Are Bike Lanes in the US Safe? A Unique Insider Look

Are Bike Lanes in the US Safe? A Unique Insider Look

People are going undercover to see how safe US bike lanes really are, and the results are rather frightening. For starters, we’ll take a look at one reporter’s viewpoint after pedaling through six cycling corridors in NYC. Then, we’ll take a look at how Uber and Lyft drivers are treating bike lanes. Lastly, we’ll go over some ways to make bike lanes safer for all.

Biking Through New York City – Is It Safe?

Patch reporter Noah Manskhar decided to bike through six cycling corridors in New York with a cellphone camera mounted to his single-speed bike. Throughout his 10-mile ride, he had several close calls with drivers. “The obstructions showed up on five of the six thoroughfares I traversed,” he writes on patch.com

He documented his ride through Queens Boulevard, which was once known as the “Boulevard of Death,” without any issue. Yet, as he ventured farther along on his adventure, he didn’t maintain such feelings of safety.

Jon Orcutt, a spokesperson for Bike New York, described Noah’s experience as “absolutely typical” for the many bikers who take to New York’s streets each day to get to work, run errands, or simply get in some exercise.

“It’s a problem in New York that people will park on anything that’s flat if the space is there,” Orcutt said. “And if it weren’t a bike lane it would be regular old double parking.”

Due to an increase in biker deaths in the city, more and more people are talking about the problem and actively working to solve it. Among some of the more pressing problems, trucks and cars frequently park in bike lanes. This causes bikers to merge into traffic to avoid slamming into an illegally parked automobile. It’s not a minor problem – this issue alone has proven fatal for too many bikers.

Despite all of the talk (and action) surrounding bike lanes in NYC, cyclists are still angered by the dangers that await them out on the streets. For instance, Classon and Dekalb Avenue both have designated bike lanes but there are no physical barriers preventing vehicles from entering these lanes. On the other hand, the dangers once associated with other streets, have been better resolved by adding protected bike lanes.

Yet, even protected bike lanes aren’t always as functional as intended. For instance, Grand Street in Williamsburg has plastic delineator poles that work as a protected barrier between vehicles and cyclists. Unfortunately, they are spaced too far apart, allowing vehicles of all sizes to slip right through.

“And the protected lanes on Second and Eighth avenues in Manhattan have abrupt gaps near 42nd Street that forced me to weave between impatient rush-hour traffic,” Noah Manskhar writes.

Are Uber & Lyft Drivers Making It Worse?

Uber and Lyft drivers are clogging city streets everywhere, and while they serve an important purpose, they are gaining a reputation for blocking bike lanes. Vivian Lipson went undercover, taking 10 rides with the app-based ride share companies, and found that drivers blocked bike lanes on eighty-two percent of her trips.

“Even when the drivers had room to pull over and not block the bike lane, the vast majority chose to block the bike lane, which is a violation. Only two of 20 drivers followed the rules on both legs of the trip,” she shared on nyc.streetsblog.org.

She wants to know why Uber and Lyft – both of which operate their own bike share systems – do not teach better employee practices for respecting bike lanes.

Vivian decided to conduct the test for several reasons, including the city’s recent three-week crackdown on vehicles blocking bike lanes. Now she questions if the crackdown was harsh enough considering none of the 18 drivers who blocked bike lanes were cited or ticketed for their offense?

This isn’t the first time that someone has pointed fingers at the two ride share companies and their inability to follow rules regarding bike lanes. In early 2019, a group of cyclists from Boston demanded that both Uber and Lyft do something about their drivers carelessly driving through bike lanes. 

Cab drivers are guilty too. And it’s not just a petty argument, there are documented deaths related to the incidents. Just last year, Madison Lyden was struck by a car and killed when a blocked bike lane forced her to weave out into traffic.

How Do We Make Bike Lanes Safer?

Thankfully, there are things we can do to make bike lanes safer for the public. Since it’s impossible to control every last driver on the road, smart bike lane design is fundamental. In New York, The Department of Transportation pledged to add 30 miles of protected bike lanes every year. While protected bike lanes are much better than white painted lines, they are clearly not a solve-all solution considering cyclists are still encountering issues on stretches of roads with protected bike lanes already in place. The key is to make sure these barriers are solid and consistant enough to prevent cars from crossing into them.

TerraCast Products makes a variety of durable and long-lasting products that make great protected bike lanes. From sturdy bollards to beautiful planters, our goal is to help make cities around the US safer and more sustainable.