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Cyclist in city traffic

Bike lanes less a factor in reducing cyclist injuries

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published May 31, 2013

With more cyclists taking to the road, more cities are creating dedicated bike lanes. But a UB study has found that dedicated bike lanes are not necessarily the most important factors in reducing the severity of injuries in crashes between bikes and motor vehicles.

The findings were presented May 16 at the annual meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine by co-author Dietrich Jehle, professor of emergency medicine in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and at Erie County Medical Center. Kelsey Helak, a UB medical student, was first author.

The UB study examined whether cyclists injured in accidents with motor vehicles while traveling in bike lanes had less severe injuries than cyclists traveling in the same lanes as motor vehicles. Previous research has shown that bike lanes do reduce the number of bike-motor vehicle accidents that occur, Jehle says.

The UB study was based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cycling injury severity data from 2010 and data about factors affecting bike-motor vehicle crashes from 2002-10.  

“Our findings show that bike lanes or paved shoulders by themselves do not significantly reduce the severity of injuries sustained by cyclists,” says Jehle. “The data show that other factors may be more important in reducing the severity of cyclists’ injuries, including the speed of motor vehicles traveling near them and how much light there is.”

The data show that other factors, including alcohol use by either the cyclist or the motor-vehicle driver, riding in darkness—even with streetlights—and the posted speed limit of a road, are more significant safety factors for cyclists to consider and adjust for than riding in bike lanes.

Jehle and colleagues found that the severity of injuries to cyclists were almost the same, whether the cyclist was traveling in a bike lane or with traffic. The study did control for posted speed limit, alcohol use by the motor-vehicle driver, time of day, weather and cyclist’s use of a helmet.

The UB study notes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that while only 1 percent of trips in the U.S. are made by bicycle, 2 percent of all traffic fatalities are those of bicyclists.

Besides Helak and Jehle, co-authors are Joseph Consiglio, data manager/statistician for the Department of Emergency Medicine and a graduate student in the Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health and Health Professions, and Juliana Wilson, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Emergency Medicine.

READER COMMENTS

The premise of the headline of this article has a different connotation from its content -- reducing "severity" of injuries was not my first thought at reading the title. If a cyclist is hit by a car, it will injure the cyclist severely, whether the cyclist is on a shoulder, a dedicated bike lane or a sidewalk. A fair amount of discussion on this study is happening over at http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2013/06/study_bike_lanes_matter_less_t.html

Ben Hockenberry

I really don't see how bike lanes could be expected to lessen the severity of injuries, or why one would investigate that in a study. It would actually be valuable to study whether there is a correlation between bike lanes and lower rate of accidents between other vehicles and bikes, or between pedestrians and bikes. I believe that is valuable information. The above described study is not.

Joe Dabkowski

Publishing dribble like this article reflects badly on valuable research. Frankly, I'm embarrassed anyone at UB had anything to do with this study. What's the next topic for this illustrious group: unprotected sex can cause pregnancy?

James Rowe