanes may be one key to a happier, healthier city for everyone who lives there.
The most recent of those studies, published in May in the Journal of Transport and Health, focuses on a paradox: cycling is a more dangerous mode of travel than driving or transit in many countries. But cities with higher rates of cycling are not only actually safer for cyclists, they also seem to have lower numbers of fatal and severe-injury crashes for all residents. (There’s evidence of the same relationship for cities with high transit—bus and rail—use.)
Wesley Marshall and Nicholas Ferenchak, professors of civil engineering at the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of New Mexico, respectively, dove into a massive amount of data covering 12 large American cities, ranging from Minneapolis (the smallest, with a population of 413,651) to Chicago (2,704,958), to find out why. The data trove included 13 years of fatality and severe-injury records, demographic and commuting data from the Census and the American Community Survey, and extensive GIS mapping of available cycling lanes classified by type, like protected bike lanes versus “sharrows”—those lane markings with an image of a cyclist below two arrows, indicating that cyclists can use a regular traffic lane.
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