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Why Protected Bike Lanes Save Lives

A new study shows how cities with separated cycling infrastructure saw big safety improvements and higher ridership numbers.
Cyclists take an inaugural spin on Baltimore's new protected "cycle track."
Cyclists take an inaugural spin on Baltimore's new protected "cycle track." Brian O'Doherty

Several weeks ago, painted lines and flexible plastic lane dividers began materializing on Maryland Avenue, one of the major north-south arteries that connect downtown Baltimore to the residential neighborhoods above the city. The resulting 2.6-mile route is called a cycle track, one of the city’s first examples of fully protected bike infrastructure. This new two-lane bike highway eliminated a lane of automobile traffic and 15 parking spaces, to the disgruntlement of many motorists who used the rowhouse-lined thoroughfare as a means of bolting downtown. But it’s a been something of a godsend to bikers, especially those (like me) weary of juking through traffic on a narrow, bus-intensive city streets.

“For some people, it’s completely changed their whole commute,” says Liz Cornish, executive director of the Baltimore City cycling advocacy organization Bikemore, which has been pushing the city and state to built the cycle track for four years. It’s designed, she says, to be the spine of a network of lanes running east-to-west; like the Maryland Avenue track, these will also be buffered from traffic. This kind of dedicated bike infrastructure is a new thing for Baltimore, which boasts but a handful of marked bike lanes and plenty of useless sharrow-posted streets, and Cornish is convinced that it’s the best way to convince skeptical Baltimoreans to embrace cycling at rates similar to bike-friendlier burgs. (The most recent Census data shows that only .7 percent of the city’s residents commute via bike.) “As cities look to increase the number of people riding bikes, they’re finding that better-designed facilities are the ones that really work,” Cornish says.