Whenever street space is allocated for bicycling, someone will inevitably level the accusation that the city is waging a “war on cars.” But it turns out the people in those cars want separate space for bicycles too, according to surveys conducted in two major California metropolitan areas. Bike lanes make everyone feel safer — even drivers.
Rebecca Sanders is a doctoral candidate in transportation planning and urban design at the University of California-Berkeley. She’s spent a lot of time asking people — drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians — what kinds of street treatments would make them feel safer, giving them a list of safety improvements to choose from. Most drivers said their top priority was bike lanes. (In the Los Angeles area, the top choice was for improved pedestrian crossings, but bike lanes were a close second.)
Sanders began this research with Jill Cooper of Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, under the sponsorship of the state department of transportation (Caltrans). They interviewed drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists on major corridors in and around San Francisco and Los Angeles, asking drivers why they picked the mode they did, and asking everyone how they perceived safety issues, especially for biking. Then they asked what kinds of street treatments would make the street safer for them.
“What was interesting about that study was that in the San Francisco Bay Area, the most requested item, across the board, was a bicycle lane on the corridor,” Sanders told Streetsblog. “It was the most requested item by drivers, it was the most requested item by pedestrians, and it was the most requested item by bicyclists. That was quite surprising to us.”
It’s no shock that cyclists asked for dedicated street space in overwhelming numbers, and it stands to reason that pedestrians want bicycles off the sidewalk. Perhaps it should be just as obvious that drivers would welcome dedicated bike infrastructure, too. They find that bike lanes help them be aware of cyclists and make cyclists’ behavior more predictable, according to Sanders’ research. In general, there’s less potential for conflict between drivers and cyclists when they each have their own space.
“We have not done a good job of recognizing and validating the concerns of drivers about predictability,” Sanders said. “For a long time, cyclists have been defensive; they’ve been fighting for space, and legitimately so. But in the process, some areas where we could really work together, I think, have fallen to the wayside. Everybody wants predictability on the roadway. Nobody wants to feel like they’re going to get hit or hit someone else and it’s going to be beyond their control.”
The results of Sanders’ San Francisco-area research are due to be published soon in the Transportation Research Record and are available now on the Berkeley website. Meanwhile, Sanders has continued to look into drivers’ attitudes toward bike lanes, making it the topic of her (as yet unpublished) dissertation. She has conducted focus groups and internet surveys to shed light on what drivers and cyclists need to feel safe.