Is having bike lanes safer than not having them?

This Globe and Mail ("Canada's National News Paper") article discusses bike lanes and claims that when correctly applied they are safer.

Here are some media claims that they are:




This study claims that separated bike tracks are the safest:


Bike lanes seem to be very popular with the local news media. And they seem to find a lot of cyclists who think they are a brilliant idea. I'm challenging this claim on the basis of my everyday observations, in particular for cars turning right and thus crossing the bicycle lane.

Are bike lanes safer?

  • Bicycle lines come in different types. It's unlikely that the same degree of safety applies to all types. – DJClayworth Aug 13 '19 at 20:40
  • @DJClayworth Seems to me you just volunteered to elucidate the different types of bike lanes and how they affect safety. – user45478 Aug 13 '19 at 20:44
  • The NY Post is an example of media that's not fond of them. Not sure if Toronto immediately compares to NYC ... – fredsbend Aug 14 '19 at 0:06
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    I went to remove the unnecessarily detailed anecdote that is distracting from the general claim, but then I was left with a one line question! – Oddthinking Aug 14 '19 at 1:20
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    When you find a notable claim from one of your sources, you should quote it in the question. I cannot see anywhere that the Globe and Mail say they are safer. – Oddthinking Aug 14 '19 at 15:37

Having taken a bicycle safety course, I can attest to part of the syllabus in which they explain why bicycle lanes are less safe than operating as another road user / vehicle operator. As a proponent of these courses, I operated in that manner and have personal experience for both methods. Bicycle lanes are unsafe compared to conventional road operations.

The problem is more with the road users (of all kinds) than with the infrastructure. People on bicycles are poorly trained to interact with other vehicles on the roadway, and people in motor vehicles who have not taken a bicycle safety course of the proper format are also ignorant of safe use of the roadway. Bicyclists are responsible to obey traffic control devices, including stop signs, traffic signals, road markings, etc. Motor vehicle operators have similar responsibilities.

You've referenced an intersection. This is the most common dangerous encounter for a bicyclist in the bike lane. The motor vehicle operators should have pulled into the bike lane prior to the intersection, signaling intent. Cyclists approaching the intersection with intent to continue straight through should have taken the main traffic lane.

This is part of what is taught in a bicycle safety course and it is effective and solves much of the problem you describe.

I became a certified instructor of this course and gave it up in short order.

Politicians and other administrative people like to present bike lanes as a panacea, but it's not that way at all.

As requested/required, references in the above answer represent my personal experience with the CyclingSavvy program. Specific quoted material from the web site:


Most people want to do the right thing, but many drivers don’t know the best way to interact with bicyclists: They don’t know our space requirements; they often underestimate our speed; and sometimes they overlook us.

Most crashes caused by motorist mistakes can be avoided or prevented by the bicyclist — often as simply and passively as riding in a more visible position.

Most drivers are willing to cooperate with a bicyclist who communicates.

Regardless of whether or not motorists believe bicyclists have the right to control a lane, or understand why we need to, they will change lanes to pass a lane-controlling bicyclist. That’s what matters.

Inattentive driving is a problem, but bicyclists can easily command the attention of drivers — including those who are mildly distracted — by being relevant and operating in their primary focus area.

Specific to bike lanes:


Bicycle-specific infrastructure is valuable for both access and enjoyment, when designed properly and applied in an appropriate context.

Well-designed bicycle infrastructure is an asset to the community.

Most types of bicycle-specific infrastructure, including bike lanes and side paths, have contexts in which they work well, create access, increase comfort and benefit bicyclists. Unfortunately, some of these facilities can be very problematic when designed poorly or used in the wrong context.

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    The rules for intersections vary widely. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 13 '19 at 22:15
  • It's a general question, I provided a general answer and the OP has done additional research useful to his question as a result. – fred_dot_u Aug 13 '19 at 23:14
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    "The motor vehicle operators should have pulled into the bike lane prior to the intersection, signaling intent. Cyclists approaching the intersection with intent to continue straight through should have taken the main traffic lane." That's not intuitive at all! No wonder people don't get it. – fredsbend Aug 14 '19 at 0:11
  • That's one aspect of the safety course that can be mentally challenging. For an untrained cyclist, it's "hazardous" to be in the traffic lane, yet the trained cyclist sees it as a legally permitted safety feature. – fred_dot_u Aug 14 '19 at 0:22
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    Please provide some references to support your claims. – Oddthinking Aug 14 '19 at 1:17