More than a stripe of paint needed to keep cyclists safe

Research by Dr Ben Beck has found that on-road marked bicycle lanes are not the optimal solution to keeping cyclists safe.

On-road marked bicycle lanes are not the optimal solution to keeping cyclists safe, new research by Monash University has found.

Research published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention today (Thursday 11 April 2019) shows that marked on-road bicycle lanes and parked cars reduced the distance that motorists provide when passing cyclists.

In the largest study of its kind in the world, data was collected on 60 cyclists in Melbourne who rode their bicycles with a custom device (the ‘MetreBox’) installed to quantify the distance that motor vehicle drivers provide when passing cyclists. More than 18,500 vehicle passing events from 422 trips were recorded.

One in every 17 passing events (n=1085) came within one metre of the travelling cyclist and, alarmingly, 124 passing events came within less than 60cm. In higher speed zones, greater than 60km/h, almost one in every three (n=293) passing events was a ‘close’ pass (<150cm).

There were approximately 1.7 passing events of less than 100cm for every 10km travelled.

“We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation," said Dr Ben Beck, lead author and Monash University’s Deputy Head of Prehospital, Emergency and Trauma Research, and President of the Australasian Injury Prevention Network.

Research findings show that on-road bicycle lanes, particularly alongside parked cars, are not the optimal solution for protecting people who ride bikes.

Specifically, passing events that occurred on a road with a bicycle lane and a parked car had an average passing distance that was 40 cm less than a road without a bicycle lane or a parked car. Dr Beck said cycling-related infrastructure needs to come under the microscope.

“Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes,” Dr Beck said.

“When the cyclist and driver share a lane, the driver is required to perform an overtaking manoeuvre. This is in contrast to roads with a marked bicycle lane, where the driver is not required to overtake. This suggests that there less of a conscious requirement for drivers to provide additional passing distance.”

Dr Beck said in order to improve safety and increase cycling participation, it is clear that far greater investment is needed in providing infrastructure that separates cyclists from motor vehicles by a physical barrier.

Previous studies by Dr Beck showed the number of Victorian cyclists being admitted to hospital with serious trauma from road crashes has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and that 22% of all on-road bicycle crashes occur while the cyclist is riding in an on-road bicycle lane.

The study was conducted in partnership with the Amy Gillett Foundation. The study was funded by the Monash University Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and a Transport Accident Commission (TAC) Community Road Safety Grant.