Painted Bike Lanes Are Car Magnets

CC BY 2.0. Memorial to Dalia/ Lloyd Alter

Drivers apparently pass 1.25 feet closer when there is a line of paint on the pavement.

Being in a bike lane didn't prevent Dalia from being killed by a Toronto truck driver last summer. In fact, a new study shows that painted bike lanes can be truck and car magnets. It's from Monash University, which previously told us that people who bike are thought to be less than human.

This new study, lead by Dr. Ben Beck and published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, found that when there are painted bike lanes, drivers feel no need to slow down or move out away from the person on a bike, leading to very close passes.

Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes,” Dr Beck said. “When the cyclist and driver share a lane, the driver is required to perform an overtaking manoeuvre. This is in contrast to roads with a marked bicycle lane, where the driver is not required to overtake. This suggests that there is less of a conscious requirement for drivers to provide additional passing distance.”

This led to some serious close passes, with one in 17 being only four inches. "We identified that on-road bicycle lanes and parked cars reduced passing distance. These data can be used to inform the selection and design of cycling-related infrastructure and road use with the aim of improving safety for cyclists."

Type of accident

© League of American Bicyclists

Indeed it does. But don't think people on bikes are safer out sharing the road; it is not like drivers are consciously thinking of what they are doing when drivers share a lane, which is why the league of American Bicyclists found that fully 40 percent of collisions between people driving and those biking were "hit from behind" incidents, where drivers just go right over the people on bikes.

protected bike lane on Hornby Street, Vancouver

Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This is, of course, why we need properly separated bike lanes. Carlton Reid quotes the paywalled study which concludes:

That is not to suggest that we should not provide on-road marked bicycle lanes. Rather, the focus of on-road cycling infrastructure needs to be on providing infrastructure that separates cyclists from motor vehicles by a physical barrier.

Reid also reminds us of the work of Dr. Ian Walker and his suggestions to make drivers keep a greater distance: Leave your helmet at home or go in drag. In his famous experiment,

Test cyclists were given 8.5cm (3.3 inches) more clearance by cars if they were not wearing helmets. When the researchers donned female wigs they got more clearance, 14cm (5.5 inches) more than apparent males in helmets. They did not report on what a skirt and helmet combination would do. The author was hit by a bus and a truck during the experiment, and was wearing a helmet both times.
Montreal bike lane

Montreal Bike Lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Really, the only way to really protect people on bikes, to really encourage more people to ride, and to keep cars and trucks out of the bike lanes (as seen next to this bike lane in Montreal) is to properly, physically separate them. Until cities do that, they are just pretending to build bike infrastructure.

St. George bike lane

University of Toronto bike lane/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0