Not all protected bike lanes are the same: infrastructure and risk of cyclist collisions and falls leading to emergency department visits in three U.S. cities

Cicchino, Jessica B. / McCarthy, Melissa L. / Newgard, Craig D. / Wall, Stephen P. / DiMaggio, Charles J. / Kulie, Paige E. / Arnold, Brittany N. / Zuby, David S.
Accident Analysis & Prevention (AAP)
June 2020

Objective: Protected bike lanes separated from the roadway by physical barriers are relatively new in the United States. This study examined the risk of collisions or falls leading to emergency department visits associated with bicycle facilities (e.g., protected bike lanes, conventional bike lanes demarcated by painted lines, sharrows) and other roadway characteristics in three U.S. cities.
Methods: We prospectively recruited 604 patients from emergency departments in Washington, DC; New York City; and Portland, Oregon during 2015–2017 who fell or crashed while cycling. We used a case-crossover design and conditional logistic regression to compare each fall or crash site with a randomly selected control location along the route leading to the incident. We validated the presence of site characteristics described by participants using Google Street View and city GIS inventories of bicycle facilities and other roadway features.
Results: Compared with cycling on lanes of major roads without bicycle facilities, the risk of crashing or falling was lower on conventional bike lanes (adjusted OR=0.53; 95% CI=0.33, 0.86) and local roads with (adjusted OR=0.31; 95% CI=0.13, 0.75) or without bicycle facilities or traffic calming (adjusted OR=0.39; 95% CI=0.23, 0.65). Protected bike lanes with heavy separation (tall, continuous barriers or grade and horizontal separation) were associated with lower risk (adjusted OR=0.10; 95% CI=0.01, 0.95), but those with lighter separation (e.g., parked cars, posts, low curb) had similar risk to major roads when one way (adjusted OR=1.19; 95% CI=0.46, 3.10) and higher risk when they were two way (adjusted OR=11.38; 95% CI=1.40, 92.57); this risk increase was primarily driven by one lane in Washington. Risk increased in the presence of streetcar or train tracks relative to their absence (adjusted OR=26.65; 95% CI=3.23, 220.17), on downhill relative to flat grades (adjusted OR=1.92; 95% CI=1.38, 2.66), and when temporary features like construction or parked cars blocked the cyclist’s path relative to when they did not (adjusted OR=2.23; 95% CI=1.46, 3.39).
Conclusions: Certain bicycle facilities are safer for cyclists than riding on major roads. Protected bike lanes vary in how well they shield riders from crashes and falls. Heavier separation, less frequent intersections with roads and driveways, and less complexity appear to contribute to reduced risk in protected bike lanes. Future research should systematically examine the characteristics that reduce risk in protected lanes to guide design. Planners should minimize conflict points when choosing where to place protected bike lanes and should implement countermeasures to increase visibility at these locations when they are unavoidable.

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