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Monitor and Evaluate

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Green light for separation

5 June 2014. A major evaluation of the separated bike lanes recently installed in the United States has reported remarkably positive results from the once controversial designs.

The study, "Lessons From The Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes In The U.S.”, used extensive video observation as well as surveys and other data to look at use, perception, benefits, and impacts of the lanes, often called Greenways in the US. 

This research examined protected bicycle lanes in five cities: Austin, TX; Chicago, IL; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; and Washington, D.C.

The information was analyzed to assess actual behaviour of bicyclists and motor vehicle drivers to determine how well each user type understands the design of the facility and to identify potential conflicts between bicyclists, motor vehicles and pedestrians.

Separated lanes continue to be resisted where they are introduced around the world, although numerous studies have reported significant benefits of the approach, and have shown that community fears over their introduction are unfounded.

This latest study by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC), a US Department of Transportation research centre found that a measured increase was observed in ridership on all facilities after the installation of the protected cycling facilities, ranging from +21% to +171%. 

Survey data indicates that 10% of current riders switched from other modes, and 24% shifted from other bicycle routes. Over a quarter of riders indicated they are riding more in general because of the protected bike lanes. 

A large majority of drivers and bicyclists stated that they understood the intent of the intersection designs and were observed to use them as intended, though specific designs perform better than others on certain tasks. 

No collisions or near-collisions were observed over 144 hours of video review for safety at intersections.

Residents and bike riders indicated that any type of buffer or separation considerably increased self-reported comfort levels over a striped bike lane, with designs having more physical separation getting the highest scores. 

Buffers with vertical physical objects (those that would be considered protected lanes - e.g. with flexposts, planters, curbs, or parked cars) all resulted in considerably higher comfort levels than buffers created only with paint. 

Flexpost buffers got very high ratings even though they provide little actual physical protection from vehicle intrusions— cyclists perceive them as an effective means of positive separation.

Support for the protected lanes among residents was generally strong with 75% saying that they would support building more protected bike lanes at other locations, and 91% of surveyed residents agreed with the statement, “I support separating bikes from cars.” 

This agreement was high among primary users of all modes (driving, walking, transit, and bicycling), though motorists expressed concerns about the impacts of protected lanes on congestion and parking. 

Most residents also agreed with the statement “I would be more likely to ride a bicycle if motor vehicles and bicycles were physically separated by a barrier,” with “Interested but Concerned” residents expressing the highest level of agreement at 85%. 

Nearly three times as many residents felt that the protected bike lanes had led to an increase in the desirability of living in their neighbourhood.