With an uptick in protected bike lanes cropping up across the nation, many college-aged cyclists are hoping to see such lanes on the streets they bike on around campus.
According to the Bikes Belong Foundations Green Lane Project, which works to add what have been dubbed “green lanes” across the nation, municipalities built 40 protected bike lanes in 2012 — nearly two-thirds of the 62 protected lanes constructed between 1874 and 2011.
But while protected bike lanes have begun to appear in several bike-friendly cities, students who live in cities without such cyclist protections still must navigate unsafe streets and a lack of bicycling infrastructure.
Owning a bicycle often makes economical sense for many students, such as University of Washington junior Shane Valle of Seattle, who cannot wish to pay for gas or a car. Bicycles are also easy to store between classes, Valle added, removing the time and money needed to find a parking space.
Yale University sophomore Celine Cuevas, of El Segundo, Calif., said she first began biking when she began a job that was far from where she was living. But in order to take full advantage of her bicycle, Cuevas said she must navigate potholes and streets without green lanes that often see speeding drivers.
Valle said that none of the streets he bikes on ever offer more than an unprotected bike lane, which do not possess the physical barrier — parked cars, posts or a curb — that green lanes do.
Cyclists ride in a protected bike lane in Chicago.
“More often than not, I find myself riding on the sidewalks even though it is frowned upon,” Valle said. “I feel quite a bit safer up on the curb away from traffic.”
A December 2012 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that nationwide cycling deaths rose 8.7% to 677 from 2010 to 2011, despite deaths from vehicular accidents falling to their lowest point since 1949.
Yale University freshman Matthew Lloyd-Thomas, of Andover, Mass., a member of Yale’s cycling team, said he has barely avoided being struck by a vehicle in unprotected bike lanes. Even bike paths can be “really dangerous” for bikers, Lloyd-Thomas said, as they are usually occupied by roller skaters or joggers with headphones.
Instead, he said he believes green lanes are important not just for the immediate protections they offer, but also for the way in which they shape “irresponsible” driving behavior.
“Having a protected bike lane [on the street] specifically says bikes have a place on the road, and I think that changes how people drive,” Lloyd-Thomas said. “The physical space is important, but changing driving patterns is more important.”
Beyond cyclist safety, however, cities may find that protected bike lanes offer an economic benefits. A study by the New York City Department of Transportation found that small businesses located near protected bike lanes saw stronger growth than the borough average and a Portland State University study discovered that cyclists often spent more at local businesses than drivers.
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