Study: Severe Injuries Actually Increased After NYC Added New Bike Lanes


Well, this is odd. A new report by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that the number of severe injuries among cyclists didn’t go down after New York City installed bike lanes in certain areas. In fact, NPR affiliate WBUR reported, the opposite happened:

The study found that the severity of injuries among bicyclists hit by cars actually appeared to go up after New York City installed those painted bike lanes, at least among patients brought to Bellevue Hospital Centers’ emergency department.

Dr. Stephen Wall of New York University and Bellevue offers an immediate caveat, though: Bike lanes lead to increased volumes and may also lead to faster speeds.

“I don’t want people to look at this data and say, ‘Oh, bike lanes are bad,'” Wall said. “They’re not. They’re definitely beneficial.”

What’s going on here?

Randy LoBasso, a spokesman for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, has a theory. “The best explanation I could see here would be something Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), told Marty Moss-Coane during a 2013 Radio Times interview about urban bicycling. He noted that when a new form of transportation arises in a given spot, the number of crashes and injuries goes up temporarily, due to the transition, before going down,” he said. “That may be what’s happening in the study.”

LoBasso added, however, that the study is an outlier: “In general, research has shown that bike lanes produce more bicyclists, which reduces crashes on the whole.”

It’s also worth noting that the study appears to focus on the patients brought to just one hospital center’s emergency room. The American College of Emergency Physicians did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report.

At the very least, this analysis seems to indicate that all bike lanes are not created equal (which is not news to cyclists). WBUR reported that “the study found no significant worsening of injuries when the bike lane was protected from car traffic by concrete barriers.” That’s a pretty good argument for protected bike lanes.

It was just this May, though, that Philadelphia Streets Commissioner David Perri announced the city would get its first protected bike lane. Perri said at the time he believes protected bike lanes will become “the standard” in the future. Until then, LoBasso suggested that the city can at least paint bike lanes that are starkly different colors than the street, such as green, to make them safer.