Far from protecting cyclists, painted cycle lanes are likely to result in closer passes from motorists, according to a new study published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention. Researchers concluded that when a cyclist is in a bike lane, a passing motorist has a clear lane ahead and is therefore less likely to carry out an overtaking manoeuvre.
The study followed 60 people who regularly commute by bike in Melbourne, Australia, following them on their daily routes.
A custom device known as a 'MetreBox' was installed to quantify the distance drivers allowed when passing the cyclists. More than 18,000 passes were recorded from 422 trips.
The researchers found that one in every 17 passing events was a close pass (defined as under 1m).
Passing events that occurred on a road with a painted bike lane and a parked car had an average passing distance that was 40cm less than on a road without a bike lane or parked car.
"Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint is not sufficient to protect people who ride bikes," said Dr Ben Beck, lead author of the study and Monash University's Deputy Head of Prehospital, Emergency and Trauma Research.
"In situations where the cyclist is in the same lane as the motorist, the driver is required to perform an overtaking manoeuvre. Whereas in situations where the cyclist is in a marked bicycle lane, the motorist has a clear lane ahead and not required to overtake. As a result, we believe that there is less of a conscious requirement for drivers to provide additional passing distance."
Beck, who is also President of the Australasian Injury Prevention Network, said the findings indicated there needed to be far greater investment in segregated cycle lanes.
"We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation," he said.
A 2013 Canadian study found that painted cycle lanes had virtually no effect on cyclist injury rates. It recommended a programme of slowing traffic and separating bicycles into their own lanes as effective ways of reducing the number of collisions.
Belgium’s word of the year for 2018 was “Murderstrip” – defined as a painted bicycle lane on a dangerous street next to fast-moving cars.