The presence of a bike lane may make you feel safer as a cyclist, but the actual statistics paint a more sobering picture. While bike lanes encourage people to ride, they may not protect the cyclist as much as they should depending on what the bike lane actually entails.
For example, conventional bike lanes separated from the street by painted demarcations only produce inconsistent results concerning safety. However, a study regarding protected bike lanes that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted proved that even these conventional bike lanes can be less dangerous than protected lanes.
What is a protected lane?
A protected bike lane involves some sort of physical barrier between the cyclist and motor traffic on the street. A common protected bike lane format in the United States involves a line of parallel parked cars separating the cyclist from the road.
There are different varieties of protected lanes. For example, the safest protected bike lanes are ones where the bike lane is completely separated from all traffic, including pedestrian traffic. An example would be a bike-only bridge going over an intersection or a bike-only lane in the middle of a boulevard.
How can these be more dangerous than conventional lanes?
The creators of the study are not entirely sure, but there are a few solid hypotheses on this subject. One is that protected bike lanes tend to be on busier roads as compared to conventional bike lanes. Even though the study found cyclists were statistically more likely to suffer an injury on protected bike lanes, if the bike lanes in that same area were conventional it is likely that the injury statistics would be much worse on those particular lanes.