Why US cities are investing in safer, more connected cycling infrastructure – Streetsblog USA
This article originally appeared on Urban Wire, the blog of the Urban Institute, and is republished with permission.
Every year, hundreds of cyclists die in traffic accidents in the United States. Their experience is the product of high-speed roads, drivers who don’t recognize the people around them and, above all, dangerous road infrastructure for cyclists.
To address this issue, many US cities have committed to achieving the Vision Zero goal of eliminating all road deaths and serious injuries. A key approach for many cities is to improve cycle paths and other facilities. But are cities really changing the way they invest in cycling infrastructure?
As part of a review of the Final Mile program, a philanthropically funded effort to encourage the development of comprehensive and safe cycling networks, we assessed changes in cycling infrastructure choices by 13 cities across the country. We found that these cities are increasingly focusing their cycling investments on infrastructure that prioritizes safety so as to produce better networks. These investments are likely to increase cycling in US cities, but future investments would benefit from prioritizing equitable access and community decision-making.
Protected bike paths provide economic, safety and traffic benefits
Traditional cycling infrastructure, often in the form of bike lanes and shared lanes called ‘sharrows’, does not protect cyclists by requiring them to share the road with cars. Protected infrastructures, on the other hand, offer cyclists safety from cars thanks to a separation in the right-of-way. Off-street trails, buffered bike lanes and bike lanes ensure cyclists don’t have to worry about drivers getting in their way.
Evidence shows that protected bike lanes improve the economies of surrounding neighborhoods, improve safety and increase ridership. In 2013, for example, Salt Lake City converted nine parking blocks into a protected bike lane. Sales rose 8.8% for stores along the bike path, compared to a 7.0% increase citywide.
New York City’s injury rates for all road users, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, have generally decreased by 40-50% (PDF) in areas where the city has implemented protected cycle paths. In Montreal, streets with protected bike lanes had, on average, a 28% lower injury rate than other streets.
In some places, the establishment of protected bike paths has increased ridership. From 2009 to 2014, bicycle trips doubled in New York City and Washington, DC, both of which had built relatively extensive networks of protected bike paths.
One explanation for this increase in ridership could be a greater sense of safety when using the improved infrastructure. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a majority of drivers and cyclists surveyed felt more comfortable on roads with greater separation between cars and bikes.
Cities are increasingly focusing on building safer cycling infrastructure
To determine whether local governments nationwide are creating safer and more secure cycling networks, we examined cycling infrastructure investments over the past five years in 13 US cities using municipal data.
Among these cities, the average share of their new protected cycling infrastructure has increased from 57% in 2016 to 78% in 2020. This rate has increased steadily in most cities, indicating a growing attention to safety. In Denver, approximately 5 miles of protected lanes and 18 miles of regular bike lanes were built in 2016, compared to 16 miles of protected lanes and 19 miles of regular lanes in 2021.
A Denver interviewee said protected bike lanes “make the Mile High City safer, smarter and more connected. By sharing the street a little more, we gain much more security. Plus, we’re getting more clarity on the rules of the road, more equality in transportation, and more access to the Denver we love.
But investment varied from city to city over the study period. Austin, New Orleans, Portland and Seattle have focused about 90% or more of their new cycling investments, excluding bike boulevards, on safe projects like off-street trails. On the other hand, most new lanes in Atlanta, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Nashville were unprotected.
Cities are prioritizing the construction of connected cycling networks
Research shows that the presence of a well-connected cycling network encourages more people, especially women and low-income people, to cycle. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that a well-connected multimodal transportation network “can also improve health by increasing access to health care, goods, and services.”
The good news is that many cities are developing more connected cycling networks.
A lawyer we interviewed in Denver explained that “there has been an evolution towards a connected network, from a series of disconnected street segments,” which they say was “the previous approach.” .
And Pittsburgh city staff pointed out that the new cycling infrastructure has connected a “previously fragmented network.” As a result, although only 40% of the tracks have been linked together, network connectivity has increased to 80% after recent investments.
Greater network connectivity can create many social and health benefits, such as improving residents’ access to public libraries, thereby increasing their access to community development resources, including the Internet and events for underserved residents. .
But American cities still have a lot of work to do to ensure such access. Less than a fifth of libraries in Los Angeles, for example, are within a quarter mile of protected bicycle infrastructure.
Despite the benefits of protected cycling infrastructure, opposition is common, often because such improvements force cities to remove parking. But these opinions are generally in the minority. Ultimately, removing parking spaces and replacing them with cycling infrastructure benefits community health, promotes safety, and provides economic benefits to businesses.
Recommendations for a safe and equitable infrastructure
To ensure that cycling projects benefit everyone, cities should work to promote equity of access in project planning by prioritizing investments in communities with more residents of color and families to low income.
In some cases, this direction may raise concerns among residents about bike lanes encouraging gentrification. As such, projects should be built with existing residents at the forefront of decision-making regarding routes and improvements.
Finally, cities can consider investing in programs that provide instruction and assistance in purchasing bicycles for families who otherwise might not have access to safe cycling. With each of these strategies, cities can ensure that cycling is open to all.