The Surprising Reason Why Bike Lanes Could Be Good For Cars

Illustration for article titled The Surprising Reason Why Bike Lanes Could Be Good For Cars

It's the typical saga unfolding in every city in America. Bike lanes go in, often replacing a 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.

Advertisement

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 traveling 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.

Advertisement

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've made with this great illustration:

Illustration for article titled The Surprising Reason Why Bike Lanes Could Be Good For Cars
Advertisement

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!

Advertisement

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 percent 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.

Advertisement

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'll 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]

Advertisement

Top image: NYC DOT

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

denver-is-too-damn-high
Denver is too damn high

Reposting at the top because, the comment is buried and it's important. I know I'm being a little harsh but, there's no soft way to say this. Bikes need to fight for what is theirs in a city. Lanes like these are a god send. I'm saving a TON of money in gas and parking. I'm healthier and happier. You should give it a try.

...cyclists don't always obey the rules of of the road they should, like stopping at stop signs, at red lights, etc...

I bike everyday to work and I sure don't follow those rules. Here's why:

1. I'll shoot "red lights" when the pedestrian walk signal is "green". Sorry but, I'm going to play the pedestian card when it works in my favor. I earn the right by not taking the car.

2. I'll shoot red lights when it's clear because it's truly more difficult for me to stop, get started again. I know you're frustrated with red lights. I'm physically challenged by the action and frankly I'm not sympathetic to the pain in your foot on the gas. It's not fair. But you've got a CAR so, enjoy the comfort and ease while I deal with the weather and the 30 pounds on my paniers.

As long as I feel I'm being safe which means: I think you see me as best you can (get off the phone please), and I'm not cutting anyone off, causing them to break flow, fine. I can't be concerned with drivers jealous feelings unless I somehow made a mistake that pissed them off. The grey areas are usually when drivers fail to signal. I have crazy bright lights on my bike and helmet. I will stare you down to get your attention. You're going to see me as I go by.

Finally, while drivers may be annoyed that I shot a red light or stop sign while they "have to obey they law", I promise it's for the better. Drivers hate me for shooting ahead. oh well. They will hate me much more if I'm with them in the flow of traffic. I'm faster downtown. WAY faster. You just stay back there and I won't bother you when I'm gone.

Am I an asshole? No but I have to TAKE my space on the road because many drivers don't give it to me -sometimes because they are vengeful, often because they just can't be bothered to look. Trust me, if I play by the rules, I'm in more danger. It's safer this way.

In Denver, you have 3-4 lanes and I get a dedicated "lane" that is just a car lane with a bike painted on it. Thanks but, no thanks. I need to take my space or I'll get injured/killed. Drivers just get annoyed. I can live with that. To another person's point, I could equally get injured/killed if I misjudge my actions. I accept that too and do my best to avoid it. No one wants that.