Bike Lanes May Actually Reduce Commute Times

Everyone sees the benefits of protected bike lanes

Making room for bike riders on public roads is controversial no matter where you go. Earlier this year, a small town representative told a young man who wrote him a letter asking for safety measures for cyclists after his mother was knocked down by a distracted driver while on her bike that no one in their town of 50,000 should ever ride a bike, ever. A Washington Post pundit called cyclists in New York " the most important danger in the city."

While the danger of allowing bikes to share the roads hasn't materialized (in fact, 23 million rides on 36 bike sharing programs across the country have yet to produce a single fatality), bicycles are still slower than cars, so they must be gumming up traffic and making the commutes of car-owning Americans a nightmare, right?

Not if a city plans for different types of commuters. Since 2007, America's biggest and busiest city has installed over 30 miles of protected bike lanes and has seen benefits for not only bikers, but drivers as well. A report from the New York City Department of Transportation found that travel times for traffic in places where protected bike lanes have been built either stayed steady or improved. Commutes on 8th Avenue, for example, now take 14 percent less time than before bike lanes were built.

Columbus Avenue has seen travel times dramatically improve as well. In 2010, Columbus Avenue between 96th and 77th streets originally had five lanes; three lanes for traffic, one for both parking and A.M traffic and one dedicated to parking. By narrowing each lane 1-2 inches, a buffer zone and a protected bike lane were built without sacrificing lanes for traffic. The same amount of cars traverse the narrower lanes daily, but travel times between the two streets dropped 35 percent from four and a half minutes to three minutes.

Even streets that were dramatically altered didn't experience delays from sharing the road with bicyclists. First Avenue lost two lanes of traffic to a dedicated bus lane and a protected bike lane, yet commute times barely increased, if at all.

CityLab spoke to a DOT spokesperson who said that the decline in travel time could largely be attributed to another new feature of New York roads: left hand turn slots. Cars used to make left turns from general traffic lanes. Having a dedicated turn lane right next to the bike lane means traffic doesn't have to slow down as often. The dedicated left-hand turn lanes also makes bikers more visible to drivers and could be part of why injuries have dropped while miles traveled via bike have skyrocketed 160 percent.

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