Evaluation of Bicycle Lanes for Cyclists

Evaluation of Shared Lane Markings for Cyclists

The reported titled Evaluation of Shared Lane Markings for Cyclists was prepared by CDM Research for VicRoads. It is an interesting paper in light of the recent commentary in AdelaideNow by Gordon Kanki Knight on bicycle lanes and what he sees as their negative impact on cyclists’ safety.

In summary the study by CDM Research is about describing

a before and after study of the application of shared lane markings for cyclists (“sharrows”) to three relatively slow speed streets in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. These streets were selected because there was a case that riding nose to tail with motorists (cyclists ‘claiming the lane’) would be safer than side-by-side movements. In each case the marking of a bicycle lane was impracticable. The streets were:

  • Ewing Street, Brunswick
  • Scotchmer Street, Fitzroy North
  • Wingrove Street, Alphington.

Monitoring of the changes included extensive video recording at two sites on each street to identify cyclist lateral tracking positions, interactions between motorists and cyclists and intercept interviews with cyclists.

The full report is worth reading as whilst it has a focus on the three locations in Victoria it also does discuss more widely the role of shallows and I would suggest that the findings have a wider implication for cyclists and road design.

For me the interesting points from the study are the issues raised from the findings; that is:

  • By painting sharrows the situation may be safer but the cost is more intimidatory behaviour towards vulnerable road users because the cyclist is more likely to claim the lane (although the proportion of such events remains small).

  • The prospect of more intimidatory behaviour by motorists towards cyclists (observed only at Ewing Street in this study) raises the question as to whether marking sharrows in these types of local streets is more safe or is less safe.

  • This study could not establish whether the sharrows would result in an increased crash risk, no change or decreased crash risk. All three outcomes are plausible; the increase in intimidatory behaviour may be a proxy for increased conflicts.

Conversely, the more central lane position of cyclists is likely to increase their conspicuity to motorists – which may reduce the crash risk. A lack of awareness of the presence of cyclists by motorists is regularly cited as a contributory factor in motorist-cyclist crashes, so it is conceivable that the crash risk will decrease even if there are more intimidatory interactions.

The report recommends in summary that “exclusive bicycle lanes should be provided wherever possible; this can often be achieved through more effective reallocation of existing roadspace.” I am not sure Mr Kanki Knight would be keen on this recommendation :). The report goes to then recommended that

where exclusive bicycle lanes cannot be provided sharrows are likely to be an attractive option where the following conditions are met: (a) motorist speeds, volumes and roadway geometry is supportive of sharing between motorists and cyclists, and (b) there is a reasonable safety case to be made that sharing will have net safety benefits (e.g. reduced car dooring risks or near roundabouts)

It is good to see such research going on and well done to VicRoads for supporting it. Lets hope that it contributes to more informed thinking on road design.

My thanks to the Cycling Research Centre for the heads-up on this study. The full report is available for download from my Dropbox.

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