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Oregonian: Protected bicycle lanes' safety, livability benefits worth cost of removing car lanes, Portland State study says
Author: Joseph Rose, The Oregonian
Posted: June 2, 2014

Read the original article in The Oregonian.

Portland transportation planners have ditched a controversial plan to remove auto parking along Northeast and Southeast 28th Avenue to build a separated bike lane.

But a new Portland State University study outlining the safety and quality-of-life benefits of so-called "protected bike lanes" will likely give the Portland Bureau of Transportation the push it needs to try the strategy on other busy streets. 

With the city's bicycle master plan calling for 25 percent of all trips in Portland to be made on bicycles by the year 2030, PBOT considers on-street lanes separated from auto traffic by curbs, planters, parked cars or posts a crucial part of the strategy to reach that goal.

But the 166-page report  (PDF) also found plenty of obstacles with driver perceptions.

Although previous research has shown that removing an auto lane for protected bike lanes has very little effect on the flow of traffic, a significant portion of  motorists surveyed for the study said the projects have slowed traffic flow and made it harder to find parking.  

But the research, headed up by PSU urban transportation researchers Christopher Monsere, Jennifer Dill, Kelly Clifton and Nathan McNeil, found that protected bike lanes actually "help organize the street and make riding a bike an appealing option for people of all ages and abilities."

The researchers say the study provides a scientific basis for decisions that could improve bicycling in cities across the United States.

"This study fills a critical gap in the research and can influence national guidance on protected bike lanes," Monsere said. "Policymakers can look to this research to see how they could best use protected bike lanes to meet their mobility, safety and economic goals."

PBOT has embraced the concept, which often includes taking space from motorists as part of a "road diet."

Northeast Multnomah Street in Portland was part of the protected bike lanes study.OTREC 

Recently, the city decided to continue with the reconfiguration of Northeast Multnomah Street near the Lloyd Center, where motorized traffic lanes were removed in 2012. Planters, thick "beeswax"-colored buffer zones, parked cars and plastic poles now separate bicyclists from motorists.

Some drivers may not like it, but it's getting raves from the business district, walkers and bicycle commuters, including many who were confused or skeptical of the design at first.

Meanwhile, in 2009, a "cycle track" ate one lane of Southwest Broadway in downtown Portland. The protected bike lane forces cars to park several feet from the curb, providing a safety buffer between bicyclists and motorists.

 

For the report, researchers studied protected bike lanes in five cities – Portland, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — by setting up cameras to gather data including bicycle counts and conflicts. They collected 204 hours of video at 15 locations, mostly at intersections.

Researchers also conducted surveys of 2,301 residents living near the study sites, while 1,111 people riding in the lanes shared their impressions through on-street surveys.

About 31 percent of motorists said that it took them longer to drive on streets since the protected lanes were built, and 36 percent said that the effects on traffic congestion have been negative.

Still, it's not just bicyclists who support making more room for two-wheeled commuters, according to the study.

"Asked if the protected bike lanes had changed the predictability of roadway users, 53 percent of those who had driven a motor vehicle on the street stated the predictability of bicycles and motorists had increased," the report released Monday morning said. "Only 12 percent felt predictability had decreased. This suggests support for the clear ordering of the street space for all users."

Meanwhile, nearly three times as many residents felt that the protected bike lanes had led to an increase in the desirability of living in their neighborhood, as opposed to a decrease in desirability (43 percent compared to 14 percent, respectively).

Other key findings from the study:

  • In its first year alone, a protected bike lane increases bike traffic on a street by an average of 72 percent.
  • 96 percent of people riding in protected bike lanes felt safer on the street because of the lanes
  • 76 percent of people living near protected bike lanes support the facilities in additional locations, whether they use them or not
  • In 144 hours of video analyzed for safety, studying nearly 12,900 bicycles through the intersections, no collisions or near collisions were observed. This included both intersections with turn lanes and those with signals for bicycles.