Bicyclist biking in a bike lane

(Photo by Canetti on Shutterstock)

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Adding a bicycle lane to roads congested with traffic can help reduce reckless driving, finds a new study from Rutgers University. Research studying traffic patterns in a high-traffic intersection in a Jersey Shore town shows that drivers were more likely to slow down when they approached a bike lane along the road.

Speeding is a common cause of car crashes. In 2021, there were 7,388 pedestrian deaths related to car crashes. The statistic was 17 percent higher than the number of pedestrian deaths reported in 2020 and 17 percent higher in all kinds of crash fatalities. According to the authors, a bike lane has a “traffic calming” effect, increasing road safety and reducing the risk of car accidents.

“We are giving you more evidence that bike lanes save lives,” says lead author Hannah Younes, a postdoctoral research associate at Rutgers’ Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, in a media release. “And it’s not only cyclists’ lives that could be saved. It’s more than that—drivers and pedestrians as well.”

At Cookman and Asbury Avenues in New Jersey, the two-lane road is a common route to the city’s popular Atlantic Ocean beaches. Drivers must take a legal right-turn-on red at the traffic light from Cookman onto Asbury. However, drivers rarely come to a stop first but turn abruptly, creating dangerous conditions for people crossing the corner.

The authors created a temporary bike lane on Cookman and Asbury Avenues on the side of the road leading towards the beach. The makeshift bike lane was represented with orange road cones. Students involved in the study surveyed random bike and electric scooter riders using the temporary bike lane about how often they used these vehicles and their overall opinion of bike lanes. Most people favored having a bike lane.

Using computer vision techniques, the researchers looked for any changes in traffic speed with the new bike lane. The AI algorithm classified the speed and path of over 9,000 cars before and after the bike lane was created.

Having a makeshift bike lane reduced people’s maximum speed by 28 percent compared to when it was not there. There was also a 21 percent decrease in average speeds when cars turned right on the popular avenue. For drivers heading straight and not turning right, the researchers observed an 8 percent reduction in speed. Additionally, drivers moving at a perpendicular angle to the bike lane did not slow down.

While bike lanes seem to warn drivers to slow down, the researchers found the presence of a bike lane may not be so obvious. People appeared to slow down more when the lane was marked with cones rather than a painted-only bike lane. Having a painted-only bike lane reduces speed at a lower rate, between 11 and 15 percent, but only for drivers turning right.

Younes explains drivers may be more likely to slow down when they see a bike lane lined up with cones because the driving lane is narrower and requires more concentration to drive past them. Additionally, cones are easier to notice than painted lines on the road.

The study is published in the Journal of Urban Mobility.

About Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master's of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor's of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women's health.

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