More evidence that bike lanes have minimal impact on congestion

To those arguing that bike lanes are holding up cars: slow down.

A recent study from researchers at Swinburne and Melbourne Universities has found that the effect of installed bike lanes on car travel times is actually miniscule.

To analyse the effect of bike lanes or car travel times, the authors redesigned the existing road network to include retrofitted separated bike paths and then ran simulations of traffic flow.

The authors found that the impact of bike lanes on car travel times is less than 10 seconds per kilometer of travel.

Picture it this way: the extra travel time for a five kilometre car trip would be roughly the same as the waiting time at a red light.

“Our findings highlight the enormous potential for cycling lanes to be added to streets without increasing drivers' travel times significantly,” the study authors told Bicycle Network, “this study provides insights for LGAs to investigate providing dedicated cycling lanes, which are vastly safer than painting cycling lanes over parking lanes.”

The article, published this month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH), comes at a time when the bike lane debate is at an all-time high.

Pop-up bike lanes in Melbourne CBD have come under fire recently, with mainstream media, talkback radio and industry leaders all having a crack at their apparent impracticality.

The Lord Mayor and Councillors from the City of Melbourne have fervently defended the lanes, citing evidence from an independent transport report prepared for the city that observed traffic delays in the Melbourne CBD are actually caused by through-traffic.

The negative attitude towards bike lanes, commonly referred to as ‘bikelash’, is nothing new. For decades, bikes have been viewed as the bane of traffic. While there is an evident difference in speed between bike and car, so often is the case that bike riders are the scapegoat for traffic delays, preventing car drivers from being able to safely overtake (note: a US study has also found no evidence that this affects car travel times).

The authors of the bike lane study were cognizant of this ‘deep fear’ amongst drivers. “There is an assumption that allocating space for the exclusive use of cycling will naturally enhance congestion simply by reducing lane withs and speed for vehicles,” say the authors.

Bikelash is a common phenomenon, but thankfully it is a short-term vent. A 2021 international study demonstrated that opposition to new bike lanes is amplified in the short term, but acceptance and support dominates in the long term.

Last month, Bicycle Network listed a number of popular bike lanes, now widely recognized as part of the Melbourne urban landscape, that received similar backlash when they were in their early stages. These include Albert Street, Swanston Street and Wellington Street.

“Designing for car ownership is not a good solution to mobility in cities. Cars take too much space and create hostile and unsafe environments for active and sustainable transport, forcing many to drive that would otherwise choose not to,” the study authors told us.

“We have every reason to replace the status quo with functional public transport and suitable infrastructure for active transport. Tackling these problems will solve the problem of congestion.”

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.