Cycling is a rewarding experience for many people. It’s a great way to stay in shape and get outdoors, whether you’re commuting or riding recreationally.
Some people feel comfortable riding on any roadway, while others only take their bicycle on roads with designated bike lanes or signage. Still others prefer riding only on multi-use trails and greenways set off-road.
Whatever your own preference is, there are statistics backing up the actual safety of each. The following is a breakdown of the main types of bike infrastructure, ranked from least safe to safest:
1. Shared use roadways – When you’re driving down certain roads or boulevards, you may have noticed arrows painted on the street along with a silhouette of a bicycle. These arrows indicate to vehicle traffic that the road is shared with bicycles. The idea is that the painted symbols will create awareness of cyclists. While these streets are often chosen because they’re quiet, wide, and relatively low-traffic, bikes still fully share them with cars.
2. Basic bike lanes – this common feature involves painted lanes dedicated on either side of a roadway to bicycle traffic. The bikes move with the flow of traffic, and must obey the same traffic rules. They often still force the cyclist to enter the road to make a turn. Unfortunately, vehicles sometimes end up stopped in bike lanes, or else use them to go around a car that’s waiting to turn, which creates a dangerous predicament for oncoming cyclists.
3. Buffer lanes – these are also painted onto the road, but they’re separated by a painted “do not cross” zone, which is intended to keep cars away from the lanes, acting as a buffer. Nonetheless, cars are often found to drift into the buffer zones, meaning painted bike infrastructure isn’t foolproof.
4. Multiuse/off-road trails – some cities offer extensive trail systems for cyclists and pedestrians alike. Often, the paths are shared by both, with lanes for pedestrians marked off from the cycling portion of the path. These trails are safe from vehicle traffic, but they present a different risk involving other cyclists who are moving too fast, or pedestrians who are not paying attention and risk colliding.
5. Protected bike lanes – this type of lane is located alongside roadways in many cities, but with physical barriers separating them from vehicle traffic. The barriers come in several forms, making it difficult or even impossible for cars to come into contact with cyclists. Cities with separate protected lanes have even witnessed a 44% drop in deaths for all people using the roads.
Some cities have robust bicycle infrastructure, while others are still fairly dangerous to cyclists. For anyone who has been on a bike on a road, you likely know how dangerous it can feel.
Unfortunately, even when you’re using bike infrastructure, there is always a risk involved.