In the quest for more sustainable cities, transportation is a key issue, and adopting a low-carbon solution such as cycling, is one effective way to green up mobility. However, while those of us who have no problem riding our bikes right next to traffic lanes can loudly proclaim that everyone should be cycling everywhere, a large number of other people aren't nearly as comfortable sharing the road with cars. And that alone can keep people off of bikes and in their own gas-powered vehicles, so it's imperative that cities which aim to be bike-friendly take a proactive approach to not only make it easier to get around by bike, but to also make cyclists feel safer and more comfortable to do so.
Designated bike lanes which run next to traffic, separated with paint markings and signage, are often the default addition to roads when more cyclist-friendly infrastructure is needed. And while those basic bike lanes are a big improvement over having cyclists just ride in the auto lanes, they can also leave a lot to be desired, especially when those bike lanes are situated directly next to parking spots, where a careless driver can unintentionally "door" a cyclist. A far better solution can be to install protected bike lanes, which put a physical and visual barrier between cyclists and motorists, and these protected bike lanes are not only safer for cyclists, but they also may hold one of the answers to the issue of getting more people on bikes, because they can also help people feel "very comfortable" using them.
The results of a recent survey from the National Association of Realtors and the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) of adults in 50 of the US' biggest metro areas, titled "Community & Transportation Preferences," found that lack of appropriate and safe bike lanes can keep people off of their bikes. According to People for Bikes, only 9% of people surveyed felt "very comfortable" riding on a four-lane street without a bike lane, and only 12% felt very comfortable riding in a painted bike lane, but more than twice as many said they felt the same riding in a protected bike lane.
"It's some of the clearest, simplest evidence yet that for people of every demographic, a door-zone painted bike lane on a busy street makes far less difference to people's biking comfort than one with a physical barrier between bike and car traffic." -People for Bikes
The responses varied quite a bit by age, education level, and income, but in every instance, people responded positively that they felt "very comfortable" on a protected bike path. The option preferred by a majority of those surveyed (by almost 2 to 1) would be riding on a separate bikeway or bike path, which isn't nearly as feasible for a city to implement as adding bike lanes on existing roads.
Another notable point from the survey is the finding that millennials (aged 18 to 34) "show a stronger preference than other generations for expanding public transportation and providing transportation alternatives to driving, such as biking and walking, while also increasing the availability of trains and buses," and that this generational cohort favors more walkable communities and neighborhoods, both of which are key elements of any sustainable city.
Image: Green Lane Project