• 06.11.14

The Case For Protected Bike Lanes

Giving cyclists their own space results in some pretty big benefits beyond just a lack of dead cyclists.

The Case For Protected Bike Lanes
[Image: Protected bike lane, Washington D.C. via Flickr user Beyond DC]

Visit cities like Amsterdam or Copenhagen and you soon notice something different about the facilities for cyclists. Not only are there are plenty of bike lanes, but the lanes are fully separated from the rest of the road–usually with plant pots or plastic bollards. Far from being an afterthought, cyclists get their own road infrastructure.


Bike advocates argue that separation is key to driving up cyclist participation. And so it appears from a new study of early separated lane projects in the U.S. Across six cities, the study finds a rise of ridership between 21% and 171% after the lanes were installed.

The report from Portland State University looks at eight “Green Lane” projects sponsored by PeopleForBikes, an advocacy group in Colorado. Researchers tracked the impact of the new lanes in Austin, Chicago, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., by analyzing camera footage, interviewing cyclists, and sending out surveys to local residents.

Almost half of riders said they were cycling more frequently as a result of the new lanes, with those on Dearborn Street, in Chicago, reporting the biggest increase. Most importantly, the research found that the lanes increased participation in cycling generally. The lanes produced a 10% net increase on average. Ten percent of cyclists said they would have used another form of transportation before the lanes were built.

“The increases appear to be greater than overall increases in bicycle commuting in each city,” the report says. “Some of the increase in ridership at each facility likely came from new riders (i.e. riders who, absent the protected bike lane, would have traveled via a different mode or would not have taken the trip) and some from riders diverted from other nearby streets.”

The cyclist and resident surveys also showed support for the theory that bike lanes improve economic activity in an area–another argument made by cycling advocates. Some 43% of residents said the lanes improve the desirability of their neighborhood, compared to 14% who said it detracted from desirability (the rest had no comment). An impressive 19% of cyclists and 20% of residents were more likely to visits stores with the new bike lanes installed.

More than half of residents said traffic had become more predictable as a result of the bike lanes. That’s important, as cycling advocates believe that dedicated infrastructure produces more reasonable behavior among both motorists and cyclists, as they’re no longer forced to jockey with each other for road space.


Of course, protected lanes cost more money than just painting a lane on the asphalt. But the report should help make the case the investment is worth it.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.