Building Bike Lanes Increases Cycling

One line of complaint I’ve heard about Allentown’s ambitious bike lane/trail network plan is that there currently are not a lot of cyclists, so why build it?

This gets it exactly backwards. The reason to build the bike lane network is to increase the number of cyclists.

A new Rutgers study on bike lanes in 90 cities finds that building bike lanes increases cycling rates:

Yet in a new study(pdf) in the journal Transport Policy, Ralph Buehler and John Pucher suggest that cities might actually be able to influence how many cyclists are on the road. Perhaps all they have to do is — and this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise — build more bike lanes and bike paths.

Buehler and Pucher found that the presence of off-road bike paths and on-street bike lanes were, by far, the biggest determinant of cycling rates in cities. And that’s true even after you control for a variety of other factors like how hot or cold a city is, how much rain falls, how dense the city is, how high gas prices are, the type of people that live there, or how safe it is to cycle. None of those things seem to matter quite as much. The results, the authors write, “are consistent with the hypothesis that bike lanes and bike paths encourage cycling.”

If that sounds overly obvious, the authors do note that previous research was somewhat scattered on this question. A few studies had found that more bike lanes in a city were associated with more cycling, though it was unclear which was causing which. Perhaps cities were building bike lanes because they already had a group of devoted cyclists. And this causation question still hasn’t been fully settled, but Buehler and Pucher’s regression analyses — going through a dataset of 90 of the 100 largest U.S. cities — suggest that the relationship between bike lanes and cycling is quite robust. (Previous studies on biking had often just looked at single cities in isolation.)

(Thanks: Brad Plumer)

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