CalBike hopes Canadian study will back up new law

By Peter Suciu in Detroit, Michigan | Tuesday, November 13, 2012 3.44pm

The California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) scored a big victory earlier this fall when California Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 819 into law. The bill, which was sponsored by CalBike, requires Caltrans to establish a process to enable communities to conduct pilot projects with bikeway designs not covered in current bikeway standards.

The new bill is designed to help accelerate the construction of protected bikeways throughout California. New research suggests that the new bikeways design significantly reduces injuries by separating cars and bikes.

“The biggest reduction in injuries were with cycle tracks, also known as protected bike lanes,” said Kay Teschke MPH PhD, at the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, the author of the study. “These physically separate cyclists from motor vehicles on major city streets.”

Because riders are physically apart from any cars these do offer notable advantages and protect cyclists not only from being hit by a car but from other unwanted collisions as well.

“There is no chance of being hit by the opening door of a parked car or being sideswiped or hit from behind by a moving car,” Teschke told BikeRadar.

The study looked at 14 route types, from bike-ambivalent major streets to sidewalks, local roads with designated bike lanes and to multi-use paths and protected “cycle tracks.” The researchers found that the chance of injury drops by nearly 50 percent, relative to that major city street, when riding on a similar road that has a bike land and no parked cars.

“Major streets without parked cars had a somewhat lower risk of injuries, and if they also had a painted bike lane, there was more injury reduction, likely because both cyclists and drivers knew where they should be on the road,” Teschke added.

The bikes lanes apparently helped cyclists pay attention to what was in front of them rather than worried if they were too far into traffic.

“Cyclists have to be extraordinarily attentive on streets with no bike infrastructure where they need to ride between parked and moving cars,” she stressed.

The risk of injury further dropped by 90 percent when riders use protected bike lanes – those with actual barriers that separate cyclists from traffic. But even these are not free from problems.

“There are no worries about cars, trucks, or buses on separated paths,” Teschke emphasized. “But some bike paths or multi-use paths in parks are not designed as well as they could be, so they are not as safe as cycle tracks alongside major city streets. The problem seems to be that these off-street routes often are curvy and so have poor sight lines, and often have street furniture, bollards and other infrastructure that can get in the way.”

These could all be factors that CalBike hopes Caltrains will consider in future bicycle infrastructure.

“We’re hopeful the new research from Canada will motivate Caltrans to create an AB 819 process that frees communities that are eager for the safety benefits of modern bikeway designs,” the group said in a statement.

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