The Path of Least Accidents

Injury rate lower in separate bike-only paths

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) In the United States, many engineers discourage building bicycle paths separated from roads, saying that they are more dangerous for bikers than riding in the street. However, new research suggests otherwise.

In a study of bicycle-related accidents in Montreal (a city with extensive bicycle-only paths), Anne Lusk, a research associate in the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study, and colleagues found that the injury rate of riding on a bicycle path is 28 percent lower than that of riding on alternative routes on the road.

Compared to the other countries around the world, the United States have very few paths exclusive to bicycle riders. Only a few cities (such as New York City, Portland, Ore., and Seattle) have extensive bike-only paths.

For their study, Lusk and her colleagues assessed the level of safety of the urban bike lane system in Montreal, Canada. The researchers compared injury and crash rates of separated bike-only paths to those of alternative street routes (i.e. routes which lacked biking lanes).

The researchers found that more than twice as many bicycle riders used the separated bike-only paths compared to alternative street routes without bike lanes. Even though the separated bike paths had more bicycle traffic, injury rates on the separated routes were either lower than or equal to injury rates on the alternative routes without bike lanes. The injury rates depended on the specific bike-only path. However, the injury rates of all combined bike-only paths were compared to the injury rates of alternative routes, the overall risk of injury of riding on bike-only paths was 28 percent lower than riding in the street.

Although separated bicycle paths do not completely eliminate the risk of injury, they do provide a safer option than the street. Especially because of the car-centric culture in the United States, bikers run a high risk when they have to compete for the road with aggressive drivers. According to the authors, their findings about the relative safety of riding on separated bicycle-only paths suggests that the construction of such paths should not be discouraged in the United States.

In 2009, approximately 51,000 cyclists suffered injuries because of encounters with motor vehicles. Accidents involving cyclists and motor vehicles account for two percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.

The study is published in the journal Injury Prevention.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 22, 2011
Last Updated:
March 9, 2011