DOWNTOWN — A new study of protected bike lanes in Chicago and cities around the country found that even as biking increased dramatically on streets with such lanes, researchers found no evidence that collisions or even near collisions with cars had increased.
The study, by Portland State University's National Institute for Transportation and Communities, also found that drivers thought traffic became more predictable after protected lanes were installed and said congestion and drive time didn’t change.
The study looked at protected lanes — where bikers are separated from cars by actual barriers, curbs or parked cars — installed in Chicago, Austin, Portland, Washinton and San Francisco. In Chicago, the study looked at lanes on Dearborn Street downtown and on Milwaukee Avenue between Kinzie and Elston.
Researchers analyzed 168 hours of video — observing 16,000 bikers and 20,000 cars that were either turning or merging on streets with protected lanes — and observed no collisions or even near collisions.
About 96 percent of bikers said they "felt safer" while riding in the lanes.
"Overall we did not observe any notable safety problems, and survey respondents had strong feelings that safety had improved," the study's authors wrote. "Taken together, these findings suggest that concerns about safety should not inhibit the installation and development of protected bike lanes."
The apparent improved safety came even as bike traffic increased on the streets with protected lanes by an average of 72 percent nationally.
The lanes accounted for a big increase in riding Downtown. While nearly a quarter of bicyclists interviewed while riding on the lanes nationally said they rode more because of the new lanes, more than half of those interviewed using the Dearborn lane said they were now cycling more.
The study also found public support for building more protected lanes, particularly by those who live near them: three-quarters of those residents, even if they didn't bike themselves, say they supported additional lanes.
PeopleForBikes, which is hosting a national ride ending in Chicago Monday in support of better biking conditions, praised the study, which it helped fund.
“The timing is great,” said Martha Roskowski, vice president of local innovation for People for Bikes. “The surge of interest in protected bike lanes in cities and towns across the country is being matched by agency work to better understand, refine and standardize the designs."