Are Separate Tracks Safer for Bicyclists?

Bicyclists and Arizona go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s in the air we breathe. Bicycling is good for the environment, eases congestion, promotes physical fitness, and is a great way to get around town. However, bicycle accidents are frequent. According to a recent study, two-way bicycle tracks or paths physically separated from traffic are much safer than road riding or in-road bike lanes.

The Harvard School of Public Health conducted the study. The researchers studied 20 years of bicycle crash and injury data from Montreal, Canada — a city that has a lot of cycling-specific infrastructure. The researchers compared cycle tracks (defined as two-way lanes on one side of the street that are separated from traffic by raised medians or parking lanes) with in-road bike lanes. The study found that physically separated cycle tracks were safer than in-road bike lanes. According to the study, the risk of injury was 28 percent lower on cycle tracks compared to nearby street routes.

Yet development of these safer bike tracks in the United States is not favored. Many state and local transportation authorities prioritize development of on-street bicycle lanes because they believe them to be safer than the alternatives such as bicycle tracks. Cycle track construction in the United States has been further hampered by the engineering guidance listed in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities. This guide cautions against building two-way paths along, but physically separated from, a parallel road. The Harvard study now points out the fallacy in that position.

So, what does this mean for cycling in the Tucson area? Until the United States begins to favor bicycle track construction, cycling away from in-road lanes is the best course of action. Cycling on one of Tucson’s many river paths is safer than cycling on Craycroft, for instance. Bicycles in the presence of cars have a greater chance of injury. Bicycling in nature only with other bicyclists equates to a lesser chance of injury.

Choose your bicycle route with this in mind to exercise safety first.

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